Posts in category Buttonwood’s notebook


Business and financeButtonwood’s notebook

Can you afford to retire?

HOW much money do you need to retire? Depending on your age, it is a question you think about a lot (if retirement is imminent) or barely at all. For younger people, the subject is a combination of too far away, too complex and too boring, and too depressing. When you consider that you might live for 20, 25 or even 30 years after you stop working, it is a pretty important issue.

Say you want to retire on £20,000 a year (not a fortune) and you are 65. The best annuity rate at the moment in the UK is just under 5.2% which means you would need a pot of £385,000 to afford this. But hold on a minute. That is a flat £20,000 which does not account for inflation; if prices rise at 3% a year, the value of that pension will halve by your 90th birthday. To get an income of £20,000 that is guaranteed to rise in line with prices, you would need a pot of £619,000. (For American readers, the dollar amounts won’t be exactly the same, but they will be in the ballpark). 

These are very big sums and explain why private sector…Continue reading

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Business and financeButtonwood’s notebook

Why a Labour government might mean a fall in sterling

THE British Labour Party is in buoyant mood at its annual conference, expecting to be in power very soon. And it has already started to think about the consequences, including a possible run on the pound if it takes office. But not everyone thinks this is likely; Simon Wren-Lewis, an economist, challenged people to think of “a serious economic reason why stering would fall on the election of a Labour government”. Well, this blogger can think of several. 

1. Labour plans to increase the rate of tax on corporate profits from (what will be) 17% to 26%. That means the profits available to overseas investors will be reduced accordingly. They will demand a lower price to compensate for this lower return—this will either come in the form of a fall in the stockmarket or in the pound, or probably a bit of both.

2. Labour plans to nationalise various utilities (railways, water, the Royal Mail and some energy) and to cancel some private finance initiatives…Continue reading

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Business and financeButtonwood’s notebook

Picking a fund manager? The odds aren’t great

WHO wants mediocrity? That is what a lot of people say when the subject of index-tracking, or passive fund management, comes up. They would rather choose a fund manager (an active manager in the jargon) who tries to beat the market by picking the best stocks. It does sound like a good idea.

The tricky bit is finding the right manager. The temptation is to look at past performance but fund managers rarely beat the market for long.

The average fund manager is always going to struggle to beat the market (this is a separate argument from whether markets are “efficient”). That is because the index reflects the performance of the average investor before costs. In a world dominated by professional fund managers, there aren’t enough amateurs for the professionals to beat. Even the hedge funds, those supposed “masters of the universe”, haven’t been able to do it; Warren Buffett looks…Continue reading

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