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Caution brings fund outflows

The end of the tax year has come and gone and you have seen the last of the adverts telling you to make sure your clients use their Isa allowance.

But now you will be bombarded with adverts about the need to get clients thinking about this year’s tax allowance and perhaps setting up a monthly plan to squirrel away as much as possible of the full £11,280 they are allowed to put into an investment Isa in the 2012/13 tax year.

Investors reading the weekend papers would have seen the usual advertisements and articles about not missing out on this tax-efficient investing opportunity and suggesting different places to put their hard earned money.

The message in the articles was to invest but to do so wisely, watching out for charges and thinking about how much risk they are prepared to take.

But the Investment Management Association’s sales statistics are telling a story of caution, with the last five months seeing outflows from investment fund Isas. The first two months of this year have already seen over £270m flow out of Isas.

Events which may have contributed to the decline in sales include the eurozone crisis with its resulting instability, ongoing economic uncertainty and increasing unemployment levels and recession fears in the UK. None of this is exactly conducive to saving. Arguably, it is irrelevant though, as we should be taking a long-term view and seeing these recent events as blips which will eventually work themselves out.

But that is not such an easy message to sell when people are experiencing falls in the value of their investments and do not have the confidence (or perhaps long-term time horizon) to ride these out.

And what of those people who are continuing to invest in Isas? It is perhaps not surprising that among those who are doing so, there has been a shift away from UK and European funds into more global investments.

The first two months of this year have seen the Isa money going into three diverse global sectors comprising bonds, equity income and emerging markets.

Last year did end up as the third-best year for Isa sales (after 2010 and 2009) since 2001, thanks in part to the usual rebound in March and April coinciding with the tax-year-end (as has been the case in previous years as well). But notably there were no monthly outflows in the whole of 2011, contrasting starkly with 2012 so far.

At this stage, it is not clear what the March and early April figures will show. If there is no significant rebound, this will be a first and questions will need to be asked about what can be done to revive long-term saving when even a tax-free allowance is no longer as attractive as it once was and should be.

Mona Patel is head of communications at the Investment Management Association

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