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Opinion Piece: Beginning to Move Again – Core Challenges back to the Fore

This piece has been authored by Fintuity’s Head of Strategy, Ed Downpatrick – All views and opinions are solely those of the Author.

While fires rage beyond our borders, wreaking havoc and terrible human tragedy, we must ask ourselves what the cost of tackling climate change really is and to what extent the extremity of weather witnessed in the last 5 years or so is irreversible, as the recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report has stated. One of the country’s most respected economics and business writers, Jeremy Warner, has said that the cost of curbing climate change is lower than we think; the challenge will be persuading developing nations to engage alongside us. Britain’s Climate Change Committee has estimated the investment cost of achieving net zero by 2050 for the UK at £1.4 trillion. The Office for Budgetary Responsibility reckons about a quarter of that will be encumbered by taxpayers. Spread out over three decades, that is not as massive as it sounds, just 0.4% of GDP a year. Eventually, this investment is meant to translate into lower operational energy prices which will ultimately, albeit possibly past our lifetimes, lower our bills whilst providing a ‘cleaner’ world in which to live with a natural world greatly restored.

In terms of the global sacrifices to be made, thoughts will go out to the likes of entrepreneurial industrialists in developing nations and folks like Californian almond farmers who will almost certainly have restrictions slapped on their immensely water-intensive practices in order to bring water tables to a level where wildfires are less likely to start let alone spread. We might count ourselves lucky to live on such a wet island, one with sufficient rainfall to have attracted migrant dwellers for thousands of years. Her wealth is her mud, to paraphrase somebody very wise and possibly fictitious. The problem we as a nation now face from increasingly biblical rainfall is flooding to homes and businesses built not only on flood plains, whose peril is more a ‘does-what-it-says-on-the-tin’ thing than anything supernatural, but those close to rivers and areas where there is insufficient drainage infrastructure, the problem being, however, that if the rivers and reservoirs are full, where should the excess water run? More recent housing developments in e.g., East London, historically a marshy wetland, may find themselves sunk in a not too distant future unless eye-wateringly expensive buttressing and fortificational work is undertaken. This author thinks that all new houses should be built on stilts and why on earth not? They look cool as heck.

With every new variant of the covid beastie, its devastation decreases and the economic recovery gathers pace. Just as with the flu, we are going to have to get on and live with it. Taking away our choice as to whether we get vaccinated or allow our children to be, is arguably a trampling of a fundamental human right. We are likely, having been double vaccinated, to catch covid in the form of a cold, nasty or less than as much, and hopefully less likely to a) pass it on and b) need to go to hospital, but our outgoing, devil-may-care youth, whose lifestyles have taken the biggest hit in what few would refute is a golden time for them, risk through their ambivalence to getting vaccinated the continued proliferation of this now immensely irksome of viruses. As many of us will now know, getting pinged is a game-changing life-stopper, plan-ruiner, and businesses up and down the country have keenly felt its effects. We need more of us vaccinated and we need a different approach to lockdown, isolations, and the increasingly dreaded Track and Trace app. The show must go on and as much will be proved over the northern hemisphere’s winter when we see that covid cannot be eradicated and vaccines have failed to prevent the disease becoming endemic. Let us increase NHS capacity, boost NHS staff pay, especially that of nurses, and bring on even more of them such that the institution, a towering pillar in our society, cannot be crippled. As a sidenote, we will pay the price of this, by historical standards at least, not especially lethal pandemic, for some time to come.

We have bickering on Downing Street, not exclusively in number 10 and nothing apparently to do with interior decoration, but between the calm, not that cool, but seemingly impressive chancellor, and his gaffe-prone, goofball, wishes-he-was still-on-that-private-sector-wonga boss. The would-be Churchillian liberator of a PM wants to spend us out of trouble, casting three fiscal sheets to the wind. He seems more concerned with the legacy such an eco-focused spending spree would garner him, looking ahead to the bestselling memoirs of the nation’s next noblest hero. He has set himself at odds with arguably the only tenet maintaining his party’s popularity, that of fiscal prudence, the current guardian of which is his Thatcherite Chancellor, Rishi Sunak. If hoping that spending yourself out of a crisis of non-economic origin will maintain your hold over the Red Wall, you might do well to remember that the cash letting effects of this infrastructural sort have, historically, rarely been felt by left-behind towns. It may create short-term employment and longer-term renewal benefits for one or two, but the large number of these voters the PM is so hoping to keep are finding the combination of government profligacy and the nigh daily austerity they face utterly unbearable.

