2021 – Cause for Optimism

22.1.2021

I hope, despite the unusual circumstances caused by the pandemic, that you managed to enjoy the Christmas break, and I wish you and your families a healthy and happy new year.

So, here we are in Lockdown number 3. On reflection, the first lockdown did not seem to be as bad, probably because it was Spring, and the weather was good and there was an element of uniqueness to the situation. I am sure, like me you are all finding the current position tough and challenging – this does affect us all and I am reminded daily how mentally difficult this is by watching my own sons’ experiences in education, a new career, and the lack of social interaction. I hope you are all finding ways to stay positive and keep mentally stimulated.

As I stand back and look beyond the current situation to the year ahead, there are reasons for optimism.

The development of multiple vaccines means there is now, hopefully, an end in sight to the disruptions we have all experienced over the past ten months. We do not know exactly when the full benefits will be felt and we can return to a more normal life, but I am confident it means the second half of 2021 will be markedly – and positively – different to the first. In Somerset, the feedback I am getting from our clients and my family is the vaccination roll out has gathered pace, with 80-year-olds now having received 2 doses and 70-year-olds now receiving their first injection. Well done to everyone delivering the vaccines!

There are other causes for optimism in the longer term too.

Looking around the world, there are changes taking place which the markets see as opportunities. For example, a new administration in Washington, a new basis for the UK’s relationship with Europe, and greater international commitment to the sustainability of our planet.

2020 was of course a remarkable year. The pandemic is a unique experience that has affected all our lives in different ways and to different extents, and for which there has been no roadmap. Our role has been to be by your side throughout; to guide you through the short-term market fluctuations; and to maintain an eye on the longer-term horizon. I do not underestimate the impact that those fluctuations had on your finances, but I hope you can take assurance from the fact that events bore out our confidence that markets would in due course recover.

I trust you already know this, but we continue to be here for you.

David Buchan

David Buchan
Finance Director

Happy New Year!

15.01.2021

I hope that you managed to enjoy the Christmas break and I wish you and your families a healthy and happy New Year.

With tightening restrictions across the world and not just the UK, it is understandable that our attention is focused on the coming days and weeks, whether it is concerns about loved ones catching the virus or waiting to receive the vaccine, children being able to return to school or a broader sense of life continuing to be interrupted, there remains much to occupy our minds.

From our viewpoint we try and look beyond the current situation and we can see reasons for optimism. The development of multiple vaccines means there is now, hopefully, an end in sight to the disruptions we have all experienced over the past 10 months. We do not know exactly when the full benefits will be felt and we can return to a more normal life, but we remain confident it means the second half of 2021 will be markedly and positively different to the first.

There are other causes for optimism as well. There is a new administration taking over in Washington, a new basis for the UK’s relationship with Europe and greater international commitment to the sustainability of the planet – 2020 will be seen as the start of the great Energy Revolution. IronBright is already playing its part with the launch of the IronBright Sustainable portfolios at the end of 2020.

2020 was a remarkable year with the pandemic; a unique experience that has affected all our lives in different ways and to different extents, for which there has been no road map. Our role as financial planners is to be there for our clients and help when we can to guide you through the short term madness but also to keep an eye on the longer term; events did bear out our confidence that markets would indeed recover, and that short term tactical calls in 2020 would be dangerous to your wealth.

As in 2020 we remain fully operational and open for business in 2021. We continue to work remotely save for a few brave souls that man the office daily, and we remain confident that not before long life will return to something more familiar.

All my very best wishes for the forthcoming year.

Steve Brady

Steve Brady
Director

Magic Money – Can We Print Ourselves Rich?

18.12.2020

So, as we all gear up for Christmas in what has been probably one of the most testing years for a very long time, I thought I would ‘throw’ out of few of this week’s news headlines:

  1. Biden’s victory confirmed by electoral college
  2. Barnier says Brexit deal could be agreed this week
  3. London heading for Tier 3 rules
  4. Gas boilers to be banned within 15 years
  5. Government launches crackdown on social media

Not really a ‘slow’ news week! Let us hope we have a Brexit deal to celebrate before Christmas and a return to a new normal in 2021.

Considering the repercussions of the Covid crisis and the huge sums borrowed by Governments around the world, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a new client a few weeks ago. As my title suggests, I wanted to share with you an alternative theory reported in ‘The Week’ publication after my client discussion (pure coincidence) to increasing taxation to pay for the vast sums borrowed.

