Well, I threatened another epistle before Christmas – really an excuse to say – forget all the worries from the politics, the markets and economies for a few days, have a really lovely Christmas and remember that we shall endure through the other side and most things will continue to function pretty much as they have been always, whatever the future brings. Enjoy Family and friendship, memories of those not with us anymore, good food and comforts and I hope good health and remembering too those less fortunate than ourselves and whom we may be able to help. Here are our best wishes to you for the Christmas time and a toast to what I hope will finally be a brighter New Year too.
BREXIT UPDATE – ANYTHING NEW AFFECTING YOUR MONEY & INVESTMENTS?
The ongoing uncertainty is affecting the markets – not just here but as another negative to create uncertainty alongside fears of a slowing Eurozone economy and indeed a global slowdown too. One good point is that the oil price is the lowest it has been for a long time (almost down 40% now from its recent high but of course that affects the oil majors and these count for big chunks of the stockmarket still). As I have said many times, it is ‘uncertainty’ itself which is the worst enemy of markets and confidence and not ‘bad certainty’ however that manifests itself as we can then cope with a new range of parameters.
At this immediate point, the Prime Minister has survived a vote of No Confidence from her own ranks so is safe for another year and Labour has called for its own form of vote (which may not happen) and all that is likely to do is to rally Government-supporting MPs to bolster the PM regardless of their views on a Brexit deal, seeming to fear that a Corbyn-led administration would be worse than a bad Brexit (however one of those looks) and despite the sentiments, the polls still show more support for the Conservative Party than for Labour – quite bizarre in many ways you could say but there we have it.
What is likely? The EU will agree some clarity on the ‘Backstop’ so that ‘we’ are assured it is temporary and then Mrs May’s proposed deal is likely to secure a majority in Parliament. Of course, it is after 29 March that the negotiations really begin but at least the framework for those will be in place – some certainty to rebuild confidence. And as I always do – and endeavour to prove – my comments are not meant to be partisan but simply factual digestion of the information thrown at us at this stage – Brexiteer or Remainer.
Still, this may cheer you all little. An interesting article in the Remain-focused Financial Times on 6 December noted that a strong focus on office space was confounding the pessimists. It refers to the old BT HQ where the incumbent buyer will have very significant costs of refurbishment to find when the present occupant vacates in the next three years. Priced at £200million, there were more than ten bidders with several well over the asking price and many from overseas’ climes and those looking through the short-term uncertainties from ‘Brexit’.
It is the latest sign of strong demand for London office property ‘despite Brexit’ and perhaps showing that this two-edged sword does offer the opportunities too which the optimists were predicting. About £12billion of central London property changed hands in the first three-quarters of the year and in line with last year’s, the highest for five years. Take-up for new offices is also running at a buoyant rate and on track for a five-year record with deals agreed on space of 10.8million sq foot in the first nine months of this year alone and tenants such as Deutsche Bank and the Chinese Government. Some of the other biggest buys have been completed by Koreans, Hong Kong Chinese, Singaporeans, Spanish, German and Norwegian investors and all of these paying over £0.5billion for prime sites. Redevelopment projects have also been changing hands for good money, including the FT’s own old head office going for 28% above the asking price to a UK investment institution.
There is a slight reluctance to build speculatively at the present time (1.2million sq ft in 2019 and down 17% on long-term averages) and that is understood, compounding the demand and seeing property rental charges (up to £80 sq ft) at their highest ever levels. That said, there is pent-up capital investment awaiting the ‘deal’. British Land alone, one of the leading quoted property investment funds, has £3billion of projects ready to start once it knows what the backdrop represents. Perhaps the wisest comment came from Knight Frank – ‘people have got to keep moving’. The realities of daily life seem somehow to have been forgotten amongst all the negativity around the negotiations and predictions for what Brexit will bring.
HOW DILIGENT IS YOUR INVESTMENT MANAGER?
We work very hard to secure the very best terms for clients when we deal. This is often a lot of hard work and of course, it doesn’t show on a client’s account. Every extra penny we can save on a transaction – it is all for the client – we aren’t rewarded any differently for doing the very best we can.
Most investors elsewhere don’t realise how it works. If you have a portfolio of holdings and say you needed to liquidate or raise some money, the vast majority of advisers and managers simply put the deal on with the market as an instruction – that is it – end. Often it is computerised, meaning that the underlying deals are just done at ‘best’ exercise and well, if that happened to be ‘worst’ at that time, on that day, that’s what you are going to receive. There’s no interaction, no response if things appear ‘bad’ when the switch is flicked, it is just ‘done’.
So what do we try to do differently? Well, for example, last week we had a number of requirements for cash, ranging from deceased clients’ charitable legacies to needs for funds to buy a house. We have ‘tried’ to forewarn those who can defer withdrawals that ‘today’ is not necessarily the best time for withdrawals and it is better waiting for some clarity with Brexit to give prices an opportunity of ‘normalising’ (not that we can guarantee that in the short-term of course). However, that too is an extra part of our service to help our clients extract the very best returns from their money.
