19 Jul 2016, 3:11pm
housing personal finance:
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  • Residential property investment success with Castle Trust

    Every Briton loves residential property, because ever since 1993, every man and his dog has been able to clean up with buying UK residential property. What’s not to like – no capital gains tax, banks lend you shedloads of money to buy an asset you otherwise couldn’t afford and no marked to market margin calls. Hell, they’ll even lend you money to buy other people’s houses, which is why we have middle class parents with buy to lets wringing their hands that their precious offspring can’t get a foot on the housing ladder and rent into their 30s.

    Three years ago Cameron decided to add fuel to this fire buy lending more money to people that couldn’t afford to buy houses, called help to buy. This pissed me off so much that I decided it was time to get in on the action. I didn’t want to buy a house for other people,  because I distrust the British property market more than Bernie Madoff because of what it did to me early in my working life, when I stupidly bought a house on five times my annual pay, albeit with a 20% deposit.

    It’s really hard to describe how much that buggers you up financially. Put it like this, my shareholding net worth is considerably more than my housing net worth. The latter I built up painstakingly from that early start across 20 years (until I discharged my mortgage). The shares I started in 2009 – okay so I was at the peak of my earning power and particularly keen to amassing capital, but nevertheless, accumulating housing wealth was a slow horrible grind for me, I was underwater for ten years.

    Since Cameron was giving out free money I decided that I may as well put my hand out for some of it, So I went with a Castle Trust Housa. I only went with £1000, because I was about to pass through a few years of lean times living off capital and investment returns, so most of my spare capital went into stock market investment. As a term lump investment with no income this was exactly what I didn’t need, but I did it for the principle. I didn’t incur any dealing costs or liquidation costs. and they have now sent me this letter

    housaOccasionally, in the three years since taking this out I’ve suggested it as something to consider for people saving for a house deposit bemoaning that the deposit gets overtaken by rising house prices. It makes sense to invest the deposit in something tracking the asset class, and while the Halifax house price index will never track the prices of the house you want to buy in a particular part of the country (particularly if it’s London), I was drawn to the Housa precisely because it was an index product.

    It was very illiquid – there was no secondary market for Housas, so if you needed the money within the three years (or five years) then you were simply SOL. There was obviously provider risk, Castle Trust used the Housa money to advance mortgages, a delightfully simple principle reminding me of the halcyon days before everything became financialised, you know, where real people clubbed together to help other real people raise the cash to buy a house. We used to call them building societies before they lost their soul to abandoned credit controls under Thatcherism, financial deregulation and greedy carpetbaggers.

    I wasn’t depriving some poor first-time buyer from buying a house 1 by front-running them and renting it back to them as a buy to let. So all in all an easy win. The 30% win is neither here nor there on this amount – perhaps I should have borrowed money to up my stake, but it is the first time I have managed an unequivocal profit on UK residential housing, unlike 99% of my fellow countrymen.

    It’s a shame this low-cost way of investing in the house price index has gone

    Castle Trust clearly want to get rid of this index product – they will only pay it out, not roll it over, and what they are offering now is nowhere near as attractive or even useful as a house price hedge. They are now offering basically fixed-rate corporate bonds on their mortgage business. The Housa was also secured on their business and I recall it made me uncomfortable at the time, but I was happy to take the haircut if the house price index fell, which would automatically ease the pressure on the company if people started defaulting. What made the Housa attractive was it had no carrying costs, purely the risk from the index and the provider risk, and since it was secured on the asset class underlying the index I felt okay about that. I won’t touch their alternatives.

    The problems for house buyers deposits are still that a sequence of Housa bonds or equivalent doesn’t really match how you want to use a deposit – you save over the years and then want to commit the entire deposit to the house purchase, at some unknown date.  You’d have to stop saving into housas three years before you buy, the flexibility is dire compared to a liquid alternative you can dripfeed into –

    Spread Betting

    You used to be able to spreadbet the Halifax house price index with IG Index, but the carrying cost of spreadbets is surprisingly high at 2.5%, pretty much the same long or short. You get the advantage of liquidity, unlike the Housa, but you pay that cost and a spread. On the other hand leverage is easy with spreadbetting. I don’t know if I were a young person trying to track deposit whether I would be tempted by leverage. The old head on my shoulders now looks at that and just seems despondency, desperate costs and massive tail risks, but on the other hand it would offer someone the chance to gear up if they feared prices escalating away from them.

    Part of the trouble with house prices is the cycles are slow, so all these annual costs can rack up and kill you because the underlying volatility and gains are too low. They look huge because a house is such a large purchase, Moneyweek had an interesting article on why spreadbetting sucks on house prices. It brings home just how much of a shame it is that Castle-Trust’s carry-cost-free alternative has gone.

    A young person will be more dynamic and risk-taking than me, and they have the advantage of having nothing to their name, so if their spreadbet goes titsup they have the option of walking away from their debts by declaring bankruptcy. I’m not advocating the idea, but faced with years of saving and falling behind, I can see an attraction is taking the risk if they are prepared to go through six tough years if prices fall. I considered walking away from massive negative equity in 1990 and going to work in Europe 2

    Low interest rates are no kindness to new house buyers

    It is a shame that we have no financial products that can help the young save in a deposit that at least tracks house prices. The very low interest rates now have decoupled savings from house prices with the pernicious rise of people talking about affordability – ie how much can you borrow at current interest rates assuming this will hold for the next 25 years. You amass equity very slowly at high income multiples, so you are exposed to the risk of negative equity for much longer in your working life than previous generations, and low inflation doesn’t help erode the real value of the principal. True, they had to suck up higher interest rates than now 3 but that has a silver lining – it incentivises overpaying, because that delivers a real win even on small amounts. The maths that make affordability good at low interest rates and high income multiples also make paying down the capital harder (because it’s a bigger proportion of your pay) and less worthwhile, you’re effectively renting the money from a bank, and much closer to the renting situation generally, even if you think of it as ‘owning’ the house.

    Even if we did have suitable financial products it’s no competition with buying a house on a mortgage, and you can’t live in your house price index bet either, though at least you don’t pay capital gains on it, should you have any.

    UK housing is a harsh mistress in a downturn

    …but she’s put on a lovely face for nigh on 25 years, tracking and soaking up the massive expansion of credit. So I’m inordinately chuffed with my £300 won from this most toxic of markets for me. True, Brexit seems to have done me several orders of magnitude more good in the numbers attached to the shareholdings I bought, which is just as well as I want some compensation for the damage my buccaneering countrymen have done to my financial future. And I am staying well out of the UK residential housing market in future – even if Castle Trust had offered me a roll-over I’d have walked away.

    Winter is coming to Britain. People are going to lose their jobs, and a good part of the reason for Brexit is that globalisation is making the lower part of the jobs market more and more crap, to the extent that middle-income families are getting 30% of their income from welfare. These are not people that will be able to afford to spend more and more of their non-income on housing, particularly if inflation and interest rates rise. If there’s one market I want out of, it’s UK residential housing, and now I’m out I’ll stay out until it has its Minsky moment.

    Notes:

    1. Castle Trust do lend to landlords too, so I could have been shafting the young by proxy
    2. I appreciate the poignance of that now, but heck, I was a Bremainer, so it wasn’t me that hurt this option for twentysomethings
    3. I paid 6.5% for most of my time and 15% just after buying the house (from a start of 7.5% in 1989)
    1 Jul 2016, 12:18pm
    economy personal finance:
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  • Those stock market rises you’re seeing ain’t real, guys

    I am surprised at the nonchalance in the UK personal finance scene about the fall in the pound as a result of the Brexit vote. I am not making a long-term prognosis about whether or not Brexit is a good thing, but what is incontrovertible is that it has led to a sudden drop in the pound relative to other currencies. To avoid the vicissitudes of other countries’ fortunes I am using IMF Special Drawing Rights to compare the pound with. Let’s have a definition

    The value of the SDR is currently based on a basket of four major currencies: the U.S. dollar, euro, the Japanese yen, and pound sterling. The basket will be expanded to include the Chinese renminbi (RMB) as the fifth currency, effective October 1, 2016.

    Since the SDRs include the pound, a fall in the pound slightly devalues the SDRs, so the picture looks slightly better than it really is for a drop in the pound 😉 If you don’t trust those cheese-eating varmints at the IMF you can see the same effect in the good ole United States Dollar down below.

    A fall in the pound relative to other currencies makes us poorer than the rest of the world. We have to exchange more pounds for foreign goods – these foreign goods include most of the food we eat and the fuel we heat our homes with and put in our cars, it’s not academic. Because of lags in the distribution of goods this shows up as higher prices over time, typically over a year. I was a Remain voter so my view is that this change is a strategic impairment of the pound. This is my opinion – it is perfectly possible that the pound will rise over the coming year as the myriad delights of Brexit make themselves manifest in a cornucopia of joy. In that case my thesis is entirely wrong, and it will all come good. If you believe, nay, if you know that to be the case then save yourself the trouble and stop reading this pusillanimous piffle right now.

    Let’s have a fact check – has Brexit made the pound fall?

    1607_xdrytd

    how many IMF SDRs (ticker XDR) for a pound

    I think that’s a yes, so far. Probably about 10% this year. It’s not the only time, we all got a hell of a lot poorer following the financial crisis. Stands to reason, we make jack shit 1 and sell financial services, and the GFC was, well, a global financial crisis. And that’s what most of the services are, I guess.

    We don't really make anything any more. Source is linked to image (fig 8)

    We don’t really make anything any more. Data source is linked to image (fig 8)

    So we took it straight between the eyes

    the 10 year story

    the 10 year story

    Does it matter?

    Well, Britain imports most of its food and fuel, while we focus on being clever whizzes at financial services, Ricardian advantage to the fore, eh. So you get to pay more for that food and fuel compared to people in other countries. However, there have been deflationary effects on these – the oil price has dropped since the GFC for instance. So let’s narrow this to does it matter to investors?

    Well, yeah. Let’s take a look at the price of VWRL in pounds. Hmm, that’s not so bad, it actually went up after Brexit. I managed to buy some in the confusion, so I am feeling chipper, look at me, ain’t I clever?

    VWRL in the GBP I have got

    VWRL in the GBP I have got

    Now if I were an American and had done that after the initial drop, I would be feeling different. Not bad, but no turbo boosters from the falling pound.