Thinking back to my A Level economic classes (many years ago!) I am reminded of John Maynard Keynes, the famous Economist who advocated the use of fiscal and monetary policies to mitigate the adverse effects of economic recessions and depressions. The advent of the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 sparked a resurgence in Keynesian thought. Keynesian economics provided the theoretical underpinning for economic policies undertaken in response to the financial crisis of 2007–2008 by President Barack Obama of the United States, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom, and other heads of governments.

When Time magazine included Keynes among its “Most Important People of the Century in 1999”, it stated that “his radical idea that governments should spend money they don’t have may have saved capitalism. The foundation to my economics qualification can now be tested with an alternative theory.

The New Theory – in traditional economics the idea of printing money to solve a nation’s problems is near universally seen as a bad one. By contrast, Modern Monetary Theory or MMT – proposes that nations that issue their own currencies can freely create and spend their own money; and that this is a useful economic tool, which need not devalue the currency, create inflation or lead to economic meltdown. In the MMT worldview, the established idea that high public debt is a drag on economies and a burden on future generations is turned on its head. Proponents argue that, on the contrary, private citizens and businesses tend to do better in countries running high levels of government (or fiscal) debt. Taken to its logical extreme, MMT allows high spending without taxes or borrowing – a truly radical idea sometimes derided as the ‘Magic Money Tree’.

As we move towards the Spring budget, it will be interesting to see if Rishi will follow the traditional economic route or embrace this new theory.

On that note, I wish you all the very best for the coming festive season and new year.

David Buchan

David Buchan
Finance Director

Goodbye 2020

11.12.2020

It is about that time now when we tend to reflect on the year that has gone and have a peek through the Christmas baubles to see what may happen in the forthcoming year. Coronavirus and its fall out have ripped through all areas of the economy and society at large, so it is at least pleasing to hear that yesterday has been named ‘V Day’, as the UK grandmother Margaret Keenan received her jab as part of the mass vaccination programme. It is a big step in the right direction, and we wish her many years of good health and happiness.

Looking back, our IronBright investment principles have been tested to the full this year. I have had many conversations with you during the year covering a range of issues, but one of my long standing clients summed it up in his usual understated manner, “it could’ve been worse”.

At one point I must confess I thought it might well be, but I am pleased to report that all but 3 of the 21 portfolios that we manage is, at the time of writing, in positive territory year to date. A sample of the portfolios’ performances is seen below:

As you know I am not into crystal ball gazing and tea leaf reading so you will not receive any investment forecasts for 2021 from me, other than I expect markets to continue to return value to investors who hold for the longer term and that markets will continue to surprise us from time to time, both on the upside and downside. I looked back at many of the forecasts from the usual pundits in the financial press for this year and whilst some were right and some were wrong, they were either right or wrong for all the wrong reasons! None foresaw the global pandemic and what happened so beware commentators who know ‘for sure’ how best to position your portfolio for 2021.

What I am excited about for 2021 is the launch of IronBright’s range of Sustainable portfolios that are now available. I was tempted to show off their respective backdated performance figures but thought better of it as any portfolio that was light on oil stocks, banks and airlines had a pretty good year. Notwithstanding this there is now a strong investment case to use such portfolios along with the ethical and moral stances many of you wish to take when investing your money. We will also be switching, where appropriate, existing active funds on a like for like basis into sustainable funds in the Core Satellite portfolios over the course of the next 12 months. Have a chat with your adviser at review time?

We have a fantastic team at Brunel who have stepped up to the plate during a very difficult year and I remain very proud of them, so on their behalf I would like to wish you and your family a very Happy Christmas and a fabulous New Year.

Steve Brady

Steve Brady
Director

Reasons to be positive

4.12.2020

As I write this short note, we have just ticked over in to December. So those of you who were not sharing Pete’s enthusiasm last week for an early Christmas this year, it’s ok now, it’s now acceptable. Go get that tree. Put those lights up. No need to tell Alexa to “STOP” when Mariah Carey comes on.

This morning has seen the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine approved by the relevant authorities in the UK and we expect doses to arrive next week with roll out soon after. This is great news and for the first time in a while many are starting to see a way out of this mess.

In November, the FTSE 100 index had its best month in at least three decades. The rise of 14.5% is in line with the best month on record in January 1989.

