Welcome to our July newsletter and the start of a new financial year. With winter in full swing, it’s a great time to rug up by the fire, take stock of the year that was and make plans for the future.
June was a big month in an eventful year for the local and global economy, with inflation and interest rates continuing to dominate. The US Federal Reserve lifted official rates by 0.75% to a target range of 1.50-1.75% to combat surging inflation of 8.6% in the year to May, stoking fears of a US recession.
Australia faces similar but less acute challenges. With inflation sitting at 5.1%, the Reserve Bank lifted the cash rate by 0.5% to 0.85% in June and Governor Philip Lowe hinted at more to come in July. The Australian economy is still growing relatively strongly at an annual rate of 3.3%. Retail trade rose 10.4% in the year to May on the back of low unemployment and high household savings. Household wealth rose to a record high of $574,807 in the year to March, but since then there has been a global sell-off in shares, a slowdown in the Australian housing market and cost of living pressures are mounting. The ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence reading remains weak at 84.7 points (100 is neutral).
Australia’s national average petrol price rose to 211.9c a litre in June, the second highest on record, on the back of a surge in global oil prices. Brent Crude rose almost 45% over the past year as the war in Ukraine disrupts supply. Despite a late bounce in shares, the ASX200 fell 9.6% in the year to June, while US shares were down more than 12%. The Aussie dollar lost ground over the financial year to finish below US69c.
A Will to give
As baby boomers shift into retirement, Australia is on the brink of the nation’s biggest ever intergenerational wealth transfer. Yet estate or inheritance planning is rarely discussed by families.
Talking openly about how you want your assets to be passed on can help avoid family disputes that take a toll both financially and emotionally. It provides a certain peace of mind for you – that your intentions will be met – and for your family and friends.
Certainly the stakes have never been higher, with growing house prices and healthy superannuation balances contributing to a considerable increase in the wealth of many older Australians in the past two decades.
Around $1.5 trillion was transferred in gifts or inheritances between 2002 and 2018. In 2018 alone, some $107 billion dollars was inherited while $14 billion was handed out in gifts.i
The importance of planning
With so much at stake, having an estate plan in place helps to protect the interests of those you care about and to fulfil your wishes. It takes careful thought and professional advice, but that is no excuse for putting the task aside for later. If something happens to you in the meantime, your assets may not be distributed as you would like and there could be tax implications for your beneficiaries.
An estate plan includes a Will and, in some cases, funeral arrangements and instructions for the care of children and animals. Without a Will, your assets will be distributed according to state inheritance laws which may not be what you intended.
A plan may also include instructions for a testamentary trust to hold assets that are then distributed in a tax-effective way to your beneficiaries. And don’t forget your ‘digital will’, a list of any online accounts and passwords that may be important.
Meanwhile, to protect your interests in case you are incapacitated in some way, an enduring power of attorney and a medical power of attorney nominate the people you would like to handle your affairs until you are better.
Estate planning is even more important in the case of blended families or for those with complex family relationships, especially where the emotional issue of the family home is concerned.
Disputes often centre around who gets the house when there are children from a previous marriage, but your new spouse is living in the family home. You could allocate other assets to the children and leave the home to your spouse or require that the house be sold and the proceeds distributed to all. Alternatively, your Will could grant lifetime tenure in the home for your spouse with it passing to your children after your spouse dies. Having conversations early about your intentions, can help alleviate possible conflict.
If you are concerned about protecting the interests of a family member with mental health or addiction issues, a testamentary trust can help to look after your assets and distribute funds in a controlled way. A testamentary trust is also often used to provide for young children, holding the assets until they reach adulthood.
Dividing it up
When it comes to deciding how best to allocate assets among children, some prefer to hand out equal shares no matter their individual financial circumstances, while others prefer to give extra to one who may be struggling. Given that Wills are frequently challenged by family members or others who believe they are owed a share or an even bigger share, it’s wise to make your intentions clear in your Will including reasons and documentation.
While people who receive inheritances are usually well into middle age - on average 50-years-oldii - and perhaps comfortably well-off, you could choose to bypass the next generation. Instead, you might consider leaving your estate to grandchildren, to help set them up with a deposit for a home or covering school fees.
Another option is to begin distributing your estate while you are alive and can share the enjoyment of the benefits the extra financial help might bring.
What’s not covered?
It is important to note that some assets are not covered by your Will. These include assets jointly held with someone else (such as a bank account or a house), super benefits and life insurance.
In the case of jointly held assets, ownership generally passes to the surviving partner and life insurance is paid to the beneficiary named in the policy. For super, it’s vital to complete a binding death benefit nomination to ensure the funds are paid to the person you choose.
With so much to consider, expert advice is critical when preparing an estate plan, so call us to begin the discussion.
ii Wealth Transfers and their Economic Effects - Commission Research Paper - Productivity Commission (pc.gov.au)
The road ahead for shares
Trying to time investment markets is difficult if not impossible at the best of times, let alone now. The war in Ukraine, rising inflation and interest rates and an upcoming federal election have all added to market uncertainty and volatility.
At times like these investors may be tempted to retreat to the ‘’safety” of cash, but that can be costly. Not only is it difficult to time your exit, but you are also likely to miss out on any upswing that follows a dip.
Take Australian shares. Despite COVID and the recent wall of worries on global markets, Aussie shares soared 64 per cent in the two years from the pandemic low in March 2020 to the end of March 2022.i Who would have thought?
So what lies ahead for shares? The recent Federal Budget contained some clues.
