7th July 2016

Brexit

The economic effects of leaving the EU could cause unemployment to rise in the UK which would reduce the pressure for wage growth. The Treasury estimated that wages will be between 2.8% and 4% lower at the point of maximum impact.

However, if the UK remains a member of the EU for at least another two years, much will depend on economic performance during this period.

In the event that economic growth is slower outside the EU in the short term, the Government’s income could fall, leaving it with less money to spend. There have been estimates of the size of that possible shortfall varying between £28bn and £44bn by 2019/20.

Since the welfare budget amounts to approximately 28% of all government spending, there could also be cuts that reduce tax credits and benefit payments.

Ultimately, the UK’s economic growth and potential budget shortfalls will very much depend on the precise nature of trade agreements and whether the UK will be a member of the European Economic Area (EEA).

One further option the Government may consider is not to keep its earlier target to balance the books by 2020, known as the ‘fiscal mandate’. This would enable decisions to be made as whether to maintain benefit payments at current levels.

No laws have changed

A week before the EU referendum, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, warned that a vote to leave the EU might result in tax increases too. He spoke about a 2p rise on the basic tax rate (currently 20p in the pound) and a 3p rise in the higher rate (currently 40p). He also said Inheritance Tax (IHT) might rise by 5p from its current 40p in the pound. But to do so would go against the Conservative Government’s promises at the last general election, making this decision to implement difficult politically.

Many commentators believe the Government would be much more likely to extend the period of austerity beyond 2020. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said that spending might need to be curbed for two further years.

During the referendum, the Vote Leave campaign said it wanted to remove the 5% VAT charge on domestic fuel that is currently required by the EU – but it is not clear how or when this could be achieved.

The UK’s tax authority is stressing that ‘no laws have changed’ and that tax rules remain the same following the EU referendum. ‘Everything is continuing as normal. No laws have changed. There is no need to contact HM Revenue & Customs as a result of the EU referendum.’

Changes to financial regulations will inevitably change in time following the UK’s vote to leave the EU. However, a recorded message on the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) helpline stated that nothing has changed in the immediate aftermath of the vote.

Existing commitments re-examined in post-Brexit climate

During the referendum campaign, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said the so-called ‘triple lock’ for state pensions would be threatened by a UK Brexit. In their 2015 election manifesto, the Conservatives promised to extend the triple lock on state pensions – a guarantee that they rise every year until 2020 by at least 2.5%, or the rate of inflation, or growth in earnings if it is higher.

While pensioner benefits were a ‘policy priority’ and he was committed to honouring manifesto promises, the Prime Minister said £90bn was spent on it every year and it was among many existing commitments that might have to be re-examined in a post-Brexit climate. Again, this assumes a poorer economy and lower national income going forward.

If economic performance deteriorates, the Bank of England could decide on a further programme of quantitative easing as an alternative to cutting interest rates, which would lower bond yields and, with them, annuity rates. So anyone taking out a pension annuity could receive less income for their money.

For many people with money invested in ‘income drawdown’, they should do nothing unless they have to. Income drawdown is a way of using a pension pot to provide a regular retirement income by reinvesting it in funds specifically designed and managed for this purpose. The income received depends on the fund’s performance and isn’t guaranteed for life.

Up to 25% (a quarter) can be taken from the pension pot as a tax-free lump sum. The rest is moved into one or more funds that allows for an income to be taken at a time when it suits. Most people use it to take a regular income. The income received may be adjusted periodically depending on the performance of the investments.

There are two main types of income drawdown:

Flexi-access drawdown – introduced from April 2015, where there is no limit on how much income can be taken from drawdown funds
Capped drawdown – only available before 6 April 2015 and has limits on the income that can be taken out; if someone is already in capped drawdown, there are new rules about tax relief on future pension savings if they exceed their income cap

As we have seen post the Brexit result, there is likely to be a period of volatility in the markets and uncertainty in the wider economy. In these conditions, acting in haste is unlikely to serve well for many people unless there are good reasons for doing so.

For people many years away from retirement and making regular savings, unless Brexit has impacted on a change in their current circumstances it will be prudent to keep saving. It’s also worth remembering that when markets fall, investments are acquired at a lower price, resulting in the opportunity to gain when markets rise.

It is likely that for the foreseeable future, annuity rates will continue to remain at their current low levels. An annuity is a product available for retirees and offers an income for life, bought at retirement with all or part of a person’s pension savings.

The current returns available reflect movements in interest rates, and since Brexit the money markets have signalled further lower long-term rates. Gilt yields and annuity rates have been falling steadily over the past year and could reduce even further.