The RFU has announced that 15 a side full contact rugby matches can recommence. (This is massive news in the Rylett household)

Yes Damien. That’s all very well, but where is the bad news? Well, I’m not giving you any. As an antidote to the Cerberus that is KPR, I’ll give you nothing but positive news.

Cerberus? KPR? What’s he talking about? In Greek mythology Cerberus is a three-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld to prevent the dead from leaving. KPR, which stands for Kuenssberg – Peston – Rigby, is it’s modern equivalent, tasked with keeping the “news” permanently negative to prevent positivity from arriving.

It is normal at this time of year to look back and take stock. Then draw a line and look forward to a new year, a new beginning. I’m happy to share my personal reflections. My relationships with friends, family and colleagues are stronger as a result of this pandemic. I have found out more about myself over the past 9 months than in any other period of my life. I am better educated and fitter (both physically and mentally) than I was before. I have more purpose and more importantly, I am happier.

There are so many positive things that have happened in the world that have slipped under the radar. Watch this short video to see what I mean and I hope that you agree.

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor said “Don’t lament this and don’t get agitated.”

He was referring to that feeling we get when something happens. “It’s all over now.” “All is lost.” What follows are complaints and pity and misery – the impotent struggle against something that has already occurred.

Why bother? We have no idea what the future holds. We have no idea what’s coming up round the bend. It could be more problems, or this could be the darkness before the dawn.

There is one thing we can be sure of: whatever happens, we’re going to be ok.

Best wishes to you and your families for a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Damien Rylett

Damien Rylett
CEO

This year I can get behind early Christmas

27.11.2020

The John Lewis television advert is airing which means it’s Christmas. Not too sure I find the pigeons very endearing. In a normal year it would not be Christmas at all, what with it only being November. We would be enjoying the festive TV adverts as they trickled out but we would still be muttering “too early”.

But this isn’t a normal year. It’s the year of early Christmas for many people and I have already witnessed houses lit up with fairy lights. Early Christmas isn’t just to do with wishing 2020 would hurry up and end but also with trying to wring out some joy from it. The recent announcement regarding the relaxation of Coronavirus rules from 23rd to 27th December is really welcome. I’m motivated to fully embrace early Christmas and bring forward the decorating of the tree to the first week in December. I normally wait until at least the second or third week of December!

Spare a thought for the town of Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, the “mistletoe capital” of the UK. For the past 160 years it has held a mistletoe auction but this year it has been cancelled because of the coronavirus restrictions.

So, Boris Johnson has confirmed an end to the national lockdown on December 2. With vaccines on the way, he has also outlined a roadmap to bring back “normal life” by Easter next year. Assuming the vaccines are approved by regulators, ministers expect the first injections to be provided in December before being rolled out widely in the new year. Let’s hope this happens as planned as I could do with a holiday! I’m sure many of you feel the same way.

More than 300 words and no mention of Brexit! Well, here are my thoughts.

The UK and EU have until the end of the transition period on 31st December to complete a trade deal. A deal would give a major boost to global confidence in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. As I write, the talks seem to be making more progress towards a deal with some positive words today from the European Commission President, Mrs Ursula von der Leyen. Who knows, by the time I next write, a deal could have been completed.

Until next time, I hope you and your family stay safe.

Peter Hill
Director

Peter Hill

 

What’s your Cuba?

20.11.2020

It feels like Mondays are the new Groundhog Day – another very positive Coronavirus vaccine result on Monday from Moderna and President Trump continues to assert his statement that he won the US election. Let’s hope that next Monday brings additional good news on the vaccine front at least. The vaccine news from Moderna had a positive effect on markets around the world and they bumped up very slightly. Care is the watch word though and the scientists are keen to instil an air of caution until the regulators formally review the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. We are all waiting for the time to come when we are free to go about our usual lifestyle and this feeling of time and waiting reminded me of a client:

A number of years ago I met a new client (Gaby) who had been referred to me by an existing client. Gaby was 63 and wanted to know if she had enough money to retire at age 65 which was the normal retirement age for her employer. Gaby was a widow and therefore was already in receipt of a Widow’s pension, on top of her earnings, and a modest range of savings and investments. I asked Gaby why she wanted to see me now and more specifically, what she wanted to do during retirement. Gaby said that for many years, a visit to Cuba was on her wish list – she didn’t have a specific reason, but from what she had seen, the sights, colours and sounds made Cuba a very appealing place and she wanted to visit after she retired.

