Blockchain and Bitcoin; a hegemonic shift in data centralization and currency

It’s probably useful to start off with some definitions and descriptions so here goes:

Cryptocurrencies: Electronic cash not issued by any government or central bank.

It started off being used as a substitute for traditional currency on the dark web, and it’s currently not legal tender. It has been popularized with the development of ‘cryptocurrency exchanges’ that were created to trade various cryptocurrencies, which encouraged lay and experienced speculators to invest which have both driven up prices and created considerable volatility. There are more than 4,000 cryptocurrencies in existence but only a few are popular. Bitcoin being the most well-known.

When private investors invest into cryptocurrencies, it’s more accurate to refer to them as cryptoassets. Thus, cryptoassets are subject to Capital Gains Tax (CGT) in the UK. There is very little regulation around cryptoassets.

Blockchain: It is the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies that is supposed to give it its integrity and thus investor confidence. It’s considered to be decentralized, that is, there is no single intermediary, such as a bank, verifying the integrity of a transaction or ‘store of value’.

Every time a transaction occurs, a record is created in a ‘block’; what follows is a series or a chain of blocks. Hence blockchain. It’s essentially a ledger of every single type of transaction, even erroneous ones.

The value of blockchain technology lies in how it stores data. In another age, it could be considered, black magic and wizardry. But basically, highly complex mathematics verify every single block, and the correct sequence of those blocks.

Those highly complex mathematics require computing power and those who invest in the technology to undertake that activity are colloquially called miners or in the case of Bitcoin, Bitcoin miners. Everytime they solve the highly complex mathematics; they are rewarded with Bitcoin or whatever other cryptoasset.

Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency based on blockchain technology. We don’t know who invented it. Yes, you read that correctly. The name ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ does get mentioned but no-one has ever seen or heard the creator who was supposedly a 37-year-old Japanese male. No-one has ever been able to verify whether Satoshi Nakamoto was a single person or a group of people. We know the name was a pseudonym. There’s been all sorts of tales as to Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity e.g., the CIA, MI5, as well as several real persons including Elon Musk (he’s denied it).

What do I think about cryptocurrency as a cryptoasset?

The value of popular cryptoassets is entirely driven by speculators. In some sense it’s like forex trading, in that they both involve the trading of currency, e.g., trading British Sterling for Bitcoin, having speculated it rising in value against it. Forex is however backed by central government that can influence the supply and demand of a currency because it has important utility as a medium of exchange.

Currently, cryptoassets have no utility. Investors are not investing into anything that can offer value to an end-user, unlike traditional currency that can be used to purchase goods and services. So, despite its growth in popularity, it can only remain a pseudo asset whilst regulation around it remains unclear and a light touch. If cryptoassets do not become legal tender I expect it will continue to suffer from uncanny rises and falls.

Unless you’re a globalist who believes in absolutely no trade barriers and believes in the most liberal form of free market capitalism, I think there’s good reason to be seriously concerned over any legitimization of the current decentralized structure of cryptocurrencies as legal tender. I can only imagine what economists would be thinking on the impact on inflation, labour, wages and especially international trade.

A decentralized currency would disempower governments, unwittingly hailing the rise of corporatocracy like you’ve never known it, seen it, or imagined it.

I do think as we move into a cashless society, blockchain technology is going to become very important in developing a centralised digital currency that can ensure integrity and efficiency in our financial markets. The Bank of England is already exploring an initiative known as the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), which I think is a very positive move. This will be intimately tied in with other blockchain based applications.

What do I think about the future of blockchain?

The technology is powerful and the impact it may have on our societies when coupled with other emerging technologies will dramatically change our behaviours. Financial crime could become obsolete.  However, how people respond vis-a-vie our new social contract with central government remains to be seen. I still remember the furor around ID cards those many years ago.

The applications for blockchain technology across all industries can create a trust within the marketplace that can do away with all sorts of intermediaries and bureaucracy.

Imagine buying a house from a vendor that records not just the history of the title register but also every significant home improvement, and problem that house has had. Imagine blockchain technology integrating with ‘smart-homes’. Imagine AI interpreting the data in plain English. Imagine your real CV on blockchain – which records your education, exam results, career history. Now imagine not receiving a national insurance card, driving license or passport. Rather, you are being assigned a citizen blockchain account on birth that is integrated into the government’s educational, health, taxation and security systems; imagine that blockchain account recording every GP visit, every exam result, every school you attended, every job, and all your tax contributions.

The thing is all that data already exists across various government institutions that don’t always ‘speak’ to each other, with blockchain it’d all be centralised. That’s data centralization, which can only be made possible by blockchain. Although this may allow a government to intervene sooner with social support, because it will better identify your vulnerability, but at what cost is anybodies guess.