    VWRL in the USD I haven't got

    VWRL in the USD I haven’t got

    So the fall in the pound has made foreign assets dearer for me compared to if I were not buying with pounds. While that makes me think whoopee-do when I look at my ISA screen and I think hey, I am a fantastic investor. Not only did I stay the course through Brexit and even buy, I am up on the deal because all the numbers are going up, it also means something else.

    I have lost my compass

    I have lost my main navigational instrument, and my ISA allowance has just fallen by 10% in real terms compared to the rest of the world. So have my tax allowances, and for those rich enough to worry about such things, so has your Lifetime allowance.

    Now one of the cogent arguments against this mattering is

    Some commentators seem to think that there’s both a perfect level for sterling and that they know what it is. I didn’t hear wailing when sterling fell from over $1.70 in 2014 to under $1.50 in 2015. If it ends up at c$1.40 after the current turmoil, so what? No need to sacrifice our first born to Cthulhu just yet.

    Well, I was wailing earlier in the year 😉 There is something up with me, I am much more nervous about the pound than most other people. It scared me in 2009 as I was shovelling money into foreign assets in my AVCs while Mervyn King was printing money and devaluing the pound. So let’s take a butcher’s hook at the GBP against USD (unfortunately I couldn’t find one for IMF SDRs going out that far)

    GBP against USD

    GBP against USD

    This is not a continuous story of success, or even random noise against a mean, and it’s a headwind against UK investment – even against the Euro we are 20% down over the same period. If I’d held exactly the same portfolio as an American investor over those 12 years, I would pat myself on the back because my numbers on my screen would have risen 40% up on his. And I would be lying to myself. The truth lies somewhere in between, and we normally just don’t see that.

    So I’m not saying I know what the perfect level of sterling is. Devaluation of the currency is how governments charge us for the taxes we aren’t prepared to pay for the services we demand, though this last hit can’t be blamed on the government. So while I don’t know what the level should be, I do know that it’s headed in the wrong direction, has been for years, and I’m getting poorer relative to the rest of the world if I hold cash in GBP. We will notice that in higher inflation in the years to come, particularly if the oil price continues to rise in USD. Of course Donald Trump may help us with that in November, though I suspect we may have other problems then.

    It is true that long term adjustments to exchange rates are A Good Thing. It allowed the Greeks to pay themselves more and more and feel good about that while the Drachma depreciated so tourists could still afford to go there and their rice filled vine leaves were cheaper in British supermarkets in Pounds. And then they joined the Euro. Basically floating exchange rates allow you to be lazy bastards collectively relative to the rest of the world and get away with it. If somebody asks you to take a pay cut of 10% there’s hell to pay and rioting on the streets. If you get the same pay and you currency drops by 10% then there’s the same fiscal result but no rioting. Stopping that happening is the original sin behind the Euro, but that’s a fight for a different day. I am still of the opinion that the Euro will blow one day, and we may be glad of our Brexiteering spirit as blood and guts rain down in the aftermath.

    Those stock market rises you’re seeing ain’t real, guys

    And being less productive is what we have all just voted for, but I am surprised at the simplicity of UK investors so being chuffed at their portfolios going up. Now of course that’s a win on having sat on the cash, or worse still, having sold and then rebuying, but do the thought experiment. Say you bought your portfolio with pounds the night of the Referendum. For some reason it bounces, so you issue the same purchase order now. And it’s dearer, so you get to pay more money for the same portfolio. That is Not a Good Thing. When that happens to the price of food, petrol, Starbucks lattes, wine and German cars that won’t be a good thing either.

    Which is why I wince when people celebrate on the rise in the stock market. It’s not real. Indeed, my portfolio is the highest it’s even been. My pension will be worth less, the cash I hold is worth less, yes I am richer in the ISA but poorer is so many other areas. Oh and I am stuck on an island with these guys.

    1607_stuck

    Deep joy. I’m putting a hold on the champagne.

    Notes:

    1. we actually manufacture more in real terms value than we did in the heyday of manufacturing in the 1970s, but do it with far fewer people

    Brexit damage limitation

    We have decided to quit the EU. It was a democratic decision with a gap of over a million between the sides, so it’s pretty clearly what the majority wanted. Unlike many Remainers and a large part of the London/finance set that make up the PF blog community, I have sympathy for the part of the Leave community who say their wages and jobs pushed down by the free movement of people after the A8 accession of countries that were much poorer than the UK. I believe their choice is not in their long and medium term interests nor in mine, but I can see where they came from.

    The little Englanders and harkers back to Empire I have little time for. Let’s hear it from Boris Johnson on this

    We used to run the biggest empire the world has ever seen, and with a much smaller domestic population and a relatively tiny Civil Service. Are we really unable to do trade deals?

    We used to run the biggest empire in the world because we industrialised first and had the edge on being able to clobber other places into submission. Things have changed in 100 years peeps. The modern predilection for everyone’s a winner would have no truck with the entrance exams for the Empire Civil Service.

    I want to preserve my capital against the own goal that is Brexit. I may have sympathy with many of the people who voted Leave, but I don’t want to sponsor their decision any more than I have to.

    You wouldn’t start from here (after the Brexit result)

    as the classic joke says. Fortunately I am not coming from a standing start. I started a while ago. In 2009 my HYP was largely FTSE100 based, I’m fortunate in not having great exposure to banks because I can’t value them and only a small exposure to property/housebuilders because UK property scares the bejesus out of me. But I didn’t like the geographical bias and started to shore it up with an outer circle of index funds in emerging markets, Dev world exUK and more recently VWRL world equity trackers. I was aiming for focusing less on finance and more on Life, because I was dealt a good hand by Osborne in being able to use my DC pension savings to front-run my main pension.

    My main problem is that I hold sterling assets. And the big problem is that sterling will become increasingly worthless as trade and foreign investment falls. We’ve already taken a massive hit in the financial crash. I am particularly exposed to this as people still working may see their wages rise with future inflation, where as my networth is the accumulation of previous earnings. On the other hand I have advantages – redundancy is not a threat to me and I don’t owe anyone any money.

    XDRs are a basket of currencies, against the £

    XDRs are IMF Special drawing rights,  a basket of foreign currencies, against the £. I use XDRs because individual currency pairs just show relative changes, XDRs are the luminiferous aether of forex which gets us away from all this relativism…

    Okay so a lot of it (more than half) are foreign assets denominated in sterling, so the fall in the pound will merely give me a false impression I am a great investor by raising the numbers on the screen  rather than make me fundamentally poorer in these assets, but in the end my pension is in Sterling which is most of my effective networth. Unlike some I don’t consider my house in my networth so I am neutral on that and I don’t own any rental property, so if house prices fall I don’t feel that is a bad thing.

    price of gold in pounds

    price of an ounce of gold in pounds

    Oh and I bought a lot of gold last year, because the ermine is a skittish creature and the 2015 valuations of the UK stock market and the US stock market, together with the infinitesimal chance of Brexit 1 scared me, and people thought gold was trash, witness the GBP/XAU chart. OK so I sold some of it before the referendum to half-split the profits which was a bad move in hindsight, but I still took a profit, and I will hang on to the ballast of the rest for a while. Unfortunately I also hold a lot of cash because I have only recently crystallised my SIPP. My dear fellow countrymen have made me 25% poorer in real terms last week, this will come through in the price of imported goods like food and fuel and pretty much anything I do if I stick a paw outside this sceptred isle.

    1606_wilson

    Harold Wilson was quite right in my schooldays when he said the pound in your pocket will stay the same. It’s what you can get with that pound which changes, so I really need to do something about that cash. I have already started with some of it into VWRL, and will drip feed some of the rest as I extract it below the tax threshold into VWRL. I will accept the risk of a market crash in five years time when I will have run the SIPP flat; I will start coming out of the market in four years time and if I take a hit on the SIPP I will start to take income from the proceeds of the ISA. And if it all turns into tears in falling rain, well, that’s just the way things pan out.

    I owe Monevator a few beers – my original HYP was heavily UK based with big fish from the FTSE100. But his diversification articles were compelling, and I shored the UK core up with Devworld Ex UK and emerging market index funds. In the HYP I was fortunate enough not to have a predilection for banks (how do you value a bank?) or house-builders, though my REITs look like sick puppies 2. For some perverse reason my ISA ended up on the week 3 though it took a hit early Friday. But I have bought more gold and more VWRL. The obvious choice is in many ways Lifestrategy100 but the GBP version is too UK biased, hence a favouring to VWRL. World equities are tanking too, but the pound is tanking faster.

    I’m interested in ideas though, what if anything do readers think as a way of losing less capital through the troubled times to come? Or is it as simple as sometimes you have to stick your head between your knees and kiss your ass goodbye… This one is big, and it’s bad.

    Notes:

    1. as perceived at the time, but you should always bet a bit against your prejudices
    2. It’s not like these bad guys are underwater yet, but it’s getting that way
    3. denominated in the increasingly worthless pounds

    Dude – where are my shares? Brexit across-the-board ISA fail

    An ermine wakes to a new world and it appears I was on the losing side. The good thing is that at least the outcome of the Brexit referendum is clear; a four point lead isn’t handsome but it’s not a knife-edge. So I thought I’d open a bleary eye and perhaps buy some shares with my increasingly worthless pounds. At least I am not afraid of redundancy in the shitstorm to come, and it’s an ill wind and all that. So I whip out my TD ISA, and consider buying, to discover that my six-figure ISA has been looted – evaporated into thin air, pffft – just like that. The robbers only left a little smattering of cash, I ought to be able to buy a bag of peanuts with it on the world markets in a couple of months 😉

    TD ISA FAIL

    TD ISA FAIL

    Bummer. So I yomp over to my Hargeaves Lansdown SIPP, and observe some shocking spreads, see if I can buy. I don’t actually want to buy in a crystallised SIPP cos of tax, but hey, any port in a storm?

    HL - computer says NO

    HL – computer says NO. I’m not actually sure I wanted to buy VMID at that price but it was the first code I could remember and I’ve never bought in HL before.

    We’ll see later on in the day, eh? Update at 10am – TD have given me my shares back. I am amazed at the fightback – I have lost a whopping 3% which is neither here nor there for the market mayhem promised. I mean, for God’s sake, does nobody remember January? The VUKE I bought then is still 5% up, FFS. This could, of course, be because the pound is going down the toilet so fast that the weight of the foreign assets I hold are lifting the numerical picture. This is then an optical illusion – my fellow countrymen have probably made me 25% poorer in real terms. Thanks guys.