After a detailed look at Gaby’s income requirements and projected income from various sources, as well as existing savings, I asked Gaby back to the office and we went through her cash flow report (including the costs for a fabulous trip to Cuba). At the end of this meeting, I told Gaby that, instead of waiting until age 65 she could retire now and have two extra years of retirement if she wanted to. Gaby sat back and went, ‘Oh’, thought a bit more and after some further chat, she went home.

A few weeks later, Gaby called and told me that she had given three months’ notice to her employer and had decided to retire now. I quickly re-checked my figures! Everything was in order, so I wished her well and an enjoyable retirement.

Approximately six months later Gaby called and asked to see me again – she had been to Cuba and wanted to tell me about it. Gaby came in (now with pink-flecked hair!) and told me about her trip – she had a wonderful time, and it was everything she had hoped it would be. She then told me she had a brain tumour, which was inoperable and she had six months to live. I was stunned and couldn’t quite find the words. Gaby, with her background, and faith was very calm and said that if she hadn’t seen us, she wouldn’t have considered retiring early. In her words, Gaby said, ‘I’ll always have Cuba’.

So, my question to you is have you made the steps to do the thing you really want to do? If not, why? We all know roughly how much money we have, but we don’t know how much time we have. As Robert Anthony, a Professor at Harvard Business School, once said, ‘There will always be reasons to wait. The truth is, there are only two things in life, reasons and results, and reasons simply don’t count.’

What’s your Cuba?

Have a wonderful weekend, Neil.

Neil Pinney
Chartered Financial Planner

A ‘Very Big’ News Week and Grand Gestures

13.11.2020

Just over a month ago, I wrote my last article and over the past month, the FTSE 100 has swung from going down 7.3% and rising by 14.4% from this low. Initially the negative response was due to the second lockdown and then we had news of Joe Biden winning the US election and of course Pfizer having a successful result on a Covid vaccine. Furthermore, we have had a swing of opinion from Growth stocks back to Value stocks and a story headlined: investors rage as market surge crashes trading platforms.

The finance and stock picking journalists have been having a field day! Rest assured we continue to ignore the short term noise; remain patient; keep a close eye on the long term rather than what markets are doing today; stay disciplined, deliver through careful asset allocation, diversification and regular rebalancing of asset allocations to keep your portfolios in line with your financial plans.

I am continually reassured that our approach is the right one especially when you continue to support our business through referring friends, colleagues, and acquaintances for financial planning advice. One of my recent referrals benchmarked our recommended portfolio against a much larger Investment Management Company who manage more than £50 billion and advised we had delivered higher returns since our launch in 2012.

As you know, we have been keeping you informed of our progress on developing the new Ironbright Platform and to follow up Dan’s article on 16th October, I can confirm the Platform has now been launched. As explained, we are undertaking a deliberate and staged transfer of your assets to ensure a smooth transition. Please look out for a message on our Personal Finance Portal over the next few months which will include a letter of recommendation to transfer to the new platform together with a request for you to agree to the advice.

… and finally, I picked out this article regarding a true great – Sean Connery who died recently. It is never the big things but the grand gestures, that people remember.

In 1984 I was hitch-hiking through Spain on my way to North Africa. A proud Scot, I was wearing my Maclean-tartan kilt while still in Europe. In Marbella, a white Mercedes pulled up, and from the driver’s window a balding head poked out, ‘Where are you headed, Mr Maclean?’ This was Sean Connery. He had recognised my tartan as his mother was a Maclean from the Isle of Skye (whenever you see pictures of Mr Connery in a kilt, it is the Maclean tartan he is wearing).

The great man gave me a lift 15 miles down the road, but not only that, he stopped at his house on the way, introduced me to his wife, and had his manservant make sandwiches for my journey.

RIP Sean.

David Buchan

David Buchan
Director

Rough Seas & Heroes

6.11.2020

I’d finished another heroic week at the office, reflecting on the core qualities needed to succeed in a tough job like ours – that day alone I’d dealt with a complicated ISA application form and a testy youngster in the compliance department of an investment house that really should have known better – and sat down with a well-earned gin and tonic thinking “smashed another week then Steve”.

Flicking through the iPlayer I saw ‘Saving Lives at Sea’ and initially discounted this as it does nothing for my ego, seeing what really good men and women sign up to in their free time, but something made me hit the play button. There was the usual start with the gravelly voice over, panoramas of rough seas and close ups of salty sea dogs recounting stories of genuine heroics.