If you enjoyed this article you may also like: https://adlestateplanning.co.uk/opportunities-and-threats-re-a-decentralised-cryptocurrency

Mohammad Uz-Zaman MA DipFA PETR is an international wealth manager who holds dual accreditations across wealth management and trust planning. He advises high-net worth (HNW) individuals how best to protect their family and structure their estate for the benefit of successive generations. Mohammad is also an associate member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP).

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ADL’s 2020 two sentence insights

Capitalism and technology have made the world glocal. It has and is bringing people closer together like no other point in human history. For example, today, because of the online gig economy, a start-up in London can contract affordable skilled services in the Philippines, without which neither would be able to add value to their local communities.

Yet it’s 2020, faced with a COVID pandemic our generation has never seen, and race relations at an all-time low since MLK, facing dire job losses and an unsurmountable national debt that I suspect will have a bigger impact on our domestic and foreign policy objectives since 9-11. But Europe, US and the UK are disunited and in disarray. I am intrigued like many others as to what the future could hold and how to prepare for it.

Here are my two sentence insights on the following areas:

  1. The UK economy: The performance of the FTSE index will not be reliable indicator of the economy as large companies benefit from a multi-billion-pound bailout under the guise of the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) largely hidden from public view. However, I question whether some of these traditionally investment grade companies will be able to adapt in a post-COVID environment; failing to do so will have a serious impact on our pension and investment holdings.
  2. President Trump & the US elections: I wonder what would’ve happened if President Trump didn’t forcefully remove peaceful protestors outside the White House to walk to the damaged St. John’s Church back in June 2020 but rather reassured the protestors directly taking the knee in support be it only in principle of the #BLM movement? At the age of 74, President Trump is governing in an era of overwhelming racial divisiveness during a global pandemic, but should he be re-elected, and continue with a modus operandi focused on securitisation and divisiveness I suspect it will have dire consequences for a traditional liberal democracy and its international relations.
  3. Brexit: It appears Prime Minister Boris Johnson is taking his hardball negotiation cues from President Trump’s Art of the Deal which I don’t think can apply between nation states. I suspect his threat to break international law, is merely a crude negotiating tactic and if it did come to fruition it will only empower other emerging powers and undermine our own, which is why I don’t think a trade deal will be agreed in 2020.
  4. COVID & China: COVID will pass, humanity has overcome far greater threats and China will be under serious scrutiny over the extent they allegedly withheld key information about the virus that has sent the world on an expensive spin. But the next US administration will need to consider carefully as to whether they lead an adversarial approach towards China in an attempt to curtail its growing geopolitical influence which will no doubt have serious repercussions on its own economy thus curtailing its own global influence or to work with China on forming a new G2 platform or dare I say a G3 platform including Russia.
  5. Israel, Palestine & its neighbours: Two sentences on this? Yeah right.

Technology is breaking down borders which has been fantastic in allowing people the world over to recognise the overwhelming majority of us have similar shared sacred values. Exploiting difference will become much harder to do. But I wonder how inefficient democratic economies will compete with highly efficient undemocratic economies. There is a strong sentiment being made that we need to give up some of our freedoms to compete, but I say, we need more of it.

As humanity enters 2021 we continue to face serious threats including the competition for the earth’s limited resources and I can’t see how we can resolve these matters without an international effort, which will translate into treaties and mutual obligations which may mean our traditional conception of the nation state need also to evolve.

Mohammad Uz-Zaman is a private client trust and estate planning consultant who holds accreditations across regulated financial advice and estate planning. His career included 5 years at a highly respected think-tank. He holds graduate and post-graduate degrees and he is also an associate member of the Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners (STEP). He works closely with financial advisers, general practice solicitors, accountants and investment managers from several major practices.

Are you paying 60% tax?

As economic pressures grow, ‘middle’ Britain is being taxed more. This piece is particularly relevant to those earning £100,000 and more.

Situation 1: Losing your personal allowance

You’ll be paying an effective rate of 60% tax on your income between £100,000 and £125,000 in the 19/20 tax year. This is because as your income goes over £100,000, you begin to lose £1 of your personal allowance of £12,500 for every £2 it’s over £100,000.

Therefore, once you reach £125,000 you don’t have any personal allowance left. The £12,500 is pushed into the 40% tax bracket incurring a tax liability of £5,000 which you previously wouldn’t have incurred. The £25,000 over your £100,000 income also incurs a 40% tax liability which gives £10,000 to the taxman.

That’s a total of £15,000 to the taxman for simply having an additional income of £25,000 over £100,000. This equates to an effective tax rate of 60% (£15k/£25k).