    Now that I can trade I bought some VWRL. There’s a race going on here – the little matter of Brexit seems to have frightened the global horses more than I had expected, which makes it cheaper. As you can see it in USD

    VWRL in the USD I haven't got

    VWRL in the USD I haven’t got

    So I bought some in the GBP I have

    VWRL in the GBP I have got

    VWRL in the GBP I have got

    where you can see the pound falling faster than the assets. But to be honest I can’t actually see Brexit being such a huge deal for the rest of the world in the grand scheme of things, and if it’s good enough for Lars Kroijer it’s good enough for me. Yes, I paid more than I would have done yesterday, but then I thought Remain would win. Though I hold a lot of gold just in case 😉

    About the other passengers on the Brexit bus, there’s more of them that I thought…

    UKIP poster for leave says something to me, and I am not sure I like it

    UKIP poster for leave says something to me, and I am not sure it’s a good sign…

    The worst thing about the result is the thought of cocks like Farage and Boris running the country. Still, the will of the people has spoken, a primal scream against globalisation and austerity as well as a FU to the EU. Let’s hope the good people of the British hinterland who voted leave feel a bit more chipper about their jobs and public finances in a year’s time, eh. There were many good arguments to be made on both sides. One of the greatest wins of Leave would be the proletariat not having to support the landed gentry through farming subsides any more, but sadly that was promised away. It seems a curious own goal – the CAP is about 40% of EU spend and ceasing this redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich would seem an obvious win 😉

    I didn’t like the people on the Leave bus, and it turns out the represent the slight majority of my fellow countrymen. I will investigate if I can get German citizenship by jus sanguinis – sadly it is through the maternal line so although it will help me I am not automatically entitled as it would be had my Dad been German. I was able to easily pass the citizenship test from my general knowledge of the principles of a democracy and a decent guessing of the German character, but my German is not good enough at the moment. I am in no hurry to cease being British, but I would like to see if I can get dual nationality and become a citizen of the EU. Some of the ugliness of the Leave side, in particular the potent racism and xenophobia, makes me a little bit scared about the Britain I will grow old in. I would like to have the option of somewhere to run to 1 should some of the heart of darkness I have seen recently begin to rise – neither of my parents was British by birth. When my mother came to Britain in the late 1950s, she had some trepidation, because of course only a decade before Britain and Germany had been at all-out war. She found 1950s Britain was a kind and tolerant country, and while there was the odd piece of hostility it was far outweighed by the gracious and kind welcome she encountered. I hope this is still part of our national character, because it was not overly apparent in the referendum campaign on either side. In general while there have been remarkable increases in tolerance and acceptance of differing lifestyles in the 60 years since she came, tribalism and incivility seem on the rise in a lot of areas.

    But perhaps I am seeing through a glass darkly; I didn’t get what I voted for. Britain is still a rich country with stupendous natural beauty and I believe a basically decent people. Perhaps they showed more wisdom – after all, I viewed this referendum as running against the tide of history, I would be surprised if in 20 years the EU were the monolithic mass it is now. I would be very surprised if the Euro were still used by as many countries as it is now, indeed if it still existed at all. I am not omniscient – there is heart of darkness enough in Europe, perhaps I will grow to be fond of the English Channel again from the vantage point of Das Inselreich.

     

     

    Notes:

    1. It’s always good to have options, I’m not giving a view on what will happen.

    Brexit or not – opportunities and hazards?

    In about a month’s time the UK will have a referendum on leaving the EU. I’m not going to spend much time on the merits or not, because the result will be whatever it is. I will observe, however, that you get to know something about your destination if you look at your fellow passengers on the bus. And the passengers on bus Brexit seems to be folk I don’t want to ride with – people who haven’t realised that the sun set on the British Empire a very long time ago and a few random chancers and headbangers from the Tory party. The one thing I do hope and pray for is once the result is known, whatever it may be, we don’t get to do this again for another 40 years 1. I suspect by then it will be a moot point for different reasons.

    The quality of discourse about which way to vote is terrible, largely because so much is inherently unknowable. Osborne stands up and says house prices may fall by 18% if Leave wins. To which I ask myself exactly WTF this is regarded as a bad thing in the first place? Is it really so terrible that some of our young people might actually get to be able to buy a house and some borrow-to-letters get to know the deep joys of negative equity, and secondly, what is Osborne’s confidence interval on this stat? How certain is he of the assumptions behind this ridiculously precise-to-two-figures assertion – the range is probably between -50% and + 25% and he may as well say God knows. The same charge can be levelled against the other side – deciding to leave is a complex and chaotic process that depends on many variables that are inherently unknowable, open to fate and the whims of other people and countries. I’m not clever enough to have an informed opinion, and that probably goes for most 😉 So this is not about the merits of either course of action, and headbangers of either side aren’t welcome in the comments.

    Financial hazards and opportunities

    The choice is between the status quo and something different, and it’s probably fair to say that financial markets in the short term don’t really like ‘something different’ in general. That’s not specifically to decry the putative upsides the Leave camp are making – if they are right these upsides will show up over the five, ten, twenty year timescales. Certainly if one is convinced by the Leave economic case the course of action is to buy UK equities into the post-June whirlwind and sit tight for a few years – a mix of VUKE and some UK small-cap index fund would cover most bases.

    I’m not personally that convinced. There is also the slow run on the pound which is already 25% down from the financial crisis, as a chart of IMF special drawing rights (a basket of foreign currencies to try and average out individual country forex swings) per UK pound shows

    1605-gbpxdr

    Which has no doubt made my ISA look better than perhaps it really is because there is now a fair amount of foreign stuff in it – indeed it is making my Charles Stanley ISA, which is purely a index fund of Dev world ex UK look better than it really is. And since that is over 50% US and I think the US is shockingly overvalued it’s not what I want to do. But sometimes in investing you have to invest in stuff you don’t believe in. The US isn’t a bad place to have a lump in if I am expecting turmoil in the UK and perhaps also Europe more widely. Obviously there’s the potential turmoil of the follically challenged trickster becoming POTUS in November 2, but let’s tackle the nearest fire first, eh. Oh and let’s not forget the Greek crisis and other tribulations. One of these days that damn Euro is going to go titsup…

    Now a run on the pound could be countered in many ways. Buying foreign stuff, indeed buying forex or spreadbetting it. Buying gold isn’t a bad way to go, although I already have a bit too much gold from late last year. But I’m not after optimizing my long term asset allocation. I am looking for a defensive position until after the referendum.

    There are two outcomes I can see. One is that remain wins. My asset allocation is broadly where I want it to be at this stage, and in five years time the referendum will have been a hiccup in the general trend. The only opportunities in this eventuality is if the uncertainly before the referendum makes prices cheaper. I bought some VUKE a couple of times earlier this year, this holding is currently 7% up. Should the turmoil of Brexit send that below par, or close, I am tempted to buy more of that sort of thing. Although a Brexit win will probably hit those firms, they are big fish and 70% of earnings come from overseas they can probably come good over time.

    The other is of course that Leave wins, in which case gold will have been the right way to go because the pound is likely to come under severe pressure for a while. I’m still okay with the FTSE100/VUKE which I think will come good in the end. So, undecisive bastard that I am, I have chosen to do all three. I have switched the cash in my TD ISA with gold ETFs, I have brought forward my monthly purchases of the L&G Dev xUK index fund for the next three months and if FTSE100 starts to tank in the runup to the referendum I have a full year’s worth of ISA allowance to put into Charles Stanley, although I’m not going to use all of it on this. In the end I can’t protect myself against the downside, but I may as well try and lose a little less in the worst case, and if possible profit from the volatility in the best case.

    The FT has a piece on Brexit finance ramifications and a poll tracker as does the Economist. But in the end William Goldman has the edge on all the pundits  – “Nobody knows anything”. He was talking about movies, but it applies just as much to Brexit and its outcomes or not.

    Notes:

    1. in which case it’s highly unlikely to be my problem either way
    2. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the Spectator’s conclusion, but it’s a fun description and one by Americans rather than a slightly more balanced way of saying the same by us effete Europeans, which seems right in something that is essentially an American choice
    19 May 2016, 5:35pm
    housing
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  • Buy to let is a rich person’s game – shock alert.

    Aw, diddums. The Torygraph is spitting bricks about the unprecedented assault on private buy to letters in the Budget. Apparently buying houses to rent out to people too poor to buy them themselves is becoming a rich person’s game. Colour me flabbergasted. You’re buying extra copies of the single most expensive thing most Brits ever buy, just because you can, so you can fleece some of your fellow countrymen for an essential good. Of course BTL is a rich person’s game. The amazing thing is that we permitted, nay subsidised, non-rich but still extremely well-off people to borrow cheap money to give poorer people the shaft for so long, and indeed it’s another rum thing that it was a Labour government that aided this stiffing in the first place and a Tory government that applied the brakes, ever so gently.

    Obviously if you’re rich enough to buy more houses outright, well, go for it. But the one thing that the British housing market doesn’t need is more cheap borrowed money chasing a limited stock of houses, so it’s about time that these leveraged ‘landlords’ got run out of town, particularly at the moment when interest rates are low.

    Now it’s been a very long time since the Ermine rented a place, but my experience of private landlords was that in general they were thieving scum that wanted all the profit for themselves and spent as little as possible on their properties. Now part of that was my own fault – I had bought into the collective mantra the pollutes the British psyche that renting is fundamentally A Bad Thing. I was Monevator’s sister, probably before she was born 😉

    “I am just throwing money away by renting.”

    I combined this with another toxic tendency, one I still struggle with at times, which is if it’s something I don’t feel a passion for, I buy cheap. And often buy twice 😉 Now with renting I avoided the buy twice, but I did buy cheap. Not because I had to – I could have afforded to pay twice as much. But I was tight. Because I am throwing money away by renting, I tried to throw as little money away on that. Not to do something else clever like save for a pension but to spend it on beer and travel and music and shit like that. I was in my 20s FFS. The downside of this of course is that I was drawn to cheapskate landlords, because I was a cheapskate. I’m sure there are good landlords. I never ran into them. I never rented houses, either – only rooms – well and got together with others to rent a house but we each occupied a room. The only decent landlord I had was the work colleague I rented a room from for six months before I stupidly threw money away on buying a house at the top of the market.

