The World In A Week - Beware Greeks Bearing Letters

Written by Cormac Nevin.

Last week markets had a placid start, until Friday, when fears about the discovery of what was dubbed the “Omicron variant” of COVID-19 descended upon markets like a flock of thanksgiving turkeys.  The MSCI All Country World Index of global equities dropped -2.4% in GBP terms on Friday, to end the week down -1.9%.  Global Bonds, as measured by the Blomberg Global Aggregate Index, were up +0.1% GBP Hedged.

Omicron is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet and, in a delicious irony, the sharp market selloff on Friday was exacerbated by the third letter of the Greek alphabet; Gamma. This is used to describe the phenomenon resulting from the widespread use of options to make highly leveraged bets on single stock names, particularly by retail traders on platforms like Robinhood.  This causes a feedback loop whereby selling begets more selling by dealers and can result in sharp plunges like that which we have witnessed. The US Equity market is currently dominated by this activity, which explains much of the parabolic upside moves in names like Tesla and gives us slight cause for concern about having too much exposure to US Equities.

Events such as last Friday reinforce our conviction in our neutral equity positioning and diversified approach.  MSCI Japan was down only -0.2% on Friday, as European and US markets sank – illustrating the opportunities various markets provide.  While it is likely too early to say for sure, the Omicron selloff appears to be reversing.  Countries are much better equipped to deal with new variants of COVID-19 than they were in the first wave, illustrated by the UK’s quick closure of travel from Southern Africa.  In addition, companies like Moderna are already using their mRNA technology to synthesise Omicron-specific vaccines.

Given stretched valuations and the implicit leverage in certain markets, we think events like Friday may become more frequent.  It will also likely be even more challenging for markets once central banks stop providing liquidity to an arguably overheating economy.  A flexible and diversified approach will remain critical.

Any opinions stated are honestly held but are not guaranteed and should not be relied upon.
The information contained in this document is not to be regarded as an offer to buy or sell, or the solicitation of any offer to buy or sell, any investments or products.
The content of this document is for information only. It is advisable that you discuss your personal financial circumstances with a financial adviser before undertaking any investments.
All the data contained in the communication is believed to be reliable but may be inaccurate or incomplete. Unless otherwise specified all information is produced as of 29th November 2021.
© 2021 YOU Asset Management. All rights reserved.

The World In A Week - Will Markets Catch A Cold?

Cases of the Covid-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus, spiked last week, although we note that this is due to the inclusion of reclassified cases. On a positive note, laboratory confirmed cases were lower, which suggests that the disease is spreading at a slower rate, although the death toll has now exceeded that of SARS. The economic impact of the virus has been mixed thus far, but we believe it will have long-reaching, knock-on effects to the greater Asian region. It is thought that the People's Bank of China (PBoC) are likely to provide liquidity, to ease funding conditions in Chinese money markets in an effort to tackle downside risk posed by the virus and that further measures to support the economy could follow.

Leading into a long weekend for US citizens, who will be celebrating President's Day, US economic data remained robust. Labour market indicators, especially workers who are quitting for new jobs and small business optimism, were particularly positive. January retail sales rose in line with expectations of 0.3%, this was mostly driven by online and other non-store sales. Earnings also continue to be strong; of 80% of S&P 500 companies that reported in December 2019, 76% beat earnings expectations, which is in line with the long-term trend, suggesting the economy is in rude health.

In the UK, the 'Boris Effect' continues to be felt; Chancellor Sajid Javid resigned from the Cabinet following Boris' request to sack all of his advisors, a request that Javid felt was a move too far. It has been widely publicised that there have been tensions between Javid, and Boris's top adviser, Cummings, who wanted more control over economic policy and spending in the last few months. Javid's departure made way for the appointment of Rishi Sunak who has a tall task ahead; with the Budget due to take place on 11th March, it is questionable if this will go ahead.


Financial Wellbeing: How Do You Score?

Ministers have launched a financial wellbeing scheme in a bid to boost saving across the nation. We look at five key areas for improving your financial wellbeing.

Ministers have launched a financial wellbeing scheme with the goal of turning Britain into a nation of savers over the next ten years. How do your finances stack up?

The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics measuring household debt cover from April 2016 to March 2018. In total, household debt was £1.28 trillion, with 91% of this being attributed to property debt such as a mortgage or Equity Release product. Not counting property debt, the mean household has debt of £9,400, a 9% increase when compared to the period two years earlier.