Who needs to watch out? If you are trader/stockbroker or someone who benefits from a high bonus at the end of the tax year that could push you into this category.

What can you do? Make a pension contribution and you’ll receive an effective 60% tax relief. If you are employed, you only need to make a net contribution of £20,000 and not only would you receive a £5,000 tax boost into your pension, you can claim higher rate tax relief when you complete your self-assessment. You also get your personal allowance back as your ‘adjusted net income’ falls to £100,000. If you are self-employed operating via a limited company, just make a gross contribution via your company for the extra £25,000 you would’ve taken as PAYE or Dividends.

Situation 2: Losing your annual allowance for pension contributions

This is one is a little more complicated, does require closer attention. It affects top-rate taxpayers.

We can make a pension contribution into a UK registered pension up to £40,000 per year and receive tax relief on the contribution; this is called the ‘Annual Allowance’.

However, if your ‘adjusted income’ (which is your taxable earnings and any employer pension contributions), is over £150,000 per year, the annual allowance, tapers by £1 for every £2 your income goes over £150,000.

Generally, when your income exceeds the £150,000 mark by £60,000 (by having an annual income of £210,000), your annual allowance is reduced to only £10,000 per year; under current legislation this is the maximum it can be reduced to. Therefore, you only receive tax relief on £10,000.

Any reduction to your annual allowance means you ‘suffer’ the ‘tapered annual allowance’ (TAA). If you contribute above your TAA, that contribution will suffer a tax charge of 45%!

If you are a business owner who is a top rate taxpayer with an adjusted annual income of £210,000 of which part of that income includes an additional £20,000 of dividends and £20,000 of company pension contributions…

You incur 38.1% dividend tax on the £20,000 which gives a tax charge of £7,620.

You also incur a 45% TAA tax charge on the excess £10,000 company pension contribution which is £4,500.

That’s a total charge of £12,120 which is effectively c60% (£12,120/£20,000). You’re paying c60% tax charge for making a pension contribution whilst your adjusted income is at £210,000.

Who needs to watch out: All top-rate taxpayers.

What can you do?

  • If you take £20,000 less dividends, your adjusted income reduces to £190,000, and your TAA increases to £20,000. Therefore, the employer pension contribution would not suffer a 45% tax charge.
  • Don’t make a pension contribution for yourself.
  • Make a pension contribution for your spouse provided he/she is a lower rate taxpayer.
  • Dependent on your risk profile, you may want to consider a Venture Capitalist Trust (VCT) or an Investment Bond.

Mohammad Uz-Zaman is a private client trust and estate planning consultant who holds accreditations across regulated financial advice and estate planning. He holds graduate and post-graduate degrees and he is also an associate member of the Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners (STEP). He works closely with financial advisers, general practice solicitors, accountants and investment managers from several major practices.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this piece should be taken as personal financial advice. Seek professional advice, everyone’s circumstances are different. Pay for good quality financial advice, you’ll save thousands and you’d avoid an argument with your spouse if you had acted on your own and made a stupid mistake. You’ll also have recourse to the Financial Ombudsman Service if the advice you were given by a regulated financial adviser was wrong. Remember, you don’t know what you need to know. ADL Estate Planning Ltd does not provide any regulated financial advice.

Should we tax the ‘rich’ more?

Tax! A hated necessity, we recognise the need for it, but we have serious disagreements over who should pick up the tab and to what extent.

According to the IFS, the top 1% of earners in the UK pay more than a third of the UK’s total income tax, and who are the top 1%? They are those who earn at least £160,000 per year as a national average of the 1%, but in London the top 1% are those who earn more than £300,000 per year. And if you’re earning more than £70,000 per year, you’re amongst the top 5% who pay 50% of all income tax.

Does that mean 95% of the rest of the population pay the other half? No. In fact half of the population are exempt from making payments due to changes in policy such as increasing the personal allowance at a rate faster than inflation. The people who are being squeezed to fund an ever more costly UK are those on the cusp of being a higher rate taxpayer and higher/top rate taxpayers.

Higher earners are being taxed more than ever before in ever more ingenious ways which include:

  • Tapered removal of the personal allowance as income exceeds £100,000 (this causes the 60% tax, more on that later!)
  • Cuts in income tax relief for pension contributions
  • Reduction in the lifetime allowance
  • Tax on accumulated savings and investments already paid for with taxed income, only to be taxed again by way of further taxes such as capital gains tax or inheritance tax

The irony is that most of the above changes have happened under a Conservative government.