    So when the Torygraph wheels out some dude called Craig Scott-Dawkins, ten years younger than I am who  owns five buy-to-let properties in Leamington and Warwick, the Ermine heart of stone chills to his plight

    He said: “I voted Conservative because I thought they were going to take a steady approach. But they’ve knifed us in the back. These changes are making it more difficult for those of us who want to prepare for retirement. 

    Let’s bottom out what is actually happening here. Let’s take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, what the human animal focuses on

    1402_Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

    A house sort of goes in the red bit. Since we’re not snails or tortoises, we need a roof over our heads to keep the rain off, and hairless wonders that we are walls keep the wind off us so we don’t freeze in these cold Northern climes. There’s no fundamental need to own houses, true, and in many other European countries renting is a perfectly good alternative. There is a strong argument to make that renting suits modern employment patterns better, at least until having children, but that’s a different issue. So our poor Craig isn’t rich enough to actually afford to buy the capital base of his evil empire, and he’s bitching about losing his subsidy. Well excuse me Craig, but you aren’t a landlord because guess who owns these damned houses – that’s the bank. You are a lord of jack shit, you are a bank worker making their money work for them. You are also exposing your unfortunate tenants to the risk of you getting taken out by rising interest rates on your overleveraged farrago. How do I know it’s overleveraged? Because you’re a subsidy junkie. If you really had the money you wouldn’t take the hit on the tax changes, because you were charging interest against tax, something that the poor bastards who actually want to buy a house to, y’know, actually live in the darned thing, haven’t been able to do for over 25 years.

    The trouble is that the government in the UK had made regulations about renting so bad for both landlords and renters that it’s a deadly embrace that isn’t much fun for either when it goes wrong. The renters have little security of tenure, but if they dig their heels in the landlords seem to have to jump through some odd legalistic hoops too kick ’em out. It’s something made for people with deep pockets who can play a long game, not the ‘my BTL is my pension’ brigade, who believe in housing as an asset class because they can touch it as opposed to things like shares or bonds. That’s religion, and it shouldn’t be subsidised by the taxpayer, particularly when it puts our young people at such a disadvantage compared to our old gits who have suddenly got pension lump sums to splurge from Osborne’s pension freedoms.

    11 May 2016, 9:47pm
    living intentionally personal finance
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  • learning to spend again – consuming more intentionally this time

    With a regular income now, and only so many years to use it in, it is time to review one of the Horsemen of personal finance from the other side, consumption and lifestyle. It’s an opportunity to think about it properly this time and consume intentionally – to spend on what matters to me and furthers my values, rather than the admen’s. This is a big difference to how I spent money up to 2009 – that was the classic slow lifestyle inflation of moving from a student through escalating jobs. That sort of lifestyle inflation is unthinking, and while I generally avoided consumer debt which is the #1 win against the black tide of advertising making consumers spend badly, I didn’t always get value. Some was bought for the promise that it would make things better and easier. Some of it didn’t because of the Diderot effect, and some of it was sheer being suckered.

    As proof of how much of this wasn’t necessary, in the seven years I have not lived a life of abject poverty or the Rowntree Foundation’s inability to take part in society – most of the stuff I had seven years ago is still in service and works well enough, and is not shockingly low-quality compared to modern offerings. One 20-year old piece of consumer spending that did give me great value that failed in service over that time was my Naim power amplifier for my hi-fi, already secondhand when I bought it, which developed a shorted turn in the transformer. I missed that, but anything else that broke I lived happily without. Some of this is because digitalisation means the world is getting a little bit more virtual and less physical, but much of it was simply because I didn’t give a damn, once you have freedom you can be more creative or just go do something else instead.

    It’s hard to get perspective as one gradually inflates lifestyle to match income, but I have had a long break from consumerism – for seven years the answer to how much to spend on Wants was ‘as little as possible so I can save’. So it’s like starting anew, but with the wisdom of hindsight from the previous experience. Not all consumption is bad – the consumer society didn’t get where it is today by never offering value. What I want to win from the hiatus is the discrimination to spend well, to get value on my terms rather than other people’s. So it still means a ruthless avoidance of advertising in its many forms, and I still don’t have time or inclination to watch TV 😉

    One of the I’m going to do with my return to a regular income is to enjoy some of the interests and hobbies I used to do before I made the decision to get out ASAP. Some of these I simply put on hold because they cost money to pursue on needed travel I didn’t want to spend money on, some of them I quite because I didn’t have the energy. All of these fall into interests; they are firmly in the Wants category and not in the Needs. So canning Wants when I Needed to retire early was an entirely rational thing to do.

    Sadly the rational thing to do isn’t always the right thing to do. In hindsight maybe I should have got that amplifier fixed and saved a grand or two less, because I missed decent sound, the sound systems I have with my computer and in the bedroom are okay but nowhere near as clear. I know everybody else uses Spotify and good for y’all but I like being able to listen on speakers and it not all blending to mush. So I should have pushed the boat out here, but the other interests etc, well, the time was better spent on learning and honing my art. When I was working and short of time it was always about the next great thing and gizmo that was going to turn me into a great photographer/recordist/birdwatcher/writer/whatever. In the long lean years I discovered that I was usually the weakest link, and learning to use the stuff I already had and more about my targets, to learn about what I was interested in and just damn well slow down and listen and observe FFS was often the secret sauce I was missing.

    One of the conclusions I have come to is that any sort of pastime I do in future needs to definitely not be primarily stuff-consumptive, it needs to involve some sort of challenge, or creative expression. I don’t necessarily have to have an audience, but I do want to be changed by the experience, have some element of mastery. So that’s no to the beach, anything that ends in -collecting, yes to things that involve some sort of art and craft, or reward for effort. So of course the first thing I go and do to celebrate is purely consumptive, but in experience

    The Swan hotel in Lavenham

    The Swan hotel in Lavenham

    I stayed a couple of days the Swan at Lavenham with Mrs Ermine for a short break. Apparently much used by London types up for a weekend, from Mrs Ermine’s chat with the spa staff. I drank coffee and spent time in the peaceful courtyard reflecting, reading and listening to the birds.

    the courtyard

    the courtyard at the Swan in Lavenham

    The Londoners clearly know a thing or two about demanding high standards for the grub, because it was excellent on both nights in at atmospheric half-timbered hall. I then had got Mrs Ermine a couple of hours of owl flying experience with Lavenham Falconry. She’s mad on owls, and you get to see them close

    Barn owl

    Barn owl

    though personally I’d say getting up this close to this great big lump was too close for my liking.

    Steve the proprietor with Bonnie the owl

    Steve the proprietor with Bonnie the owl. That’s one big owl IMO…

    I ducked every time this one came close 😉

    Inside the Guildhall

    Inside the Guildhall

    Lavenham is a nice part of Suffolk and the Guildhall was worth a gander (does a very decent afternoon tea and cakes too). I was taken by the mummified cat, there to ward of evil spirits coming down the chimney, a common feature of mediaeval Suffolk buildings – there’s one hanging from the ceiling in the tiny bar of the Nutshell in Bury St Edmunds too.

    Rameses

    Ramesses

    The NT have a nice feature that you aren’t hit by the grisly sight from the off, he’s respectfully covered in some cloth, but the temptation to peek is too strong…

    1605_ramcoverP1070556

    The village itself is all wild jaunty angles of the ancient half-timbering in many places.

    1605_rakish_P1070585

    A couple of weeks later we stayed three days at a dedicated spa, because this is something that Mrs Ermine really enjoys, and we went to Norfolk for a couple of days. Some of this I have to pack in in a short while because it so happens this is a better time of the year for her to be able to get away from the farm for a bit because of the vagaries of the growing season. While I have the time and now the money, she finds it harder to go away for more than a few days, which favours the fast and furious sort of decadence rather than slowly ambling along on a journey of discovery which I will be able to do on my own.

    a requiem for The Firm’s sports and leisure association

    One of the things I will mess around with again is amateur radio, despite the fact that the Internet happened between when I was a youth and now and has pretty much destroyed the whole point. But it’s an excuse to climb some of Britain’s hills 1 and make contacts and gawp at the scenery, a little bit of the experience and being changed by the challenge. Now when I joined The Firm, as a joint full of electronics engineers pushing the boundaries at times there was a very active amateur radio society. I never did much with it then because you need time. So many recreational interests are like that, you need time in the field to get any good.

    POTUS with a Blackberry - in Nov 2014 WTF?

    POTUS with a Blackberry – in Nov 2014 WTF?

    And time is something we don’t have while working, and it got less with the always-on way work drifted after 2000 as mobile phones poisoned the work/life balance after the Crackberry (who remembers that from 2004, eh?). Time is not just the total number of non-work waking hours, it’s also about how many contiguous days of them them you can string together.

    I joined The Firm in the late 1980s as a twenty-something pup. In a research lab you are surrounded by clever people and there is always something more to learn, but The Firm was more than a workplace, it was a community, albeit a somewhat strange community. It was intellectually biased and technical/electronics engineering biased. Let’s face it, at times there were issues of personal hygiene in some places where guys spend too much time thinking, I actually switched job t at one time because I couldn’t stand the hum in the office from one fellow, though he was brilliant at what he did. And the girls in the town did get to know that while the odds were good (engineering facilities tend to be very male-biased) the goods were odd…

    But for all that it was still a community, and a vibrant community in that the social and leisure association had a dizzying array of clubs and societies, on all sorts of things. I used to borrow records then CDs from the music club, I spent lunchtime for a few weeks trying to learn Japanese. With a deep loathing of sports and particularly team sports that started in schooldays and persists to this day I was never going to see the point of half the clubs, but it was good to know they were there.

    In browsing on the Web I saw traces of The Firm’s radio society, but it’s a pale reflection of its former self, last significant news from 2009. I looked at the website of the umbrella leisure and social society and there’s a whiff of tumbleweed around there too, of the 19 clubs all are sports apart from the radio society, photography, angling, sailing and golf. There were three times as many when I was there, and it’s only been four years… Not only that but the link to the radio society goes to a lapsed domain. I still clearly remember the all hands meeting when a head of department said ‘although we are closing many of the labs we aren’t turning this place into a jobbing shop’ and while I subconsciously picked up that he was lying because I remember the oddness of the statement and shiftiness still now.  I failed to consciously pick this up, nor to take the corrective action which would have been easier to do from 2000 that it would have been ten years later. Oh well.