Yes, it takes us some time manually but on that day, we were able to buy-back twenty-four different holdings we were selling, so our new clients and those rebalancing bought the investments our ‘old’ clients were selling. What this means of course is that the seller and the buyer are securing the very best prices – prices not available to anyone else because the man in the middle is cut-out, aside from the deals going through ‘him’ to report them on the markets and for a nominal fee. A couple of others were instructed for sale but with limit prices – not a simple blanket ‘sell at all costs’ affair. So if we cannot sell at that protected level we can reassess later (all were achieved in fact).
As I say, the client doesn’t notice and wouldn’t necessarily know that on that day in December whilst ‘everyone else’ was receiving or paying a certain price, they received perhaps 2% or more better. Of course we cannot always do that and we try to amalgamate clients’ transactions over a period of time to optimise the likelihood of that happening too (so it is better to be able to give a period of time for a disposal programme to optimise the likelihood of that rather than a universal, kneejerk disposal) – all to try to secure the very best outcomes for clients and all at our cost – because we care and believe this is part of the service we want to provide.
The UK market especially is being pretty torrid at the moment. Yes, there are some stocks and sectors holding-up pretty well but there is a growing list of companies, especially UK-centric ones, which are becoming ludicrously cheap as people trickle-out sales and without the appetite from new investors to buy. It is all very well buying a ridiculously cheap, value stock at £2 but if it then goes to £1.50 and perhaps £1.25, what are you to do? There is little which you can – aside from hold and wait – patience is imperative if the original logical reason for the acquisition is still in place.
I used the expression before however – it truly is ‘death by a thousand cuts’ as most company news at the moment is an excuse for the market to write-down a stock’s price and with little on the upside – or at least little bounce even with good news. At some point it will turn and that is likely to be with a vengeance but for now, the coin which was all one side has simply flipped-over to be the other side, it is as simple as that.
It is not the time to sell; if you avoid doing that or deferring calls on your capital and yes, it is time to shut eyes and buy some of that value which is so obvious on the market – real companies trading normally and making profits, with assets and paying dividends. Drip-feed monies into the markets by all means –a little each month for example to catch the turn too. We are seeing a few clients and new clients recognising the opportunity and sending-in funds but most people ‘out there’ are preferring to sit on their hands till they imagine the horizon is clearer– but don’t forget, that is when everyone sees the same horizon so the value will have been missed.
Whilst we have been saved from this requirement so far, some investment professionals will have sent-out letters already and more to follow soon under the new regulatory regime noting to clients that their assets have dropped by 10% since the last reporting date, unless that sentiment changes soon and does not become a trend. We hope that we shall miss that for our clients by judicious purchasing and as most of our main investments and alternatives are holding-up pretty well but it is not easy nor a pleasant task to have at the moment. Who wants to be an investment manager at the moment?
The latest scam has been closed-down but not till after £9million has gone. Who in their right mind would imagine for one moment that ‘investing’ £795 in each of hazel or oak saplings impregnated with truffle spores (available elsewhere at less than £7.95 each) would be a good investment as opposed to mainstream assets which are bought and sold on exchanges every working day…. Why do people do it? I think sometimes as a Firm we try too hard offering to look after people properly as clearly the more outlandish the scam, the more easily people are duped somehow… I’ll have to add this to parking spaces, Costa Rican ethical forestry, storage units… do I add crypto currencies like Bitcoin to the pile now?
Stock market investments can offer income through the payment of dividends and interest and good opportunities for capital appreciation over the longer term. By this, generally we mean periods in excess of five years, preferably much longer. However, we can never promise you particular returns, especially in the short-term. At any point in time but especially in the short term, your capital could be worth less than the original amount invested as some of the selected holdings may fall in value, regardless of expectations at the time of acquisition. We may also invest in funds that hold overseas securities. The value of these investments may increase or decrease as a result of changes in currency exchange rates. Returns achieved in the past cannot be relied upon to be repeated.
To remind you, why do I send out occasional emails? Because everyone can save money. We have no connection with any companies mentioned and you have to make your own contacts and satisfy your own enquiries. What is in it for us? If we can prove that we are knowledgeable and that our service and advice have good value, then you might contact us for professional financial planning and investment help. You don’t have to do that though and there’s no charge for emails. If simply they save you money, then accept them with our compliments! However, you’ll know where we are!
If you have any queries of any form or indeed any subjects you think I could include, please contact me. I also refer you to our website www.miltonpj.net. We celebrated our thirtieth anniversary in 2015 and have been publishing a well-respected independent column in the local Paper for most of that time and free client newsletters as well.
Do not forget however the usual caveats – this is not ‘advice’ and you are encouraged to seek that before embarking upon any financial route involving investments, etc.
My best wishes
Philip J Milton DipFS CFPCM Chartered MCSI FPFS FCIB
Chartered Wealth Manager
Fellow Of The Personal Finance Society, Fellow Of The Chartered Institute Of Bankers