The key question is whether the tax burden on the wealthiest members of our society is a fair one. At this stage, I honestly don’t know the answer to that but it doesn’t feel fair to seemingly penalise geeks at school who opted to study, or an entrepreneur who was willing to take risks, and work 100hr weeks to build a business that goes on to provide valuable services and create new jobs. It’s also not fair that wealthier individuals fund an NHS that they are unlikely to use as they can afford to pay for private health care.

But then again if the other 95% of the population didn’t exist, the top 5% most likely wouldn’t enjoy the income that they currently receive, as it’s only because the other 95% buy or consume the products and services of the top 5% that they can command the income they do.

It’s also wrong to assume the wealthier simply work harder, lots of students work hard and lots of low-income families work incredibly hard but their income doesn’t reflect the economic contribution they make to society by simply being hardworking decent human beings who raise their families well by teaching them good values. What I believe many low-income families lack, is the opportunity to learn new skills in order to increase their income and improve their livelihoods. That lack of opportunity is not merely because of unaffordable course fees but constraints on their economic development through no fault of their own but only their circumstance.

The point I’m trying to make is good citizenship offers serious economic benefits for all as there’s less reliance on public services be it the NHS, Police or social security which should mean a healthier society, confident in the security provided with more disposable income to spend on what the wealthy have to offer. Therefore, it makes sense if the wealthy seek to be as successful as they intend to be, they need to invest in developing a healthy market.

But of course, based on the above statistics they probably have a disproportionate burden, and to risk taxing them any further, would be to risk losing an English speaking internationally mobile British educated professional to a more favourable tax jurisdiction. And when I say the ‘wealthy’, don’t think of CEOs and Directors of companies listed on the stock exchange but rather and more accurately think of talented teachers, doctors, dentists and small business owners among that category.

Ok, does that then mean we need to tax the 95% more than we are? No. They can’t afford it, and doing so, could literally cause hardworking low-income families to collapse which would also have unintended negative economic consequences. So, what’s the answer? Heaven knows and I’m pretty sure neither Boris nor Corbyn have a practical and equitable solution either. But I have some reflections which I’ll share in another piece.

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Mohammad Uz-Zaman is a private client trust and estate planning consultant who holds accreditations across regulated financial advice and estate planning. He holds graduate and post-graduate degrees and he is also an associate member of the Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners (STEP). He works closely with financial advisers, general practice solicitors, accountants and investment managers from several major practices.

ADL Reflections – If we leave the EU.

If we leave the EU, in order for the UK to compete on the international stage it will have to reposition itself as a tax haven/secrecy jurisdiction such as Singapore and Switzerland. Any progress the tax justice network has made, I fear will be undermined.

I can also see our controls on food standards being compromised as we are forced to open our doors to American companies. We may even have to open our healthcare to American privatization. Ultimately, we would be negotiating from a position of weakness as we seek to control inflation.

Trying to fantasise about maintaining economic alliances without intra-country responsibilities unto each member state shows the naivety of the pro-Brexit discourse. Let me see if I can give you an example…a big part of a country’s economic growth relies on exporting; that is selling products and services to other countries. By this very act, we can stifle innovation in those very countries which can then lead to unemployment in those countries, and a skills transfer from those countries to developed countries, which can then lead to unskilled immigrants (why aren’t they called expats?) moving into countries with lax border controls, and of course civil war which is then exploited by other wealthier and more stable nation-states.

As a short-term measure in order to avoid civil disturbances, a poorer country could purposely weaken its currency. And this would allow its products and services to become more attractive to foreign companies and other countries as they’d be able to purchase products and skills at a cheaper cost base.

The devaluation of a currency is a quick way to obtain an economic advantage over its developed neighbour which may have stringent labour laws, higher rates corporate taxation, greater employee benefits i.e. pension funds that it simply can’t get rid of to lower its cost of production in order to compete.

Good luck trying to solve that mere thought experiment when trying to reduce the arguments over the UK’s future relationship with the EU to the appropriate trade tariffs on British fish.

We should remember that this continent has been rife with war but for the last 75 years or so. The fact that we’ve had relative peace on this continent for this long is a testament to the European project.

Who wins in a weaker post-Brexit world? To be honest I can’t see the EU surviving if the UK leaves but I think China and Russia will see an enormous opportunity via a weakened EU and so could begin to create alliances with individual EU states, especially eastern European states as part of the Belt and Road initiative which is progressing at an incredible pace.

That is not a bad thing, all countries have an innate right and desire to progress. The problem is we are going backwards thus no longer being able to compete as part of an up til now behemoth economic bloc.

A weakened EU, however, will also benefit hawkish US policy as there will be less of a risk the EU will be able to undermine the international sanctions it keeps throwing around. However, I believe ultimately the US’s position will suffer greatly as it will not be able to rely on an effective partner as we continue to move into a multi-polar world that sees the US even more isolated.