The economic outlook
The Budget doesn’t only outline the government’s spending priorities, it provides a snapshot of where Treasury thinks the Australian economy is headed. While forecasts can be wide of the mark, they do influence market behaviour.
Australia’s economic growth is expected to peak at 4.25 per cent this financial year, underpinned by strong company profits, employment growth and surging commodity prices. Our economy is growing at a faster rate than the global average of 3.75 per cent, and ahead of the US and Europe, which helps explain why Australian shares have performed so strongly.ii
However, growth is expected to taper off to 2.5 per cent by 2023-24, as key commodity prices fall from their current giddy heights by the end of September this year.
Commodity prices have jumped on the back of supply chain disruptions during the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. While much depends on the situation in Ukraine, Treasury estimates that prices for iron ore, oil and coal will all drop sharply later this year.
Share market winners and losers
Rising commodity prices have been a boon for Australia’s resources sector and demand should continue while interest rates remain low and global economies recover from their pandemic lows.
Government spending commitments in the recent Budget will also put extra cash in the pockets of households and the market sectors that depend on them. This is good news for companies in the retail sector, from supermarkets to specialty stores selling discretionary items.
Elsewhere, building supplies, construction and property development companies should benefit from the pipeline of big infrastructure projects combined with support for first home buyers and a strong property market.
Increased Budget spending on defence, and a major investment to improve regional telecommunications, should also flow through to listed companies that supply those sectors as well as the big telcos and internet providers. But there are other influences on the horizon for investors to be aware of.
Rising inflation and interest rates
With inflation on the rise in Australia and the rest of the world, central banks are beginning to lift interest rates from their historic lows. Australia's Reserve Bank has recently raised the official cash rate after 11 1/2 years of no increases.
Global bond markets are already anticipating higher rates, with yields on Australian and US 10-year government bonds jumping to 2.98 per cent and 2.67 per cent respectively.iii
Rising inflation and interest rates can slow economic growth and put a dampener on shares. At the same time, higher interest rates are a cause for celebration for retirees and anyone who depends on income from fixed interest securities and bank deposits. But it’s not that black and white.
While rising interest rates and volatile markets generally constrain returns from shares, some sectors still tend to outperform the market. This includes the banks, because they can charge borrowers more, suppliers and retailers of staples such as food and drink, and healthcare among others.
Putting it all together
In uncertain times when markets are volatile, it’s natural for investors to be a little nervous. But history shows there are investment winners and losers at every point in the economic cycle. At times like these, the best strategy is to have a well-diversified portfolio with a focus on quality.
For share investors, this means quality businesses with stable demand for their goods or services and those able to pass on increased costs to customers.
If you would like to discuss your overall investment strategy don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Scams to beware (and be aware) of
According to Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) data, last year was the worst year on record for the amount lost to scammers, with a record $323 million lost during 2021. This represents a concerning increase of 84% on the previous year.i
And with Australians spending more time online than ever before, predictably the area of most growth is cybercrime.
Cybercrime increased over 13% during the 2020-21 financial year, with data revealing one attack occurs every 8 minutes. ii
Police records indicate that as the number of house break-ins and burglaries decreased through COVID, the amount of digital scams increased as criminal activity found an alternative outlet and moved online.iii Scammers also exploited the pandemic environment by targeting an increasing reliance on online activity and digital information and services.
Most common scams
Phishing, where scammers try to get you to reveal information that enables them to access your money (or in some cases steal your identity), is one of the most common scams. Last year Scamwatch, a website run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), received more than 44,000 reports of phishing, costing Australians $1.6 million.iv While some phishing scams are obvious, like free give-aways, you can also be directed to sites that masquerade as financial providers or government departments and they can look pretty official.
The trick to not be taken in is to be very wary of clicking on a pop up or unknown site and do an independent google search or verify the site is secure. Before submitting any information, make sure the site’s URL begins with “https” and there should be a closed lock icon near the address bar. It’s also a good idea to keep your browser and antivirus software up to date.
Scams that cost us the most
Investment scams are becoming ever more sophisticated and the amounts associated with these scams are significant. Investment scams accounted for $177 million in 2021.v
In one of the most disturbing trends of the year, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) said some investment scammers were presenting impressive credentials, including their funds ‘association’ with highly regarded domestic and international financial services institutions.
Those doing their diligence on the funds were met with professional-looking prospectuses offering very high returns and claiming investor funds would be invested in triple A rated or government bonds, offering protection under the government’s financial claims scheme. Scammers even cleverly honed in on those most likely to be tempted by these investment products by gathering the personal and contact details potential ‘investors’ entered into fake investment comparison websites.
While the rise in, and increasingly compelling nature of investment scams is certainly of concern, we are here to help if you have any opportunities you’d like to explore that need thorough investigation.
- Be alert, not alarmed – always consider the fact that the ‘opportunity’ you are being presented with or the fine or fee you are being asked to pay may be a scam. Don’t be swayed by the fact that it looks like it is coming from a well-known company or source.
- Keep your personal details and passwords secure. Be careful how much information you share on social media and be wary of providing personal information.
- Beware of unusual payment requests. Scammers will often ask for unusual methods of payment which are untraceable like iTunes cards, store gift card or debit cards, or even cryptocurrency like Bitcoin.
The best way to avoid scams, is to be aware of the tactics being employed and maintain a sceptical frame of mind. If something seems too good to be true, or if your alarm bells are ringing take your time and do your due diligence before taking any action.