    It’s all a sort of creepy independent verification that this particular outpost of The Firm is a pale reflection of its former self. It’s also a signal of a wider malaise, where form is prized over function, which seems to weaken physical communities. I was talking to a bunch of people at the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival. They’ve been going round schools showing kids how to grow stuff to eat and all good things like that, but they were now getting stonewalled as schools cut out everything that doesn’t go into pumping up something called SAT scores. These are primary schools, by the way. And people used to bitch about the eleven plus FFS, but now we measure the little tykes twice in primary school, comparative to each other. Well, I suppose you have the groom the youngsters for the ghastly world of performance management at work, though it seems a little bit tough to do that at primary school. School is a larger part of a child’s world now than it used to be, with parents working and commuting long hours. You’d have thought eliminating the broader education of how they fit into society and where their food comes from for example, in favour of the misery of metrics draining the meaning out of life is a regressive move. But fortunately this is not my problem, though it looks like a rum way to run a school to me. My primary school, in the 1960s urban wasteland of inner London, found a way to take us ankle-biters out to see nature. And still get some of us to pass the eleven plus despite the shocking digression into the sordid realms of General Knowledge.

    I’m reading Nicholas Carr’s The Glass Cage, where automation is leading us, and he seems to make a cogent case that our thought processes are becoming shallower, that the hive-mind or the Big G will fix things for us. I mean hell, Amazon will sell you a gizmo 2 that we used to know as a bug. For the convenience of ordering pizza you livestream everything said in your house to Amazon for their computing hardware to parse and answer your questions. They will of course, so not parse everything else you say to use in evidence against you feed into their algorithms so they can upsell you more consumer shit that you will have to spend more hours of your life earning money to pay for. George Orwell was absolutely wrong, we will buy the telescreens ourselves and demand to be heard, doubleplusfeelgood social media indeed.

    Something else I learned is that while I take information in from the Web, I don’t gain deep understanding, compared to learning the same thing from books. Indeed, I’d also challenge the assumption that learning ability inherently decays with age. I was trying the understand the craft of designing aerials, and I spent way too much time on the Web, getting conflicting opinions. Then I pulled out a textbook that I had bought as a teenager. I had passed the radio test as a way to try and expand my application to Imperial College, though we didn’t have personal statements in the late 1970s there was some sort of CV and it helped to add bits to it. I had never understood that chapter, because I didn’t have the ability to imagine the electric and magnetic fields travelling through space. It was much easier to grasp this time, though I am 35 years older. By rights the younger me should have had no trouble, but it was the older me that made the grade, and turned some of the learning into action. Of course perhaps that is because I am a Physics degree and thirty years worth of experience later. But it is an interesting insight into knowledge learned from the Web can easily be, to pinch the words of Lord Kelvin “of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind”.

    That’s not to knock the big G, after all in a fast moving world often you don’t have time to go deep, you simply need some sort of heuristic rough guess right now. But it was an interesting insight in how all too often the Web tells me how but not why. Somehow that doesn’t seem to be improving my understanding of the world, though it an get a specific thing done. I am not sure that the answer to this conundrum is to spend more money on Freedom to ice this chatter, as opposed to learning to switch it off more, but that is much easier for a retiree I guess than if you’re working, so maybe Freedom is onto something!

    It’s one of the odd things about the cornucopia of information and stuff that we have around us – to use it well we must still know ourselves better, to know what do we want, how to gauge value and how to qualify the opportunity cost of doing one option of buying something, because every road travelled is a bifurcation with the road that was not taken. I once navigated that path by the need to avoid running out of money each month. I now want to navigate it more intentionally. It was necessary for me to escape the rat race that was freedom from. Living and consuming intentionally is part of the freedom to, not the freedom from. It’s inherently more pathless. I will no doubt spend money on crap in the future, what I want to avoid is doing it more than once, through deliberation, reflection and knowing myself. The only increase in spending I’ve done so far is these trips out with Mrs Ermine, because I have time enough to work out what I want where it doesn’t involve other people. I will change things slowly, only a few things at a time, because living intentionally can’t be rushed.

     

    Notes:

    1. most things radio work better with more height, which is the relevance of hills
    2. Amazon Echo is not yet available in the UK at the time of writing
    15 Apr 2016, 1:01pm
    living intentionally personal finance reflections
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  • Journey’s End

    Another day, another tax year, and an Ermine finishes a long, slow glide path running off my cash savings, the ancient sunlight of the fossil wealth accumulated over my 30-year working life. I now return to the regular pay of the salaryman I was but now without selling my time or skills for money – using Osborne’s pension freedoms to front run my works pension that I will draw in five year’s time at its normal retirement age.

    In that respect the financial problem is solved for me at the moment. Of course it’s always possible to imagine scenarios of desperate governments taxing everything, war, pestilence and social disorder. But the end of the world has occupied people past midlife since Roman times. So I will park worrying about the things I can’t change and do the Money Mustache Shuffle. I built up a six-figure ISA since 2009/10, but in the end it was Osborne’s pension freedoms that saved my ass. That ISA will, of course, give me options and some tax-free income, which is nice. But I never learned properly how to live off capital without converting it into some sort of income statement, so that I had an answer to the Micawber question. In that respect I am Poor Dad out of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I learned Rich Dad’s vocabulary, but never learned to speak the language fluently; I cannot determine if I am overspending or underspending until I can measure it against an income. I found it possible to improve as an investor, largely through learning to sit on my hands on the selling side, and learning to acknowledge that luck does not equal skill.

    The evidence is probably that I was underspending, you don’t fearfully husband an ISA stash across three years and then go WTF do I do with this now at the end if you have the cojones of Rich Dad. The job of that ISA now lies both near and far. Far as in 10 years out or so, where my pension may start to be overtaken by real inflation (as opposed to the official measure RPI) and/or a rise in general earnings relative to inflation, although this is hard to imagine at the moment. Near because I may use the dividend income thrown off to augment running down my SIPP at the personal allowance less any earnings, I really must get out of this working malarkey, since I’m not working for the government any more, which limits my pension + income to the personal allowance. The reason I’m not dropping working isn’t the money, it is that I don’t want to drop people I care about in the shit. 30 years of paying tax is enough, that’s a mug’s game when you have wealth, eh, Dave? At least I earned mine 1 rather than getting it from Daddykins…

    Like RIT I made mistakes along the journey, but like him fortunate enough that none of them was terminal. Unlike RIT, most of the heavy lifting for me was not Saving Hard 2, but Investing Luckily. I was standing next to an open goal of the stock market in March 2009 and that Monevator fellow gave me a kick up the backside that seemed to make sense. Maybe I had a guardian angel who got him to write then and me to look at the right time, when the student is ready the teacher will appear.

    The big tragedy of personal finance and FI/RE is that for most people it is a marathon, not a sprint, it is an accretion of a small amount, but steadily. All the projections you see, like the ones in MMM’s the shockingly simple maths behind early retirement

    show this marathon running steadily, either in their underlying assumptions or in the narrative. Now some people seem to swing that – take a look at RIT’s path to FI and while you can’t draw it with a ruler it’s not far off. Beats the hell out of me how he did that. I could never have saved £100,000 a year because I never earned that much, perhaps a higher savings rate makes spending disappear into the noise. I saved bugger all at the start – indeed by screwing up buying a house I anti-saved with negative equity for 1o years after 1989. Real lives have much more drama in them than the steady as she goes narrative. You can probably still do it with the marathon approach, but it won’t be a linear process and anybody in their twenties or thirties predicating FI on a stable savings rate for the next 20 years may rub up against some challenges to that assumption in the vicissitudes of Real Life™. Obvious challenges are Children, Divorce, Redundancy. And these are the external hits, although I guess children can be sort of planned, not so much the others.

    My biggest error was assuming I was a steady-state system. I wasn’t. You, dear reader, aren’t either. It is easy to make that assumption because once you enter your 30s you have passed the Turning Outward then the next transition you can see is your children coming of age or retirement. However, you may find along the journey what you want out of life and work may change. In particular you may favour more Life and less Work. Not necessarily the nuclear option on Work, but you might want to ease back. I am surprised at how few of the projections of FI/RE account for the life stages. Some written by DINKYs  don’t seem to account for the total devastation that having children wreaks on a DINKY couple’s finances. I don’t know that from personal experience but I saw enough of it at work, you have the double whammy of the extra costs of baby, and the suckout of losing one partner’s earnings, together with the concomitant damage that does permanently to their earning prospects if it’s a professional career. On the upside I guess the Government does sponsor the lifestyle a bit through the benefits system.

    A colleague at The Firm sometime in the mid 2000s was talking in the tea room about the opportunities presented by saving via salary sacrifice into pension AVCs, I guess I was 46 at the time. I was turned off the concept of pensions because they had just shifted the earliest age you could draw a pension from 50 to 55 and it all seemed way off then. However, one of his phrases did strike me “with these opportunities, you’re daft if you’re still working here after 45”. Obviously that’s going to stick in the craw, I was at the grand old age of 46.

    Funnily enough this fellow is still working at The Firm, so he clearly missed the boat too. There was nothing wrong in his reasoning, but one of the assumptions behind it is that you can take the axe to your consumer spending. The fly in the ointment for him was that his wife and kids quite liked the middle class lifestyle. You can’t spend more and save more at the same time without upping the Work monster, so I guess this fellow lacked the cojones to walk the talk, and turned into a walking wallet. The best laid plans of mice and men, eh? I could drive my pay down to a whisker of the national minimum wage using salary sacrifice because I had paid down my mortgage. OTOH presumably he and his wife and kids have some 5 bedroom executive house in a bijou village whereas I live in a crappy 3-bed semi in the better-off districts of Ipswich 3. But the walking wallet has to go to work whereas I get to listen to the birds and ruminate, you pays your money and you takes your choice 😉

    The non-financial error

    I failed to identify that I needed to stop working because work held no meaning for me any more, and I didn’t need the money if I stopped spending it on vacuous crap and empty experiences to compensate me for flushing my life away eight hours every day. The answer for me wasn’t to buy even more crap. It was to stop flushing my life away. I admit a sneaking admiration for several young people (well, in their thirties) I know who electively choose to work part-time because they value their free time. This was not my path – part-timers were despised at The Firm for being, well, part-timers, but it seems tolerated more nowadays despite being very hard to manage from the company’s point of view. Since I didn’t do that, effectively I saved all those days off these young ‘uns take during their working lives and get to take that all off at the end of my working life. Their pattern seems to be three days on two off (then weekends which I also had) so I guess I got the short end of the stick. If a normal working life is 35 years then a 2/7 taken off would imply a 25 year long full-time working life. Epic fail on my part. On the upside I have a lot more Stuff and capital assets, there ought to be something to show for all those hours indentured to The Man.