As debt has risen, many families have found it harder to save too. Research indicated that 11.5 million people have less than £100 of savings to fall back on. Nine million also use credit cards and payday loans to meet essential outgoings. It could leave these individuals financially vulnerable should they experience a financial shock or unexpected bills. Even a small expense can have long-term implications if you're forced to borrow to cover it.

Why have savings decreased?

Over the last decade since the 2008 financial crisis, many workers have found their outgoings have continued to increase in line with inflation. However, wages have been stagnant, falling behind the rising cost of expenses.

The government now plans to turn Britain into a nation of savers by 2030 and cut the number of households relying on credit cards for day-to-day expenses. It also aims to extend financial education in schools, reaching 6.8 million children, compared to the current 4.8 million. Whilst the target is a positive step for improving financial wellbeing, there's little information available on how this will be achieved.

What is financial wellbeing?

Wellbeing is something of a trend at the moment. More people than ever are looking at ways they can improve their overall wellbeing, defined as the 'state of being comfortable, healthy or happy'.

Whilst your mental and physical health is important, you shouldn't neglect your financial health. After all, financial worries can cause stress, whilst financial independence can give you an opportunity to focus on what makes you happy. Financial wellbeing is about having a sense of security and the freedom to make choices that allow you to enjoy life.

So, how does your financial wellbeing score?

  1. Do you have an emergency fund?

First, how would you cope with a financial shock? Even the best-laid plans can run off course for a variety of reasons. As a result, having an emergency fund you can fall back on is essential for financial wellbeing.

This gives you some financial protection should you face an unexpected bill or if you're unable to work for a period of time. Ideally, you should have between three and six months of outgoings in a readily accessible account when you need it. An emergency fund is the foundation of financial wellbeing and can give you confidence.

  1. Are you comfortable with your income and outgoings?

Budgeting is one of the basics of planning your finances. If you're not comfortable with how your books are balancing, it'll affect your financial wellbeing. Managing outgoings in line with your income is key for the other factors on this list too, ensuring you have some spare money to put to one side to meet your other goals, both short and long term.

If you're worried about your day-to-day expenses, it's worth spending some time looking at where your money is going. You may find that there are areas where you can cut back or that you're actually in a better position than you thought.

  1. Can you manage your current debt level?

At points in your life, debt is likely. It's not all 'bad' though. As the Office for National Statistics highlight, over 90% of the debt in the UK is related to property. For many of us, a mortgage is essential for getting on the property ladder. On top of this, there may be times that you need to take out a loan or access other forms of credit.

Credit can be incredibly useful and at times the best option for you. The key here is to understand your commitments and ensure you can meet them. Effectively managing debt is core to maintaining positive financial wellbeing.

  1. Are you saving for the long term?

Whilst the government scheme focuses on building up a savings pot for the short- and medium-term, you should be looking further ahead too. Are you saving enough for retirement, for example?

Retirement might be something you've thought little about if you're still in work. But it's a milestone that you should be preparing for throughout your working life. Knowing that you've been diligently putting money away for your life after work can improve your financial wellbeing when you look at the bigger picture.

If you're already retired, it's important to understand how your income may change over the coming years and what you can do to maintain your lifestyle.

  1. Do you feel confident in your financial decisions?

Finally, you should feel confident in the financial steps you're taking and what this means for your future.

When you undertake wellbeing exercises, it's to enhance your happiness and fulfilment both now and in the future. It's the same with financial wellbeing. Getting to grips with your money and ensuring your accounts are in good health can boost your prospects and how comfortable you feel.

If you're worried about money, it can impact on many other areas of your life. For your overall wellbeing, it's essential you feel confident. This is an area of financial planning we can help with. Working with an expert can help you proceed with financial decisions with confidence, as well as gaining an understanding of how your wealth will change over time.

How many of the above did you answer 'yes' to? If you have any gaps in your financial wellbeing or questions about your financial plans, please get in touch.

Why Financial Planning Is Important For Generation X

If you're part of Generation X, it's the perfect time to start planning your finances to ensure you're on track for meeting goals in the short and long term.

Generation X is likely to be facing big life and financial decisions. Yet, only a small portion is working with a financial adviser to ensure their future is secure.

A nationwide study found that just 8% of those aged between 39 and 54 has spoken with an independent financial adviser in the last year. This is despite many within this age group approaching financial milestones. If you've been putting off getting to grips with your financial future, it's not too late.

Setting out your life goals

The first thing to do is think about what your life goals are in the short, medium and long term.