All is certainly not great with the EU project. It has failed and is failing in engendering a European culture because migration only goes towards the wealthier nations i.e. France, Germany, UK, but for it to truly work the economies of Eastern Europe need to be developed so internal EU migration can move towards those areas too.

And there’s the challenge – how on earth do you get the wealthier nations to fund the poorer EU nations at the expense of their own nations? Especially when you have a democratic system that is based on short-term governance where politicians make short-term promises which either require more credit that gambles on growth or more austerity which undermines economic growth?

By leaving the EU, we may get more control over our economy, judiciary, and borders (although I don’t think we ever really lost it) but we’ll be beholden to international companies like never before – imagine the City of London Corporation not running the square mile but running the entire country.

Ironically, it could be phenomenal for my career/business but costs on the nation and on our children, I fear would be far too great. But maybe I’m very wrong but regardless I believe we as a nation will come through it come what may and divergence in world views doesn’t mean one should act like a moron.

Thought experiment over. Hopefully, it makes sense.

Mohammad Uz-Zaman is a private client trust and estate planning consultant who holds accreditations across regulated financial advice and estate planning. He holds graduate and post-graduate degrees and he is also an associate member of the Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners (STEP). He works closely with financial advisers, general practice solicitors, accountants and investment managers from several major practices.

April Market Commentary

Introduction

It’s tempting to think that Brexit is the only story worth reporting: in fact, there was plenty happening in March, from elections in Holland to a rate rise in the US, new growth targets for China and – also in the Chinese capital – a park which spectacularly failed to live up to its name…

The main global news was that finance ministers from the world’s biggest economies have dropped an anti-protectionism commitment after opposition from the US. G20 ministers usually end their meetings with a commitment to bolster and support free trade and last year vowed to “resist all forms of protectionism.” That was, of course, before we had President Trump and his ‘America First’ policy…

It was a relatively quiet month on world stock markets: seven of the markets we cover were up and five were down, but none of them by very much. The best performing market was France, with good news on both the political and trade fronts seeing Europe’s two leading stock markets move higher.

UK

On March 29th – two days before her self-imposed deadline – Theresa May formally sent a six page letter to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, informing him that the UK would be leaving the EU. We will now have two years of negotiations before – in theory – the UK could leave the EU on Friday March 29th 2019. There will be plenty of twists and turns over the next two years and there will be good and bad news, whichever way you voted in the Referendum.

A prominent supporter of Leave, James Dyson, started the month by opening his second ‘tech campus’ in the UK at Hullavington in Wiltshire, as he looked to double his UK workforce to around 7,000 and pronounced himself “optimistic” about the country’s future.

Vodafone also announced plans to create 2,100 service sector jobs and UK unemployment was down to its lowest rate since 1975 as it fell to 4.7%. However, wage growth also slowed, falling from 2.6% to 2.3%.

One man who might now be worrying about unemployment is Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who delivered what he must have considered a jolly fine Budget speech, full of reassuring news and witty cracks at the expense of Her Majesty’s Opposition. Unfortunately, Hammond was swiftly forced to backtrack on his decision to raise Class 4 national insurance contributions.

The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee kept interest rates on hold at 0.25% – and at that level it is little wonder that the UK savings ratio (the proportion of income which households save) has fallen to its lowest level since the early 1960s.

UK inflation went in the other direction, pushed higher by rising fuel and food prices. It reached 2.3%, the highest level since September 2013, with the Bank of England expecting it to peak at 2.8% next year. It was confirmed that the UK economy grew by 0.7% in the final three months of 2016, with the Bank now expecting the economy to grow by 2% in the whole of 2017.

The FTSE 100 index of leading shares closed the month up 1% at 7,323 having reached a record high of 7,424.96 in mid-March.

Europe

It’s important not to get fixated on Brexit: life in Europe went on perfectly well despite the UK’s formal decision to leave the EU.

The Dutch election saw Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberal party comfortably win the most seats, pushing the far-right Freedom party into second place. It is also looking increasingly likely that Emmanuel Macron will defeat Marine le Pen in the French Presidential race, so there will sighs of relief through Europe’s corridors of power. Economists have been predicting that the euro will fall below the dollar if Le Pen wins.

There was more good news for Europe on the economic front with the influential Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index rising to 56.7 and suggesting that growth in the Eurozone was at its best level for nearly six years. The report’s authors also said that job creation was “at its best level for nearly a decade” – although obviously there remains a very long way to go, given the problems of youth unemployment in countries like Spain and Greece.