    It was easy for me to psychologically project much generic crap on The Firm. Modern performance management is a dreadful and stupid way to herd cats, all stick, no carrot and all tied up in barefaced lies for no good reason. You know the pack drill. And so the first three quarters of this blog is about how that sucks. Yeah, it did. Deeply. But in the end it wasn’t the fundamental reason I left, though I believed it was at the time. I had only one really bad half-year, and that was when the project I was on was canned due to a reverse takeover, and anyone who didn’t have enough billable hours was shot with a performance improvement plan. The poor sod instructed by HR a year or so after to try and patch the twisted wreckage up when The Firm needed my skills for the London 2012 Olympics work even said that they were rotating the piss-awful reviews round, because they had to reduce the marks profile.

    But something snapped within. Although others weren’t happy with being targeted I was unduly susceptible at that time and place. Once the mainspring is broken the dream can never be repaired because it has become a nightmare. I will never work for an organisation with a modern performance management system, and I focused all effort on making sure that I will never be in that weak position again. That meant three very lean years and seven lean years in all to to eliminate The Man from my life. The cloud had a sweet silver lining though – I paid my dues of angst about retirement upfront while I was working. I don’t miss the meaning and life structure The Man gives many people, it was weak in me from the off and got incinerated in 2009. But it took me three and a half years of running before I slowed enough to stop, look back and realise the footsteps I heard chasing me were the echoes of my own.

    a human being is never what he is but the self he seeks
    Octavio Paz

    I had to switch off so much of myself to fit in with work, and in the end the unused parts of my psyche needed the freedom. Initially the freedom from, and then the freedom to.

    I get the upside now. Kate Bush was right all those years ago.

    All the colours look brighter now. Everything they say seems to sound new

    I hear the robins and their territories spread across the land, a patchwork with the other birds interleaved. I hear the shifting dynamic tension between the calling males and the 3d spatial pattern of the territories, it is a thing of beauty to observe, as the others interleave their song. I pay attention more, and see and hear and smell things better. You aren’t supposed to gain any sensory acuity as you grow older, but by unrepressing parts of myself the grey matter does a better job of interpreting what is there. I was lucky enough to grow up when personal audio devices were uncommon, but most of the win is being present in the moment. You can do that actively most of the time, not just in bursts with the much-vaunted mindfulness. All you need is time…

    I did some tech stuff for the RSPB a little while back, and for the bizarre way they fund projects (this was not paid work as I was interested in the results) they wanted a guesstimate for the time spent. I was dumbstruck – I had no idea. The whole point of being retired is you don’t have time sheets and project codes and shit like that. I get up, think what moves me to do right there and then get on and do it, after some undefined time I go do something else or waste time on the Web 4 or go for a walk. Although Philip Greenspun made a decent case that the average person has zero drive and it is the strictures of school and employment that get them focused enough to make anything useful happen, I haven’t found that my days disappear into

    Suppose that the guy cashes in his investments and does retire. What do we find? He is waking up at 9:30 am, surfing the Web, sorting out the cable TV bill, watching DVDs, talking about going to the gym, eating Doritos, and maybe accomplishing one of his stated goals.

    I told the project leader to make it up. I’ll back up whatever he says. Nobody is going to sack me for it 🙂

    Along with not going to the gym, not eating Doritos etc I have done a fair amount of introspection, and came to the conclusion that Work and I grew apart. Retirement seems to be different for me than many others because of this. I’ve really struggled to get this across, and I think I now understand why. Work used to matter more to me, the status of earning decently more than my parents, and, okay, I may as well accept my heart of darkness, most other Brits, the sense of changing things. The sonofabitch work turned me into in my late 30s and 40s used to get a rush from saying jump and have people do stuff just because I said so 5. It’s hardly as if this was a big part of my life but after a certain level you have to lead teams and projects even though I cleaved closely to the technical axis. So I never got the rush that the big swinging dicks of finance  have. But a small dose of the poison coursed through my veins, and I became a worse person because of it.

    A Cock of the Rock. Basically wants everybody to do as he says

    A Cock of the Rock. Basically he wants everybody to do as he says. Primates are even worse, which is why you can never have too big a yacht

    If this is one of the reasons lesser BSDs carry on working until they are 80 fair enough, well, as long as they don’t ruin too many people’s lives playing Cock of the Rock. I started to outgrow this phase with the start of the Turning Inward at 45. Work, particularly the management structures, seem to increasingly demand and express the psychopathology of the extrovert writ large as you go up the greasy pole, so in the end I had to switch off so much of my nature to do that and it wasn’t sustainable.

    Since retiring the armour of bitterness and unkindness accreted over many years of competing and expectations of dog-eat-dog behaviour slowly begins to ease and fall away. I was not born for Work, and while I discharged myself acceptably I have now transcended Work 6. Rabindranath Tagore speaks of a similar transition, he’s more articulate than me

    “I travelled the old road every day, I took my fruits to the market, my cattle to the meadows, I ferried my boat across the stream and all the ways were well known to me.

    One morning my basket was heavy with wares. Men were busy in the fields, the pastures crowded with cattle; the breast of earth heaved with the mirth of ripening rice. Suddenly there was a tremor in the air, and the sky seemed to kiss me on my forehead. My mind started up like the morning out of mist.

    I forgot to follow the track. I stepped a few paces from the path, and my familiar world appeared strange to me, like a flower I had only known in bud. My everyday wisdom was ashamed. I went astray in the fairyland of things. It was the best luck of my life that I lost my path that morning, and found my eternal childhood.”

    Hermann Hesse and others have been similar places, indeed art and literature seem to be more in touch with the meaning of the changes of life than the dry narrative we have of  A Successful Career.

    I drew from Carl Jung in the last narrative, but in chasing some of the other references I came across several citations from to Gail Sheehy’s Passages, which is a good read. It is a more accurate read for my life than probably for Generation Y, who will probably be better off with the revised edition New Passages, though the original reads much less New-Agey.  Some of the stages of life are due to the natural life cycle of the human animal, and its physical development, but a lot of the transitions are across the stages society and world of work set, and these have changed dramatically since 1969 when she wrote the first book. The blurb of the revised edition explains some things that have changed –

    Seven years ago she set out to write a sequel, but instead she discovered a historic revolution in the adult life cycle. . .
    People are taking longer to grow up and much longer to die. A fifty-year-old woman–who remains free of cancer and heart disease– can expect to see her ninety-second birthday. Men, too, can expect a dramatically lengthened life span. The old demarcations and descriptions of adulthood–beginning at twenty-one and ending at sixty-five–are hopelessly out of date. In New Passages, Gail Sheehy discovers and maps out a completely new frontier–a Second Adulthood in middle life.
    “Stop and recalculate,” Sheehy writes. “Imagine the day you turn forty-five as the infancy of another life.” Instead of declining, men and women who embrace a Second Adulthood are progressing through entirely new passages into lives of deeper meaning, renewed playfulness, and creativity–beyond both male and female menopause.

    I’m not sure I am ready for the concept of a male menopause, presumably this is decadent metrosexual London/New York sort of thing 😉 Her narrative is very different from the Jungian descriptions I am more used to, but they are derived from observations of hundreds of people 7, though of course edited by their conscious selves in telling them to the author. The conclusions have great similarities despite the varying methodology, Jung gives more of a hypothesis why, Sheehy’s work is more observational Big Data before its time sort of thing.

    Sheehy’s book is a tough read at times if you’re over 45, any life worth living has error in it, and she distills some of the errors of people refusing to grow, it’s a harsh spotlight of some of mine. The increasing competitiveness of working life over my career due to globalisation and improved communications did not foster that sort of thing, I favoured the outer world over the inner, playing against my introverted type and failing to grow.

    The surrender of those career goals on the Turning Inwards and the overflowing of the Shadow and the unlived elements that are incompatible with careerism are also recorded in other narratives -I am not such a special snowflake after all 😉 Sheehy covers a decent range of adult passages, I see friends and colleagues in some of the others. Of course the details vary and some are dated, but the big pictures match. As Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces described, the stupendous variation of individual life stories is woven from a surprisingly small number of different archetypal threads.

    But I feel have probably won most of the fight to turn that particular decade of life experience into wisdom, to clear out the baggage, and to disembark from the old vehicle and be ready look to the new beginning. That is the point of journey’s end for the Work phase, to change mode and start travelling the journey of Life in a new way at a new stage. Hopefully be a long and happy retirement full of people and things many of which I have no inkling of now. Of course there are no guarantees, a hundred and one ways it might all go titsup, but I will do the MMM thing on that.

    The financial errors

    Some readers may one day need to float ISA savings ahead of their pension savings simply because of the arbitrary age as of which you can draw a pension. It is very hard to do that right, because your money is in silos, and you can easily flatten one silo and find yourself short, even if others are flush. My solution to that was being prepared to borrow money but it is very, very tough  for the debt-free to make that mental adjustment, it caused me to underspend since retiring in 2012. It’s probably also hard for me to borrow money other than on a credit card offer by now because my credit scoring probably stinks, not from a litany of missed payments but from an absence of ‘normal’ credit 8. MBNA let me money a few days ago because it was just before the end of the tax year, I need to put all my earnings into a SIPP, fill up the last few thousand in my ISA and front-load £2880 into the SIPP just after the tax year, so I can maximise my tax-free SIPP PCLS. Since I was at  journey’s end I didn’t have enough money in my bank account to do all that, and I couldn’t sell unwrapped holdings because else I’d fall into capital gains tax. So I borrowed the money in the old tax year and just now I have sold some unwrapped shares without tripping the CGT limit  to pay them back when I get my T+2 settlement. Thank you, MBNA for your kind loan of 5.6% APR and no fee – for about two weeks I figure  that will be less than £100. There’s nothing wrong with debt if you invest it in productive assets which return more than the interest. I don’t need to do that any more, now I have access to the SIPP silo.