These goals should be the driving force behind your financial plan. Whilst you're still working, it can seem like retirement or planning to help children get on the property ladder is a long way off, but these long-term goals are just as important as the ones just around the corner. By setting them out now, you're more likely to achieve them.

Remember, the goals you set out now aren't set in stone. You may simply change your mind or factors outside your control may force you to evaluate. Regularly going back to your aspirations, and how you will achieve them, is just as crucial as the first step.

  1. Making the most of your earnings

As you reach your 40s and 50s, your income is likely to be higher than it was in the past. So, how do you make the most of this?

Should you overpay on your mortgage? Or should you start building an investment portfolio? Perhaps, you should increase your pension contributions?

There's no single right answer here. Your decisions should come back to your lifestyle goals. However, taking steps to understand the long-term implications of the financial decisions you make now can help you pick the right path for your aspirations and current financial situation. For some, reducing mortgage debt will help them free up their income in later life in order to retire early. For others, it will make more sense to invest their capital to build up a flexible income in the future.

  1. Planning for retirement

According to the research the average Generation X worker has £159,837 in their pensions and contributes just over £200 per month.

Whilst retirement may still seem a long way off, it pays to start thinking about the lifestyle you want and whether it's achievable based on current pension projections. Just 20% of Generation X plan to access their pension within the next five years. The findings suggest that most have an opportunity to fill potential gaps should they find aspirations and reality aren't aligned. The sooner you know there's a gap in your pension, the greater the chance you have to bridge it.

Worryingly, 48% of women and 34% of men had never heard of Pension Freedoms, and 30% have heard of them but don't understand what they mean for retirement. These pension reforms were brought in five years ago and give you far more freedom in how you access your pensions, but also bring additional responsibility too.

It's important you understand your options; what is right for someone else may not be appropriate for you. The decisions you make at retirement could affect the rest of your life. Please contact us to understand how your pensions savings can be used to create a retirement income.

  1. Providing for the next generation

At this stage in your life, you may be considering how you can financially help the next generation. You may have children or even grandchildren that you want to provide for.

Balancing your financial needs with your desire to give a helping hand can be difficult but it is possible to balance the two. For example, you may want to pay for school fees out of your regular income or start building up a nest egg that can be used for a first home deposit in the future. Setting out these goals can help you achieve them. The best course of action will depend on many factors; including your aspirations for helping loved ones but this is an area where we can provide support. We take the time to understand what your hopes are, so we can set out the right path for you. When planning for the next generation this could include:

  • Contributing to a Junior ISA
  • Gifting lump sums
  • Providing gifts from your income
  • Writing a will and estate planning

If you're part of Generation X and would like to review your finances with a financial planner, please get in touch with us. We'll help you see how the steps you're taking now will impact your future security and ability to achieve goals.

Please note: A pension is a long-term investment. The fund value may fluctuate and can go down, which would have an impact on the level of pension benefit available. Your pension income could also be affected by the interest rates at the time you take your benefits.

The tax implications of pension withdrawals will be based on your individual circumstances, tax legislation and regulation which are subject to change.

The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

What's The Purpose Of Your Retirement?

Having a purpose can improve your wellbeing, it's no different when you reach retirement. What do you hope to achieve as you move into retirement?

Purpose in life gives you a sense of direction and provides meaning. Having a purpose can improve your wellbeing throughout life, and it's no different when you're in retirement. Understanding what your purpose is can make the next chapter of your life more fulfilling.

One of the key elements of financial planning is marrying together your financial means with your goals.

Why is purpose so important at retirement? For many of us, our working life plays a central role in our purpose. The sense of pride you get when working or as you climb the career ladder can mean work becomes a way that we define ourselves. When we meet someone new, one of the first questions we usually ask is; what do you do?

We don't mean how do you fill your free time with hobbies but how you make a living. As a result, our purpose in life and careers are often entwined for decades. When you retire, you can feel like you've lost your sense of purpose whilst you establish new goals and aspirations.

Once you reach retirement, you'll probably have far more free time on your hands than you've ever had before. That means you need to ask yourself; what makes me happy?

Defining your purpose

When we think about retirement, it's often what we'll be getting away from that we focus on. Maybe you're looking forward to avoiding rush hour traffic or tight deadlines. But by focussing on what you're retiring to, you can start to think about your purpose.