Cuts have already taken place following falls in the yields on bonds issued by the Government in the wake of the EU vote, and more falls in annuity rates are likely to follow. On Monday 27 June, some pension companies began to cut the amount they will pay people who are newly retiring.

If someone is considering using their pension to purchase an annuity to fund their retirement, they should obtain professional advice sooner rather than later.

For those wanting to delay purchasing an annuity but needing to draw on their pension savings, if appropriate they could draw an income from their funds using a drawdown arrangement.

In the longer term, there is a possibility that some of the stringent EU rules on the amount of capital that insurers have to hold to support their annuity may be relaxed ever so slightly, and this should be good for annuities.

There are currently over 11m people that have defined benefit pensions (final salary schemes). Many people may have one if they currently work or have worked for a large employer or in the public sector.

A defined benefit pension scheme is one where the amount paid is based on how many years a member works for an employer and their salary earned. These schemes pay out a secure income for life which increases each year.

An employer contributes to the scheme and is responsible for ensuring there’s sufficient money at the time of retirement to pay a pension income to the member, and there is no reason to expect any instant effects of the Brexit vote on such schemes.

Once earned, the benefits due from a defined benefit pension scheme cannot be changed without members’ approval unless the company concerned goes out of business.

However, if interest rates stay lower for longer and economic growth is weak, some schemes’ funding could be put under more pressure.

It is possible that some defined benefit pension schemes may think about passing more of the cost on to members by increasing their contributions. But any change is unlikely until each scheme’s next official valuation, which happens once every three years.

As the state pension is ‘unfunded’, it’s not backed by an investment fund, which means it is not affected directly by movements in the financial markets. Any potential effects of Brexit on the state pension is likely to occur in the longer term.

However, a severe post-Brexit recession could put pressure on the tax revenues that are needed to pay the state pension.

Any changes to the state pension are more likely to affect those who have not yet retired rather than those that have already retired. One significant state pension change in the future could be an impact on the ‘triple-lock’, which now looks more uncertain following the EU vote.

The triple-lock guarantees that the state pension will rise by the higher of prices, average earnings or 2.5%. Before the referendum, David Cameron warned this ‘special protection’ would be under threat if there were a ‘big black hole’ in the economy following a Brexit vote.

Pension saving should still remain a priority, especially given that the tax relief currently available on contributions may not be here forever.

Maintaining a long-term perspective is the key to investment success

As was widely predicted, a vote to leave the EU wiped billions off companies’ share prices. Low interest rates and volatile stock markets are likely to be the order of the day for the foreseeable future, and any rise in interest rates would be good news for savers. However, it’s important to keep this event in context. This is far from the global financial crisis of 2008, but the decision to leave the European Union sparked volatility across asset classes. In terms of specific sectors, banking, airlines and construction experienced the biggest falls in share prices.

For investors that have no immediate need to withdraw money, they should remain invested, especially if they are genuinely investing and not speculating. Making impulse decisions, such as selling much too low out of fear, can be very costly in the long run. Even though there have been falls in the FTSE 100, and more significantly to the FTSE 250 since the EU referendum result, it’s also important not to lose sight of buying opportunities.

The golden rule when investing is to buy low and sell high. With the massive amount of uncertainty surrounding Brexit and its potential long-term effects, now may be a good time for adventurous investors to add appropriate stocks selling at all-time lows to their portfolios. For people years from retirement, they have lots of time for these securities to rebound and need to keep calm and carry on.

While the knee-jerk reactions will continue to make headlines, history has shown that maintaining a long-term perspective is the key to investment success.

Although there has been a significant slide downwards in sterling, it’s worth remembering that the UK has previously endured sharp devaluations before, notably following the ejection of the pound from the European Exchange Rate mechanism (ERM) and in the aftermath of the banking crisis, resulting in periods of economic expansion.

The UK is the fifth largest economy in the world, and, looking at the fundamentals, more than 70% of FTSE 100 earnings are international in nature and so are little affected by any weakness in the UK domestic economy stemming from the vote.
It is important that investors’ portfolios are well diversified and a long-term perspective is maintained, and investors should be careful not to be drawn into any hysteria – a multi-asset approach will enable investors to protect capital and drive long-term returns in the future.

Make sure your plans remain on track

The UK’s exit from the European Union after 43 years surprised markets. It is important to keep this event in context – this is far from the global financial crisis of 2008. This is a time for investors to concentrate on long-term fundamentals and to remain focused on meeting their investment goals. If you want to discuss your particular situation post-Brexit to ensure that your plans remain on track, please contact SFIA Group Ltd on 01628 566777 or email colin_a_sanders@yahoo.co.uk.

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