French carmaker PSA – maker of Peugeot and Citroen cars – reached a deal to buy Opel from General Motors. This also includes Vauxhall and its 4,500 staff in the UK and there will inevitably be worries about job losses.

Boosted by the election result in Holland and the news about growth, it was a good month on Europe’s stock markets: the German index was up by 4% to 12,313 while the French market rose by 5% to 5,123. Even Greece joined in the fun, with the Athens market rising by 3% in March: ominously, though, it closed at 666…

US

The month in the US opened with Chairman of the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen saying that ‘interest rates may rise.’ A week later it was confirmed that the economy had added 235,000 jobs in February and the rate rise was all but certain: it duly arrived at the monthly meeting of the Federal Reserve policymaking committee, as the rate moved up by 0.25% to a range of 0.75% to 1% – only the third rate rise in a decade.

In company news, Intel made a $15bn bet on driverless cars as it bought Israeli company Mobileye: working with BMW, they are planning to have 40 test vehicles on the road by the second half of this year.

No driverless cars for Uber – and plenty of problems for boss Travis Kalanick who was filmed swearing at a driver who had complained that his income was falling. No doubt Mr. Kalanick will console himself with the thought that the latest round of funding values Uber at $68bn – which makes the $24bn stock market debut of loss-making Snapchat (just the $516m in 2016) look positively pitiful.

Ford confirmed its further commitment to the US with a pledge to invest $1.2bn in its Michigan plant. And the month ended with good news as growth for the fourth quarter of 2016 was revised upwards from 1.9% to 2.1%.

There was no upwards revision on Wall Street though, as the Dow Jones index fell back by 1% in the month to close at 20,663.

Far East

It was a relatively quiet month in the Far East, both for news and for the region’s stock markets.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced that the country’s growth target for this year would be 6.5%, down from last year’s 6.7% – when the country’s economy grew at its slowest pace for 26 years. Li said that the state would tackle ‘zombie enterprises’ – state enterprises which produce more coal and steel than the market needs which frequently leads to ‘dumping’ abroad – but in the past this has proved notoriously difficult to achieve.

In Japan, the beleaguered Toshiba Corporation continued to slide as it was given permission to delay announcing its earnings. The company is still struggling with huge cost overruns at Westinghouse, the US nuclear firm it bought in 2006.

There were struggles of a different kind for former South Korean leader Park Guen-hye whose impeachment over a corruption scandal was upheld by the courts: three people died in the ensuing protests.

On the region’s stock markets, both China and Japan fell back by 1% in March, to 3,223 and 18,909 respectively. The Hong Kong market was up by 2% to 24,112 whilst the South Korean market ignored its former Prime Minister and rose 3% in the month, closing at 2,160.

Emerging Markets

It was a difficult month for the emerging markets we cover. Regular readers will know that in 2016 Brazil was the best performing market of the ones monitored in this report, rising by 39%. It also started this year strongly, gaining 10% in the first two months alone. However, it has now been confirmed that the country has been in recession for two years, with the economy shrinking by 3.6% in 2016: it is now 8% smaller than it was in December 2014. The main reason has been the fall in commodity prices, and the recession has seen unemployment rise by 76% to 12.9m – equal to a rate of 12.6%. Not surprisingly, the stock market declined in March, falling 3% to 64,984.

Back in November, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that 500 and 1,000 rupee notes (worth around £6 and £12) would no longer be legal tender, in a move designed to reduce corruption. March saw the deadline for handing in the old notes and there was predictable chaos in the banking system, with 40% of cash dispensers being empty. Having handed in their old notes, customers couldn’t then get new ones. But the Indian stock market is clearly an advocate of the cashless society: it was up by 3% in the month, ending March at 29,620.

There were relatively few dramas in Russia, where the stock market has had a miserable start to the year. It fell 2% in March to 1,996 and is down 11% for the year as a whole.

And finally…

There has never been a month like March 2017 for the ‘and finally’ section. The world may not have gone mad, but it certainly went quirky.

A young man’s thoughts turned to spring and the thoughts of Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct and Newcastle United, turned to buying Agent Provocateur, the lingerie label which had gone bust. Given Mr Ashley’s penchant for publicity, the Newcastle players must be dreading next year’s first team kit…

Then there was the Indian washing machine introduced by Panasonic, which now comes with a special ‘curry’ button following customer complaints that they couldn’t get the stains off their clothes. Parents worldwide have written to Panasonic suggesting buttons labelled, ‘grass,’ ‘mud’ and ‘tomato sauce.’