There's no one-size-fits-all purpose once you give up work. With more free time, you can start to focus on those areas that may have been put on the back burner because your career took up precious time. For some it could include:

  • Spending time on your passion projects
  • Devoting more time to family and friends
  • Getting more involved in social activities and clubs
  • Visiting new destinations
  • Improving skills or learning something new
  • Donating time or skills to charity
  • Starting a business

For many people, their purpose in retirement is likely to be a combination of several different priorities. Clearly outlining what's important to you in retirement can help you create plans and objectives, providing a sense of direction.

When imagining your ideal retirement, it's easy to focus on the big things. Perhaps a once in a lifetime trip springs to mind. But the day-to-day is just as important; how will you fill your mornings, afternoons and evenings? The plans to spend weekends exploring the local area with grandchildren, afternoons honing your skills on the piano or evenings at a class with friends can help give you a sense of purpose.

Retirement is an opportunity to review what you want and your goals for the next stage of your life. After decades working to save for retirement, it's well-deserved.

Funding your purpose

Whilst your purpose and goals should be at the centre of your retirement plans, money will clearly play a role.

As a result, it's important to assess your purpose with your pension and other provisions in mind. Having confidence in your finances means you're free to focus on what's driving you and gives your life meaning. Putting together a financial plan might seem like a dull task but it's one that can make your retirement years more enjoyable and relaxing.

After meeting with us, many people find they're in a better financial position than they thought. It's a step that gives them the confidence to pursue dreams without having to worry about whether they'll run out of money in 20 years' time. For those that find there's a gap in their finances, there are often solutions or compromises that can be made to ensure they still have a meaningful and financially secure retirement.

Please call us to discuss your purpose for retirement and how your finances can help you achieve it.

Please note: A pension is a long-term investment. The fund value may fluctuate and can go down, which would have an impact on the level of pension benefits available. Your pension income could also be affected by the interest rates at the time you take your benefits.

The tax implications of pension withdrawals will be based on your individual circumstances, tax legislation and regulation which are subject to change in the future.

4 Ways You Can Efficiently Pass Wealth On To The Next Generation

If you plan to pass wealth on to children or grandchildren, how to do so efficiently should be a consideration. It could mean more ends up in the hands of your loved ones.

Do you intend to pass on wealth to loved ones? If you want to help children and grandchildren become more financially secure, you need to consider more than just the sum you'll be giving them. Tax rules may mean you need to think carefully about how you do so, as well as the impact it will have on you.

If you want to pass on a portion of your wealth to loved ones, you essentially have two options: do it during your lifetime or as an inheritance.

There are pros and cons to both these options. Passing on your wealth now means you get to see the impact the money has and, depending on the circumstances of your loved ones, it may have a bigger positive effect on their life. However, on the other hand, it may diminish their inheritance and you'll need to think carefully about how it affects your wealth over the long term.

Whatever option you choose, efficiency should be considered. After all, you want as much of your gift to go to your loved ones.

  1. Use your gifting allowance

When you give a gift, you may think it's considered out of your estate for Inheritance Tax purposes. However, this isn't always the case. Some gifts may still be considered part of your estate for up to seven years and could be liable for tax as a result.

Crucially, there are some exemptions that mean gifts are immediately outside of your estate for Inheritance Tax purposes. This includes the annual gifting allowance of £3,000. If you want to give money to loved ones now, you should make use of this. It can be carried forward by a year, so if you didn't use your allowance last tax year, you could efficiently give £6,000 this year.

  1. Write a will

If you're hoping to leave an inheritance to your loved ones, writing a will should be the first thing you do. Even if you already have a will in place, it may be worth reviewing it.

Having a valid will is the only way to ensure that your wishes are carried out. Despite this, more than half of British adults have not made a will. Not doing so would mean your assets are distributed according to Intestate Rules, which could be vastly different from your wishes. A will may also present an opportunity to mitigate tax.

Ideally, you should review your will every five years and after big life events, such as new grandchildren arriving, marriage or divorce.

  1. Use a trust

Another way to potentially take a portion of your wealth out of your estate is through using a trust. A trust can allow you to pass on assets or money to beneficiaries with one or more people, or even a company taking control. It's an arrangement that can be particularly useful if you want to pass gifts on to children or vulnerable people.

There are several different types of trust and some are subject to their own tax regimes, so you need to fully explore your options before deciding to set up a trust.

Trusts can be complicated and once you've made a decision, it may be irreversible. As a result, it's important that you seek both financial and legal advice before proceeding. Please contact us to discuss if using a trust is an option that is appropriate for you.