    It’s not easy qualifying a withdrawal rate

    Nominally the safe withdrawal rate is 4%. It’s easy to know that, but I was just not able to bring myself to do spend at that rate. I am fortunate that most of my pension is expressed as an income – effectively an annuity. It’s that Rich Dad Poor Dad thing. I have no mental model of personal finance that works with Capital, rather than income when it comes to spending. I never built that mental model in 30 years of being paid a monthly salary, so while I did okay on the investing front I was horrendously conservative in my use of that saved cash – in 2012 I thought it would last one or two years. For each of those three years I saved the max into my ISA, which made bridging the gap much harder. Now as it was, that was a lucky sort of error, because after a while that Osborne fellow came along and totally turned my retirement plan around. I was going to have to draw my pension early about now and eat a 25% actuarial reduction due to it being paid five years early. Then Osborne comes along and tells me I can burn up my AVC savings before the main pension. I saved those AVCs in the last three years of working, and because this was a combination of 40% taxed earnings and salary sacrifice I only gave up net income of about 40% of the amount saved. Thank you Osborne, and goodbye to actuarial reductions. The Firm can bloody well pay me what it contracted to for the amount of time I was there and my final salary. And I can leave my ISA be, and indeed add to it over a few years.

    networth from that fateful appraisaement in 2009 (it doesn't include house or main pension)

    networth from that fateful appraisement in 2009 (it doesn’t include house or main pension) The ISA is less than half

    Most of the variation post 2012 is stock-market variation on the ISA, my spending is in the noise at this scale, indeed I failed to spend more in total than the stock market gained (in reality I should deflate this by the rate of inflation, though that hasn’t been terribly high over this period, the aggregate fall since 2012 is about 10%). Now that I have a basic income that is fine for my needs the 100% equity invested ISA looks more reasonable although it would be considered madcap aggressive in an IFA attitude to risk assessment.

    If I invest my PCLS  in the ISA then perhaps I should draw the natural yield of the ISA and spend more. I have never drawn money from my ISA, but it will probably be better if I increase the capital and draw the return rather than leaving the ISA static and running down the cash across five years. The annual cash income from the SIPP is enough to keep the wolf from the door and a few treats, which is just as well, at current valuations a stock market crash is pretty much guaranteed some time in the next five years. Shame the mini-crash earlier this year didn’t really get its boots on now I have a load of cash.

    I don’t know what to do with cash, it is the asset class I most loathe, though inflation hasn’t been as high as I once feared. You seem to have loads of itty bitty aggravation to make it work. Yes, there’s P2P but after the kicking Osborne doled out to the scalpers of the young otherwise known as Britain’s army of leveraged BTL landlords there’s one thing I know from experience, and that is that negative equity is a bear, and faced with keeping the overpriced house or paying back the P2P loan which one are people gonna do? I have some P2P, but no more than I can afford to lose. Matched betting, I didn’t stop work to try and grind out a living trying to arbitrage the fine difference between lots of big numbers on a screen. And I’m always scared by wizard wheezes where I can’t see what value is being rendered to the world by introducing myself as the middleman, P2P falls squarely into that category too. Too many methods of making cash turn a return these days have a whiff of financialisation and arbitrage rather than value-add. We’re fighting central banks if we want a return on cash, and let’s face it, the punters are the small guys in that fight. Gimme a stock market crash, and pronto, guys, the same forces are inflating equity prices.

    The move from a definitely optimistic to an indefinitely optimistic outlook

    I read Peter Thiel (one of Paypal’s  founders) ‘s book Zero to One today – had to read it in the morning because the library wants it back. He had an interesting taxonomy of views of the future, he was applying this to civilisations, not individuals, but it holds true in the micro as well as macro scale. His taxonomy had four quadrants

    Definitely optimistic

    This was the western world I grew up in, Thiel classes this as the US up to 1982. If you are definitely optimistic you expect the future to be better than today and you have some idea of what that will look like. So it makes sense to understand it in advance and apply yourself to making it happen. You spit on your hands, roll up your sleeves and get to work – moon landings, railway electrification, Arpanet, satellite communications.

    Indefinitely optimistic

    Thiel classes this as the US post ’82. You expect the world to be better tomorrow, but you’re buggered if you know how. Thiel says

    indefinite attitudes to the future explain what’s most dysfunctional about our world today. Process trumps substance: when people lack concrete plans to carry out, they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options […]

    A definite view favours firm convictions, instead of pursuing many-sides mediocrity a definite person determines the one best thing to do and then does it

    You can be definitely pessimistic (China – you then take what worked for others and do more of it, but don’t innovate) and indefinitely pessimistic (Europe since 1970 – you know tomorrow will be worse than today but not how quickly, so you party while you still can and kick cans like Greece down the road.)

    On the micro scale of my career, I used to know one definite way of adding value – engineering. The young Ermine switched my career in this direction, against the backdrop of the definitely optimistic time when science and engineering were sorting a lot of problems 9. I have surrendered that – I have moved to being indefinitely optimistic, and that means

    they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options

    which we otherwise know as index investing, indeed the name passive investing already kind of flags Thiel’s point. I am slightly definitely optimistic in that in my HYP I use individual stocks, but there’s still a lot of the indefinite optimism that lies at the heart of diversification. Peter Thiel sticks the knife into the Efficient Market Hypothesis with verve and doesn’t take prisoners –

    “The efficient market hypothesis is the idea, that people can’t have ideas.”

    it is a poster child for for the wider way the West has lost it’s mojo and the way productivity is flatlining as more and more human effort is going into finance and lawyering. Maybe he has a point. If you look at what Physics graduates of Imperial College do after graduation 10, IT, banking and accountancy take over 25%. You don’t particularly need a Physics degree to do any of those.

    I now have time for reflection – no longer the desperate trying to build an ISA which throws off an income I can believe in, to compensate for an actuarially reduced pension. My plan didn’t survive contact with the enemy, but in a good way. In financial terms, I have reached journey’s end. I crossed the three and a half years without an income and without destroying my liquid capital, because I had enough cash savings, inflation was low, the markets were kind to me, and I learned to be less of a damn fool in them than the first time round. I got roughly a 50% uplift in the unitised value as of 2010, rabid indexers will tell me I could have got roughly that with VWRL and they’re right – I have a big hole in my asset allocation of the US, because it’s been too dear throughout my investing time. So I’ll give that point. OTOH I will load up on the US when they take the sucker punch at some point. And the VWRL dividend yield at 2.8% is too low for me 11, I get about 4.8%, though it’s a moot point as I don’t draw from it yet.

    I have work to do now. To know myself, to roll back the years of activity without thinking, unpick the characteristics amplified in my Shadow by the increasingly competitive nature of work 12. To deepen, and grow, to experience things that transform me. That is for me. It’s not for everyone, vive la difference and all that. For sure, I am poorer in money than if I were still working. I will never be worth a million pounds in today’s money. But I am richer in Life, and accreting these riches of experience faster as I return to shape after the straitjacket of three decades of working life. Although I am far more comfortable with Jung’s concept of individuation, Sheehy’s description of the midlife gateway is more generally understandable

    dangerous years when we confront the loss of youth, the fading purpose of old roles, career changes, spiritual dilemmas, but also find the greatest opportunity for self-discovery and renewal

    It’s not a bad description of the point of retirement. Getting the money sorted is necessary. But it isn’t sufficient. You have to roll with the change of that stage of life too, and grow, otherwise freedom to will turn into dissipation, decadence and decline.

     

    Notes:

    1. There is an argument to be made that the investing gain wasn’t earned, I guess, but it’s still not risk-free unearned ancestral wealth of the sort that exercises the Torygraph’s old buffers
    2. discharging my mortgage before I started saving to get out had been a topsy-turvy form of saving, you can of course save a lot more if you don’t have a mortgage to pay
    3. the rules of real-estate still apply – a bad house on the right side of the tracks beats a good house on the wrong side, because all the others residents are carrying the cost
    4. I am slowly cutting that down, but there is a fine line between intellectual curiosity and rabbit-holing for the sake of vacuous novelty
    5. Mrs Ermine tells me this is a guy thing, but look at the caricature of this writ large that is the CEO and officer class – think Robert Fuld, Fred Goodwin and anybody with a yacht in the harbour that is driven by ‘staff’ rather than skippered by themselves
    6. I am still young enough that much may change within and without. One should never say never. But it’s my current state
    7. Carl Jung’s observations were derived from his patients, by his hyptheses merged these, Sheehy cites individual lifestreams, and they are closer to our times than Jung’s
    8. I have no mobile phone subscription, I pay most things cash upfront or on a credit card cleared each month, I have not had a car loan for 25 years, I have no mortgage, compared to normal Brits I am a debt cleanskin
    9. later in Thiel’s narrative he says that the Baby Boomers experienced the world getting better for the first 18 years of their life though it had nothing to do with them , and extrapolated this to be just the way things were, whereupon the mainspring of innovation in the West ran down because they switched it from definite optimism to indefinite optimism
    10. Why Physics? Because I did Physics at Imperial. I would have been classified in technical consultancy/R&D, after a period in manufacturing and Others
    11. yes I know, in theory there’s now’t wrong with running down your capital. You try doing that and feeling good about it though, once you aren’t accumulating
    12. It all seems a terribly long time ago, but once upon a time it was possible to progress at work by simply becoming a better engineer, learning from others and sharpening the saw which showed as skill in action, showing up in better, faster or cheaper work. Skill in action takes time to accrue and show, years not months. The change to performance management meant you have to tell a story each quarter that is better than the last, and to pump up minor successes into major triumphs, and shout louder than everyone else – a microcosm of the short-termism of quarterly reporting by companies. That sort of thing emphasises form over function. Real Life doesn’t show monotonic progress on a quarterly basis.

    the great sucking sound of retail investors heading for the hills

    We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.
    Some well-known investing chap you may have heard of
    The big problem, of course, is that it’s hard to do. We all have to do the old run for the hills thing some time, and I’ve BTDT – more than ten years ago. The mistake is doing it a second time. Either get out and stay out, or if you do get in again then listen to what Mr Market is telling you about yourself. There’s nothing wrong with paying for learning, well, as long as it doesn’t wipe you out for a decade like houses can, but that’s a different story. Shares are safer and more dangerous at the same time. The trouble with houses is you borrow money to buy them, which means you make out like bandits when things go up, which is most of the time. Get that wrong and you get shellacked big time. But shares, well, you shouldn’t be borrowing money to buy shares. 1
    The trouble with the stock market and the retail investor like you and I, is that we get massively interested in the stock market when there’s recent proof that people have made loads of money from shares. So we buy. Then, when things go pear-shaped, we head for the hills, and exactly that has been happening. To the tune of 450million sods, indeed. Some of us sell, then go rinse, repeat.
    Laith Kalaf of Hargeaves Lansdown put it well
    “There is no shortage of bad news now, but, if you invest when everything is smelling of roses, the chances are you are paying a premium for the comfort of doing so,”
    Quite. I’ve been grizzling about too much smelling of roses, so I spent a fair amount of last year buying gold. Unlike some of HL’s investors I didn’t sell shares to buy gold, I simply couldn’t think of much of fair value, after dabbling in some EMs. This year has been more interesting, with a hit on the FTSE100 and a hit in my second ISA (which is more suited to funds) on a Global ex-UK fund approved of by The Accumulator no less, though I found it independently when looking to repeat what I used to do in my pension AVC fund – invest in a 50:50 Global:FTSE100 fund. I can’t buy that in an ISA, so a mix of VUKE and the L&G International ExUK will have to do. The original plan was to track these, buying 1k of one in one ISA and 1k in the other, but I will probably focus on the L&G fund, because I have more money as cash in that account – a straight transfer of a Cash ISA I had from 2009 as part of an emergency fund I need much less of now, as I will start getting a pension income as of next tax year.
    The L&G fund

    The L&G fund

    The heft at the end of this chart is not so much that the stock market has decided to go gangbusters. No. That, dear fellow UK reader, is the great sucking sound of the pound falling relative to everything else. It makes sense to shovel as much money out of the country or into hard assets as possible, and preferably by last month. It was some of the rationale behind the gold buying last year, but now that Mr Market has taken a bit of a swoon, productive foreign assets are also of interest. The UK stock market is looking less bad than it should do at the moment because though denominated in pounds it also contains a fair amount of foreign assets, though all that mining and oil is probably still tracking down in price measured against foreign dev world currencies.