All well and good and then I heard a familiar voice saying “the Bristol Channel itself is quite a busy place..”, spoken by an “Andy Weston, Managing Director” . The ice cube I was in the process of swallowing flew out and hit the far wall because the Andy Weston on the TV was indeed our very own Andy Weston, our Managing Director.

Pip came in and asked what was going on and I explained it was Andy and he’s on the TV and no I didn’t need the Heimlich manoeuvre, so we settled down and watched the story of the Portishead RNLI crew unfold. Towards the end of the story:

Pip: “These people are amazing. And that Andy, what a lovely face and those piercing blue eyes”.

Me: “It was only a small boat”.

Pip: “But they saved two whole lives”.

Me: “Whatever”.

Whatever, indeed!

Our job is focused on keeping your lifetime savings in good shape and your Financial Plans on track, which is no mean feat in the current climate and a job we love to do; however, it’s good to be reminded that there are countless volunteers out there who do amazing things that you cannot value in pounds, shillings and pence and who selflessly keep answering the call of “a shout” whenever the pager goes off.

Andy has been at our helm for a while now and I thought it’s a good idea to bring him to your attention. He has navigated the company through some turbulent times this year with calmness and clear thinking at some critical moments. I do, however, need to have a word with him about carrying his business card at all times, because people who own boats have money, and if you’ve just rescued them why wouldn’t they want to become a client? There is a marketing strategy there somewhere!

I would encourage you to look at the iPlayer, Saving Lives at Sea, Series 5: Episode 3 while it is still there to see Andy and his crew in action. It is quite something. I speak for us all Andy when I say that we are very proud of you and we are very lucky to have you.

I hope that you all remain safe and well and once again a big thank you for your support, patience, and good humour this year. It is really appreciated.

Steve Brady

Steve Brady
Director

The Dash

30.10.2020

Amidst all of the doom and gloom of a second wave and threat of a second national lockdown, I hope that you are able to remain positive and that you and your families are safe and well.

I was recently reminded of Linda Ellis’ poem The Dash, and remembered that we shared it with our clients a few years back. I thought that it was very relevant now given the times we find ourselves in and the work we do with our clients. You can read the poem in full here.

The Dash talks about the life of a man who has passed away, being talked about by his friend at the funeral. The friend refers to everything that he had done and achieved during his life as being represented by ‘the dash’; the space between the two dates of birth and death on his headstone.

The poem has lots of resonance outside of financial planning, of course, but it also speaks to us about what financial planning is really about and why it can be so important.

During the course of the poem, the speaker notes that what was important about the man was not what he owned, ‘the cars…the house…the cash’, but what he had done and the lives he had touched. He goes on to consider ideas of living a good life, putting things right that we know are wrong, changing how we live for the better.

There’s truth in the poem that, ultimately, your pile of cash is meaningless next to the things that you can do with it. Money is merely an enabler for things to happen and, if those things are good and lasting, they tend to have more impact on us and others than transient things we could spend the money on; a new car or house, for example.

True happiness, the poem suggests, is not about building up ‘things’, but in making sure that you have no regrets, putting wrongs right and living life the right way. Money can, of course, help to do all of those things, but it is not those things in and of itself, it is merely a way to get to the place that you want to reach.

So the next time you sit down to think about your financial planning goals, make sure that you are truly thinking about what you really want to achieve. Not increased revenue, or the next purchase, or to what accounts your money needs to be assigned; but what would genuinely make you happier; your life more fulfilled; your ‘dash’ better lived.

In other news, we know that physical and mental wellbeing are closely linked so as a company we set ourselves physical challenges to encourage and support each other in keeping well. Our latest challenge “Step it up” focused on achieving more that 8,000 steps a day with the winner being the person to achieve most steps. Not a huge goal but when you are sitting at your desk all day it’s easy to forget to build in time to exercise. This challenge had the double benefit of supporting Wells Dementia Action Alliance (WDAA) as like many charities they have been unable to hold their usual fundraising activities. This can be a very isolating and confusing time for those with Dementia so maintaining awareness is key. Any funds that we can raise along the way help to provide support for example for funding PPE for a day centre or providing MP3 players for those who are admitted to hospital make a real difference.

This initiative is being taken up by the wider community over the half term weeks when we are encouraging people to walk in their bubbles either along a designated route or in their local outdoors for more information visit https://www.facebook.com/WellsDAA

Best wishes

Damien RylettCEO

Brunel Capital Partners is a sister company of Pilgrim Financial Planning