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Investment View: Hype hopes

Last week was eventful, as far as I was concerned. Monday saw me speaking to the Financial Marketing Group at their regular quarterly meeting at Simpson’s in the Strand.

There were many familiar faces there. It seemed fitting that Mr Sipp – John Moret of Suffolk Life – was present. Self-invested personal pensions seem to be taking over my life. The following day saw me on the road to South Wales for yet another seminar explaining the changes to pension regulation due next April.

There must be something about Wales and A-Day. I read that Money Marketing’s pension conference is scheduled to take place at Celtic Manor next February. It is an impressive venue and I have had the good fortune to speak there on many occasions. But I feel there is a risk that IFAs will be all Sipped-out by then, given the coverage that the pension wrapper is receiving in all manner of media.

My audience on Tuesday were those individuals who are potential Sipp purchasers themselves. One investor had travelled to Swansea from London to attend. This seemed a good opportunity to discover whether the message is getting through to those people who might consider establishing a Sipp.

Sad to say, property still surfaced as the main talking point. One potential investor was anxious to find a commercial property before A-Day to avail himself of the ability to borrow 75 per cent of its value. Others wanted to know about the implications of putting their own home or buy-to-let properties in a Sipp. I was also asked whether commercial property was still reckoned to be a good bet.

It all made rather depressing listening to somebody whose background is firmly embedded in financial assets rather than bricks and mortar. To take my mind off the fixation of the public on property, I took the opportunity to visit our local office in between the two seminars that were held.

There I able to view the Official Weekly Price List of the Swansea Stock Exchange dated May 5, 1905. The shares you could trade 100 years ago bore witness to how much the market has changed over the years. Coal and iron made up a sizeable part of the list of companies available to investors while there were a number of railway businesses as well. I particularly liked the Mumbles Railway and Pier Company, priced at 11d. There were also framed certificates for Consolidated 3 per cent Annuities, dated 100 years earlier, reminding me that interest rates are still not that low in an historical context.

The subject of my speech to the Financial Marketing Group was the changes that have taken place over the 42 years I have plied my trade in the investment world. I lighted upon just three areas where the clock can never be turned back – globalisation, technology and regulation. In many ways, the first two led to the third. Technology has made information and dealing platforms available to a wide range of participants. “My word is my bond” was all very well when the businesses trading shares were partnerships of local people. With the international financial community now involved and the number of investors that much greater, tighter rules became inevitable.

Perhaps we will soon see tighter rules on Sipps – rules that may bring to an end the overhyping of property as the investment of choice. It cannot be right for the purveyors of overseas property to promote holiday homes as eligible for a 40 per cent discount. Nor can I see HM Revenue & Customs allowing personal pensions to shelter primary residences from inheritance tax. Property is just one asset class in a range that is widening still.

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