  1. Remember your pension

Pensions can provide you with an income throughout retirement. But they may also present you with a chance to pass wealth to loved ones after you've passed away.

Money taken out of your pension will be considered part of your estate and, therefore, potentially liable for Inheritance Tax. However, money that remains in your pension can be passed on efficiently.

If you die before the age of 75, the money within your pension will not be taxed at all if it's accessed within two years. After the age of 75, your beneficiary will be charged Income Tax, which could be far less than Inheritance Tax depending on their personal income.

If you want to leave your pension to a loved one, it's important to note your pension doesn't form part of your estate. As a result, it won't be covered by your will. You should contact your pension provider to complete an 'expression of wishes' to let them know what you'd like to happen.

These four ways to pass money on efficiently aren't the only options. Depending on your circumstances and goals, there may be other options that are more suitable. Please contact us to discuss your personal needs.

What impact will the gift have on you?

Whilst passing on wealth, tax efficiency is important, it's also crucial that you measure the impact it could have on your plans and future. For instance, would taking a lump sum out of your wealth now to give as a gift potentially leave you financially vulnerable in later years? Would a planned inheritance be at risk if you were to need long-term care?

You can't know what's around the corner but by making gifting part of your financial plan, you can help ensure everything stays on track. Please contact us to discuss how you'd like to financially support loved ones. We'll help build a financial plan that reflects this, as well as your other goals.

Please note: The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) does not regulate will writing, estate or tax planning.

The World In A Week

The World In A Week - Policy Preferences

Last week saw a reversal of fortune regarding market performance as global equities shrugged off concerns with MSCI AWCI rising +4.6% in GBP terms. This was primarily driven by the Chinese and US stock markets (up +6.5% and +5.1% respectively) and rests on the assumption that the Coronavirus outbreak can be contained. A secondary-order assumption stemming from the Coronavirus outbreak is that any economic slowdown will be countered with easier monetary policy from the world's central banks, namely the People's Bank of China and the Federal Reserve in the US.

This reversal in sentiment was also observed in the fixed income markets; high yield bonds rallied +0.60% while high quality bonds lost -0.12% - both in GBP hedged terms.

While the assumption that central banks will provide ever-increasing degrees of monetary stimulus to calm nervous markets has worked well as an investment strategy since the financial crisis, signs are appearing that this relationship could come to an end. Negative interest rates are being used in an attempt to stimulate growth in the Eurozone, Japan, Denmark, Switzerland and Hungary. Thus far the success of this experiment has left much to be desired, and the efficacy of negative rates is now being called into question by many. In December 2019, the Swedish central bank, the Riksbank, decided to abandon the negative interest rate experiment and raised rates to 0%.

The ineffectiveness of monetary policy to bolster further economic growth has led many market participants advocating a pivot to fiscal policy to pick up the slack. Governments in the UK and Europe seem to be gradually moving to take advantage of low interest rates for infrastructure spending. In addition, left wing economic policy is coming more into fashion around the globe, Bernie Sanders is leading the polls in the democratic primaries and over the weekend the Irish electorate returned Sinn Fein as the largest party in a general election. We continue closely to monitor policy makers preferences for economic stimulus and how markets will react.

The World In A Week

The World In A Week - Love Changes Everything?

Today we could have written about the United Kingdom no longer being part of the European Union, as Friday saw us exit, but without any clarity around the trade relationship for the future. This is the start of the long journey towards clarity around how we will interact with Europe going forward.

We could have written about Mark Carney's last Monetary Policy Committee as governor of the Bank of England. The expectation for an interest rate cut had surged during January, however the committee voted 7:2 to keep UK interest rates at 0.75%. Mr. Carney officially stands down on 15th March after extending his governorship twice in order to see the UK leave the EU in an orderly manner.

What we are writing about is the Coronavirus and the concerns that this raises with short-term sentiment in the financial markets. Fear is the biggest economic threat and fear spreads more quickly when carried on the wings of social media; Google searches for 'Coronavirus' have risen sharply over the past week. It seems fear changes everything.

Fear changes consumers' economic behaviour and in turn changes policy makers' responses. In response to help contain the spread of the virus, China extended the Lunar New Year holiday to three days, with financial markets opening today. This has knock on effects for global supply chains and even a short disruption to global manufacturing should not be ignored. Companies should have enough inventory, but if Chinese companies are closed long enough, European and US production may suffer a lack of parts. We would expect sentiment surveys to worsen on the back of this.