Carwyn Jones, Wales’s First Minister, has addressed Nicola Sturgeon, directly or indirectly, to highlight the futility of pursuing a separate covid policy to the rest of the UK. As he put it, if an inbound traveller is able to fly to an English airport, what is to stop them renting a car and driving over the border into Wales or Scotland the very same day they arrive? England thus enjoys the economic benefits of its relaxed policy whilst Scotland and Wales theoretically miss out but with much the same risk. The Scottish First Minister has been accused of driving education into the ground, rendering the Scottish NHS a nonsense, and of outright corruption. Fundamental breaking of core electoral promises aside, the auditors would say the SNP’s numbers don’t quite add up. There has been nothing original in the way of covid policy from Holyrood and nothing collaborative. It goes like this – let’s take Boris what says, make it seem irresponsible irrespective of any quality it might in fact bear, and get in front of the television as much as possible to look ever so terribly responsible and superior. It is nationalist politicking of the highest order and the swing percentage of the electorate has cottoned on, as attested to in the most recent referendum polls which show the SNP has lost its slim majority. Division, division, and more division – not what a national recovery needs.

Housing Market

Housing affordability in cities has hit a record low after it’s emerged that we simply aren’t being paid enough to keep pace with the double-digit property price growth we’ve seen over the past 12 months. Buyers, on average, must pay around 8 times their basic salary to buy the average home, the highest ratio on record. This ratio has gone up half a point since last year and nearly 2.5 points a decade ago. Halifax has produced a report stating this affordability gap had widened over the past 12 months. This was driven by an exodus of buyers from urban city centres to leafier locations, which had pushed up prices in smaller cities, as well as in more rural areas where would-be local buyers are now routinely gazumped by flash-cash buyers from cities. Add a significant rise in the price of building materials for those looking to build extensions, perform repair work, or build their own house, and you have a fairly depressing state of affairs for those looking to get any kind of move on, the more so as first-time buyers.

Mortgages

Halifax has launched a sub-1% mortgage (0.83%) into the market amid a spate of rate cutting. this ultra-low rate is offered on two-year fixed deals on up to a 60% loan to property value. It’ll whack you an upfront fee to the tune of £1,499, however. Its set-up charge aside, Halifax is just about the only lender charging for a basic valuation which means that for a lot of people, this won’t actually be the cheapest deal out there. Shameless headline grabbing if you ask us.

Pensions

There is talk that the pensions equivalent of climate change is only a decade away. The government has projected that the state pension pot could be decimated by 2032. This crisis has caused an imbalance which owes itself to generational shifts that see fewer people in work to support more people living in retirement. This could mean hefty tax hikes. To put some scary numbers around how out of kilter we are, the ratio of people in retirement will have shifted from 6:1 in 1990 to 2:1 by 2030. Our advice, as ever, is to seek advice. Find ways to contribute to your own pension pot, to put money into an investment portfolio, to save full-stop.

Investment Outlook

The author is a big fan of behavioural finance and what he means by that is how raw, human, emotional factors affect investment markets. Accordingly, he rather likes the CNN Fear & Greed index, a barometer of market sentiment, which currently leans towards the fear end of the spectrum, telling us that investors have found more things to give them the heebie-jeebies than reasons for ear-to-ear glee. 0 is extreme fear and 100 is extreme greed – we sit at 39.

There’s a global microchip shortage, but massive amounts are being invested into producing even better ones, so expect a delay in the pace of our technological evolution but astonishing changes as and when capacity catches up with demand.

Business and industries – our own included – must adapt and evolve and become much more flexible in the way that we deal with things. Indeed, as we have said before, if the pandemic had hit ten years ago, its effects would have been far more economically devastating than they were. Businesses now – at least a lot of them – have more resilience to adapt to be able to work remotely, to adopt agile and flexible office practises to ensure that business can continue. In this environment, a constant re-evaluation of investments is essential to make sure that portfolios remain relevant and do not become obsolete. A broadly diversified portfolio – by region, by sector, by company – has historically proved to be extremely resilient and we have no reason to think this will change any time soon.

As businesses and individuals we’ve all had to test the limits of flexibility in our everyday dealings and expand them. Had this crisis struck a decade ago the effects would have been immensely more destructive than they have been. Agile working, enabled by technology, has softened the blow and allow businesses to continue operating. We advise you to seek advice, as ever, and that advice should be a constant reassessment of portfolio composition to ensure your investments remain relevant. Time and again, well-diversified portfolios have proven themselves robust, resilient, and successful. This pattern looks likely to endure.

Closing

We are here to serve you and to give you the most affordable advice on the market without compromising an iota on quality. We will continue to keep you updated and look forward to reviewing an ever more ‘normal’ world changing, technologically and environmentally most of all, for the better.

Please note that all comments, statements and thoughts expressed in this blog are those of the author.

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