    Braver souls than I trade forex. The trouble with that is it’s still holding cash, it’s sort of like holding gold, and the trouble with owning an asset like that that is not only do you have transaction and holding costs, but when the hell do you decide to sell and buy rotten-looking assets? It’s the old retail investor dilemma again, you have to make yourself do it.

    So I take heart with that sucking sound of retail investors beating it. It means it’s time to keep on buying and ramp up 🙂

    Now I happen to be in trouble now on that front, because there’s another investment opportunity for me, which is a cash investment, into the SIPP holding my AVCs. I will toss my entire earnings for this year into that, to maximise my tax-free PCLS (if we still have one after the Budget). Ideally after March 16th’s budget, because I am hoping for a flat-rate 25% tax bung replacing the existing 20%. I will therefore flatten myself into this, because I have coasted for three and a half years on savings and these are almost all out. I don’t want to spring cash from my ISA because now is the time to invest, and I don’t want to liquidate my NS&I ILSCs because you can’t reload them and no other cash-like savings beats inflation these days without fiddling about with a zillion accounts, which I can’t be bothered to do.

    So I will borrow money on credit cards at 2% p.a. to invest in bigging up my PCLS. Because I can eat paying 2% if there’s a 20% tax-free bung in it. Although I am looking forward to getting a hold of my pension savings in the new tax year, because I don’t like carrying debt. So I will be adding to the statistics of Britain as a nation of spendthrifts going bananas on their credit cards.


    source: tradingeconomics.com

    However, unlike my fellow-countrymen who are spending this on consumer goods and holidays in the sun, I will be buying cold, hard, cash with this – not at the usual rate of -2% but at +18%. I think Mr Micawber would let me off. As for the others rushing for the exits – if you can’t buy in, at least sit on your hands FFS, guys!

    Notes:

    1. I am actually considering doing exactly that, so this is definitely a do as I say not do as I do, but I have some good reason. Don’t they all say that, eh?

    wither pension tax relief and lump sum again?

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    The flowers are coming out, there is the sound of the robin and the dunnock singing, Spring is in the air, and along with the snowdrops and early daffodils there are some stories in the press that come round every March/April time. Oyez oyez, it’s the last chance for you lucky higher rate taxpayers to get pensions tax relief. And as for you lot expecting to pay off your BTL mortgages with the pension commencement lump sums, well, better do it now while you can 1. ‘Twas ever thus

    1602_DSCN2798

    Going, going, gone…It’s the oldest trick in the book

    Sale – Must end Now – punters are suckers for a bit of FOMO, and pension providers always like to hit us with a quick giddy-up at this time of year. It’s always the same old story, sometimes it’s the PCLS that’s due for the chop, sometimes the tax relief. That’s not to say that adverse changes don’t happen with pensions, but they tend to come from left field – the reductions in the annual allowance ,and the introduction of the Lifetime Allowance are two, although these only hit the well-heeled. Presumably these well heeled got to be well-heeled because they had the odd brain cell to rub together; if they can’t be bothered to work it out for themselves Merryn Somerset-Webb of the FT is there to sock it to you straight between the eyes.

    The result is still up for grabs but one thing at least is clear: the game is up for higher earners. Whatever the new system is, it will further cut the reliefs given to them.

    Well, yeah, but it’s going to be more of a whimper than a bang, at a guess – they will be sliced and diced.

    The PCLS was introduced in 1988 I think, when the concept of a personal pension came into being, and every year since then the same stores have been trotted out by the pensions industry trying to stampede the rich into getting their money into a pension, like NOW. The poor, of course, well, they don’t save for retirement anyway.

    Despite having told HL for the last three years that I am an Ermine of very modest means, less than £3600 p.a. indeed, which is all I can save for a pension, they clearly think I am still one of the movers and shakers with a six-figure salary. As such I got my very own copy of this missive. No wonder HL is so damned dear for holding investments, as opposed to cash, if they have to mail so much cruft out to us all. I have nothing against them, well, apart from them demanding I pay £500 to be advised that transferring my AVC funds was a good idea, something I had worked out quite nicely for myself thanks. I observe they have got themselves into this advice game themselves, nowadays, clearly jobs for the boys is a revenue stream too good to miss.

    I am just a poor boy 2 though my story’s seldom told

    There’s a corollary here, which in fairness HL did list in a throwaway paragraph

    1602_DSCN2799

    Quite. Your impecunious scrivener, having failed to avoid earning about £5k can put this into his SIPP for the initial outlay of £4000. I’ve never really understood the status of the remaining £1k, obviously if I had been earning £20k then it would have disappeared into the taxman’s maw, but instead remains to be spent on beer and fast cars, or beaten down stocks. Anyway, the taxman adds the £1k back into the SIPP despite not taking it off me. The speculation on changes seems to vary between divvying up the HRT break into nothing extra for anyone, 25% tax relief for all, 33% tax relief for all, and zero tax-relief for all but the chance to have any gains tax-free in an ISA-like savings vehicle, but presumably one you can’t access before you are grizzled of years. I struggle to see the attraction here. Most people don’t save £15k a year into their pensions, so they may as well fill their ISAs first. The average DC pension capital on retirement is about £100k , elementary arithmetic indicates this is not saving £15k p.a. for 30 years. You read about all the options here. I am not sure that the savers of Britain are ready for a second major overhaul in the retirement savings structure and ethos in as many years without becoming suspicious refuseniks, but there we go.

    Should this go the 25% relief I guess I can hope for £1250, so there’s a potential £250 in it for sitting on my backside for a few weeks. Because I am entirely a cash saver in a SIPP, I always leave it to the last minute to contribute, because there’s no point in locking money away before I need to (to get the win of the tax break). Obviously the big money for HL is with the well heeled, but there are crumbs in it for the little sparrows in doing exactly the opposite of what is advocated in that HL exhortation. Indeed, for someone who is post 54 and intending to retire next year, the difference is respectable if they are earning, say £32,000 and toss the lot in. They could get £6400 at the moment going up to £8000 if the 25% tax relief happened. Of course it may not, or it may be deferred, but a potential £1600 would be worth waiting three weeks for. Obviously if you are one of the six-figure vHRT fellows then throw caution to the wind as HL advocate!

    Lifetime Allowance, Marginal Tax Relief, Annual allowance – one, not three

    I benefited well from higher rate tax relief, but even then my higher rate tax paying years were perhaps a third of my working life. Careers tend to be more contrasty now, they peak earlier, but people also burn out earlier. I’ve already put my colours on the mast for the lifetime allowance, which most accurately defines the ambition of tax-privileged pension savings to my eyes. All this fiddling with marginal tax relief and annual allowances sucks IMO – you should be able to get to the LTA in a couple of furious years in finance or 30 years of steady Eddie saving. It’s about the destination, not the journey.

    All the annual and lifetime restrictions combine to make tax-privileged pension saving more suited to your grandfather’s career arc than today’s sort where even the better off are likely to experience feast and famine, or burn out prematurely. Even I would have rubbed up against the annual allowance at the end of my career, and I got nowhere near the LTA.

    Erstwhile pensions minister Steve Webb scares the horses on the PCLS

    Meanwhile, Steve Webb says the pension commencement lump sum is due for the chop. Well, sort of – if the principle of tax-free pension saving on accumulation is iced, then yes. But those of you sitting on a potential PCLS, including me, this doesn’t mean you have to hook it out by the 16th March. Adverse pension changes are usually trailed at least a year ahead – such as the reduction in the LTA which was announced last year. Positive pension changes sometimes have immediate effect – the announcement of the pension freedoms was announced in March, giving me just enough time to open a SIPP in the old tax year.

    Pensions are still giving me a hard time to qualify the opportunities

    Say I take my PCLS this April, and start to run out the pension below the personal allowance. Let’s ignore that fact I am earning chickenfeed at the moment, say that is £0. I am still allowed to save £2880 a year and the tax man stumps up another £720. By rights 25% of that should be available as a PCLS – after all, say I opened another HL SIPP which had just that £3600 in it, there would be no quibble. I don’t know if HL are smart enough to be able to track that sort of thing.It isn’t as good as the deal used to be for me, because 3/4 of the tax credited is taken back again, so the gain is reduced from £720 to £180, but it’s still free money

    In theory, therefore, even I earned £10k all of which would be taxable at 20% because I am drawing pension income up to the personal allowance there would be a win to pass this through the SIPP. Because of the PCLS I could reduce my basic rate tax liability by a quarter. Paying tax at 20% × 0.75=15% seems like a step in the right direction, saving me £500 in that case. Of course changing to a post-tax savings regime would rain on my parade. Pretty much everything about pensions is hard, counterintuitive and full of wrinkles, that’s the nature of the beast.

    Notes:

    1. what with some of the changes to BTL tax relief on leverage there is more sense to that, but for different reasons
    2. Irony,dear reader, irony… ‘ere I take heat for being a PT b’stard.
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