The World Health Organisation has now declared the Coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. We believe that international measures to stop the spread of the virus will ultimately prove effective and there are early signs that the rate of increase in the number of new cases is slowing. It would appear the world was much more prepared for this type of outbreak than it was in 2003, with the Chinese government being pre-emptive and transparent, especially in quarantining major cities.

As we wrote last week, action will be compared to the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the blueprint is this current crisis could last between three and six months. We must keep in mind that this period of apprehension will eventually end, but in the meantime, we will probably face more bad news as media sources continue to use more emotive headlines, which will likely impact markets in the short-term.

The World In A Week

The World In A Week - The Year Of The Rat

An eventful week that saw the continued spread of the Coronavirus in China, the opening arguments of Trump's impeachment trial and the 51st World Economic Forum in Davos.

The World Health Organisation have called for emergency action in China following 830 confirmed cases with 41 deaths reported so far. The Chinese city of Wuhan, home to some 11 million people has been inundated with new patients seeking treatment. A completely new hospital is set to be completed in the next 6 days and will house 1000 beds. This follows similar action taken in 2003 following the SARS virus outbreak. The timing is far from ideal as China celebrated its New Year on the 25th January and is in a period of stagnated growth. Economic activity is expected to drop significantly with reduced worker mobility and spending power, following the travel ban that encompasses 12 cities, affecting 35 million people. There has been a large-scale demand for surgical masks and gloves with more than 80 million masks sold. China's Tencent has also cancelled the firm's annual bonus release which gives employees the chance to meet chief executive Ma Huateng amid enhanced virus concerns.

The most recent chapter in the impeachment trial sees President Trump's legal team present their case against his removal from power. The session was very brief with the main statements set for this upcoming week. However, it was clear that further evidence is needed to support any case for the removal of Trump, and this would certainly undermine the US political vote as the presidential election race gathers speed. Two-thirds vote of the Senate are required to remove the President from office, an event that has never happened in US Politics.

Climate crisis was once again the topic of discussion at the World Economic Forum in the ski resort of Davos, Switzerland. President Trump's comments again sparked debate as he compared Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, to the great Thomas Edison. This follows the significant up-surge of Tesla shares which have increased by just over $300 in the last 3 months. Trump was also quick to boast his role in accelerating economic growth, with unemployment at its lowest rate for 50 years. Most notably, Greta Thunberg echoed her climate crisis call by encouraging global leaders to act immediately, further emphasised by US Vice President Al Gore, who compared the global crisis to the 9/11 event.

The World In A Week

The World In A Week - Waiting For The Turn

Although the year is still young, thus far into January markets have seen a broad continuation of the trends we observed in Q4 of 2019, and indeed for many of the last few years. US Equity outpaced other global markets by quite some margin, with the S&P 500 retuning +2.21% in Sterling terms; although this was aided by a mild weakening in the British Pound against the US Dollar. The Price/Earnings ratio for the S&P 500 now stands at 26x on a trailing 12-month basis, as calculated by the Wall Street Journal, that is very expensive indeed on this measure.

Global growth equities have continued to outperform value equities (+5.8% vs +2.6% for the month to date), as they have done in the aggregate since the financial crisis. Again, valuations are stretched to extremes - although we generally view stretched valuations as opportunities to add value rather than risks to be avoided. As a result, we maintain our overweight to Global Emerging Market Equity into the New Year as it offers considerably better value than other equity markets.

On the Fixed Income side, we saw the rally in junk (or high yield) bonds extend from December into January as Global High Yield Debt rallied +0.9% in GBP Hedged terms last week. We are deeply sceptical that there is any opportunity to be had in high yield at current prices and maintain our underweight in favour of Investment Grade Credit. Emerging Market Local Currency Debt, which was one of our most successful positions last year, has pulled back marginally this month (-0.30%) but we remain bullish on the asset class in general and our Fund manager in particular.

On the macro side, we track the Composite Leading Indicators produced for each major economy by the OECD on a monthly basis. The latest data was released this morning and showed a moderate stabilisation in economic data across a range of developed and emerging economies. One among these was the UK, which is interesting in the context of a potential rate cut by the Bank of England. This would be highly premature in our opinion. Employment data is still robust, and while retail sales have been poor in aggregate, most of this is due to business models on the high street being disrupted rather than an underlying economic malaise.

We continue to remain focused on only taking risks for which we are adequately compensated, monitoring market developments for when trends might begin to turn and looking for tactical opportunities to add value to the portfolios.