…And finally, off to Beijing where a public park has introduced face recognition technology to ration loo roll. Visitors to the park were apparently tearing off extra loo roll and taking it home with them: the authorities acted swiftly and brought in the facial recognition software which now dispenses a fixed length of loo roll. The park is called the Temple of Heaven: let’s hope no one in the Temple of Heaven has eaten a curry…

4 companies using Brexit to put up prices

Six months on from the Brexit result and there are many factors of the UK’s impending departure from the EU that remain clouded in mystery. What has become clear, however, is the impact the vote to leave has already had and will continue to have upon the price of products. A number of companies have already used Brexit as an excuse to increase the price tag on everything from the latest technology to the groceries in your shopping basket, despite the fact that Article 50 hasn’t even been triggered yet. Here are four of the main offenders:

  • Apple – The computer giant’s price hikes have perhaps received more coverage than those of any other company. It’s partly due to the fact that the Mac Pro desktop computer, a piece of kit that hasn’t been updated for three years, has seen a whopping £500 added to its already hefty £2,499 price tag. That the company was ordered by the EU to pay €13 billion (£11 million) in back taxes earlier this year hasn’t helped their case with consumers either.
  • Unilever – The multinational company made headlines in October for increasing the price of Marmite – a move which prompted some major supermarket chains to briefly remove the love-it-or-hate-it spread from their shelves – but several other products likely to feature in your weekly shop also cost more than they did before 23rd June. These include Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Comfort fabric conditioner and PG Tips tea bags.
  • Walker’s – The crisp manufacturer blamed the need to increase the price of a standard 32g bag from 50p to 55p on ‘fluctuating exchange rates’ – a move which angered some snack fans as Walker’s crisps are manufactured in Britain using potatoes grown in this country. The company responded that, whilst this is the case, packaging, seasoning and oil are all imported

LEGO – The latest additions to the Brexit price hike are the much-loved Danish plastic bricks. Fiona Wright, LEGO vice-president, has announced that the prices of the company’s toys are set to rise by 5% on average. Parents can take some comfort in the fact that the increase is set to come into effect on January 1st 2017, allowing any LEGO Christmas gifts to be bought before the price goes up.

A Night of the Northern Lights

 http://news-view.co.uk/night-northern-lights/

 

 

Should the Bank of Mum and Dad start charging interest?

If you’ve lent money to your children to help them with university fees, a deposit on their first home or even just to support them with the rising cost of living, then you’re not alone. Statistics suggest that around a quarter of all mortgages are now partially funded by the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’.

But have you ever thought about whether you should charge your offspring interest when they pay the loan back? It’s a consideration that’s likely to make many parents feel like Dickens’ famous festive miser, Ebeneezer Scrooge. However, there are arguments to be made for adding on interest which might help to prevent you from donning a Victorian style top hat and uttering ‘Bah, humbug!’

If you’re concerned that any money provided to help out your children might end up becoming a ‘permanent loan’ that you might never see again, interest can be a good way to ensure this doesn’t happen. Whether you put an interest rate in place from the start, or make it clear that interest will start to be charged if the money isn’t paid back by a certain point, the idea of having to repay more than the initial amount can help the borrower take the loan seriously and ensure regular payments are made.

It’s also worth considering what adding interest could help teach your children about ‘real world’ loans, especially if they are still relatively young. Another way of achieving this is to refuse multiple loans – a bank wouldn’t agree to an endless stream of applications for further credit, so if you do want to see your money again you should ensure that your offspring don’t see you as an unlimited supply of funds.

Of course, the Bank of Mum and Dad isn’t really a bank at all, which is what makes it attractive for all involved. Young people will likely feel more secure borrowing from their family than risking being turned down by a bank and damaging their financial status; whilst parents who can afford to loan their children money know it might offer some protection from the difficulties of struggling to pay off credit. Charging interest might be something you’re completely comfortable with, or it might be an idea you would never entertain; ultimately, however, the choice is entirely yours.

Countries and Coastlines – A View from Space

http://news-view.co.uk/countries-and-coastlines/

Reforming the NHS, or reforming taxation?

We don’t truly value something until we realise how much we really need it. It’s without question we all value the need to have a health service, but despite what some politicians say, let’s call a spade a spade. Shall the NHS be privatised or should it remain funded by general taxation?

Corporations don’t necessarily have a more efficient way of doing things and in actual fact, the NHS has been independently evaluated by the respected Commonwealth Fund, a US-based think tank specialising in reviewing healthcare systems around the world, as not only being best for giving access to care but also best efficient use of resources!

It probably won’t receive a best for ‘access to care’ next time, should we decide to put passport control at the entrance. I must say, maybe we should leave passport control at the border, and allow Doctors, Nurses and everyone associated with a hospital to never need to compromise their nurturing and duty of care character by having to say ‘No’ to vulnerable human beings needing care…yes even if they are illegal immigrants who managed to outsmart border control.

Look missed GP and hospital appointments cost the NHS nearly £1 BILLION a year, health tourists cost us £200 million, I am not saying let’s ignore it, but let’s put our focus in the right place.

A possible solution…

What if we looked at the NHS as a charitable institution? What if we knew how much of our paycheque went to the NHS? What if we the public could decide to top up our ‘NHS Tax’ contribution by way of a charitable one? I appreciate our charitable giving would have to increase considerably but I think the more involved people are, there will come with it a sense of pride and want to contribute money and time. There are around 30 million workers in the UK according to the ONS, if each of us contributed an extra £10 per year, that’s an extra £300 million for our beloved NHS. Let’s be a bit more ambitious and say an extra £100 per year, that works to another whopping £3 billion.

As to monetising it further, let’s get the NHS to charge foreign travellers who would prefer to be taken care of within our health care system because theirs is underdeveloped. I’m sure this would be a huge market, particularly across the developing world. But not just that, how about the NHS offering its own travel insurance policy for the millions who visit the UK from America, Europe, China, Australia and elsewhere.

I am against the NHS being privatised, but I am not against the NHS having a commercial mindset.

As a strong believer in ‘a big society’ of sorts, where charity must begin at home we need new ways to engage with that society. A strong part of that could relate to being given a chance to contribute to those areas of society that matter a lot to us and allow us to be involved with those very institutions that are pivotal to society.

Such an innovation could go many steps further, in encouraging children to participate in those areas of civic society their parents are interested in. Gently introduce children to hospitals, visiting the sick and elderly, learning about compassion, patience, difficulties and also the importance of aid.

Whatever the solution, we cannot continue to patch things up, we must change our entire approach to the ‘social contract’, that is the contract we want our Government to have with us be it in the specific provision of health care, security and education. Such industries which should never be given over to corporations whose entire structure is based on increasing shareholder value.

Sources:

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/17/nhs-health
  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33375976
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/22/doctor-health-tourists-passports-patients-migrants-nhs-government-cuts

Disclaimer: The opinions of this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of ADL Estate Planning Ltd or its management but we welcome different perspectives.

Expecting the Unexpected: Protect Your Income

Looking to the future is something most of us only do in the short-term.  We think ‘it will never happen to me’, or ‘we’ve got better things to spend our income on’ and unfortunately planning for the worst is simply not a priority.

The sad truth though is that none of us are immune to illness or injury, which could keep us away from work and considerably impact our lifestyles.

Future-proofing – just in case.

At the very least look at your expenditure habits, be honest with yourself with regards to how long it would take you to return to work, even factor in the possibility of losing your job due to sickness and then looking for new work once you are better. That should give you an idea of how many months worth of income you will need to replace.

That figure should be your initial savings target, before you even think about investing a single penny into stocks and shares. There’s no point investing in stocks and shares which are long term investment vehicles if you have to disinvest at the wrong time, it could cost you and your family a lot of money.

Serious illness or injury that stops you from working is a real concern and affects hundreds of people each year.  Consider the following facts:

  • Nearly 1 million people a year are off work long term sick
  • Most common long-term work absence is stress, mental health and musculoskeletal injuries
  • Musculoskeletal injuries are more common for manual workers and stress is more common for non-manual workers.

You can read more here: http://www.legalandgeneral.com/library/protection/sales-aid/W13952.pdf 

What would you do?

If you were one of those 1 million, or maybe your willing to take that chance? Maybe your thinking population in the UK is around 64 million so it appears as if it’s a 1 in 64 chance. A chance that you are willing to take. BUT, the working population is 31 million, so, now that’s a 1 in 34 chance and we haven’t got to considering your current health, dietary habits, exercise habits and current mental health. If we were to factor those in, the statistics could look a lot scarier.

Income Protection

An income protection policy usually protects your income upto 50% of your gross salary. It’s at 50% primarily to encourage you to return to work and if it is used in conjunction with your savings it can be a useful way to help you manage your finances when things are not going so well allowing you to focus on your recovery. What’s more, is that it is permanent, this means once you have been underwritten you can make as many claims as you need to if you return to work and then become unwell again. The benefits are also tax free.

#don’tinvest.protectfirst.

 

Source: http://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/bulletins/uklabourmarket/2015-04-17

 

Disclaimer: The information contained within this article are provided as illustrative purposes only based on legislation at the time of publication. Nothing in this article should be construed as advice or guidance to one’s personal situation. The value of your investments may go up and down, similarly, other aspects of your wider lifestyle and financial context may impact on your objective. In a nutshell, don’t rely on blogs and the articles for personal advice, and always seek advice from a qualified professional.