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Wealth Management

HOW WILL COVID-19 IMPACT ESG INVESTING LONG-TERM?

By Kerstin Engler, Senior Wealth Manager, Geneva Management Group. 

 

Sustainability is a trend on the rise in every sector of the business world. From consumers to corporates, there has been a global shift bringing environmental and social consciousness to the fore.

The investment world is no exception. In recent years, there has been a rise in investors looking to the future ‒ opting to choose their investments on the basis of social and environmental impact rather than exclusively financial gain.

This is not just about making money back on an investment, but about making a bigger impact on the planet and building communities by investing in businesses that implement measures to ensure ethical practice, sustainability and accountability.

Statistics indicate that investors continue to put their money into businesses with a strong focus on environmental, social, and governance investing (ESG), even at the start of the year as the Covid-19 pandemic was already unfolding.

According to investment research company Morningstar, investors around the world put a total of $45.6 billion into funds focused on ESG in the first quarter of 2020. This is not to say that this sector was immune to global investment outflows experienced in response to the outbreak of Covid-19.

After reaching an all-time high of $960 billion at the end of 2019, following three years of consistent growth, sustainable funds declined by 12% in the first quarter. Comparatively, investment funds overall declined by 18%.

But what does the future hold for this investment sector beyond Covid-19? The reality is that it is simply too soon to tell. We have no evidence so far that companies which apply ESG criteria will weather this storm better.

In fact, it’s too early to know what the overall impact on investing will look like long-term beyond Covid-19. Globally, we are still collectively figuring out the ‘new normal’ during this unprecedented crisis.

We have seen that investors are typically focusing on the short-term, dealing with their current investments and focusing on the survival of their companies or their bankable assets.

Our clients want to know how the pandemic will change the world from an investment perspective. We have discussions with clients about how the corporate landscape, and therefore investment opportunities, will be affected. There is a lot of consideration of the impact on sectors including biotech, robotics, gaming and the automotive industry. Consider, for example, that the latter will be affected by a significant reduction in the use of public transportation.

People aren’t asking about ESG. There hasn’t yet been time to look to the long-term. During this period of uncertainty, there have been ripples of talk around the world about how nature will ‘take back cities’ and conspiracy theories that ‘planet Earth is teaching us a lesson’.

Perhaps one good thing that will come out of this is that we will emerge with more consciousness and more purpose. The world will certainly be less global and more local after the crisis. Covid-19 has shown the limitations of globalisation, disruption in supply chains, and transportation, for example.

One of the potential advantages for companies that are already ESG classified is that they may already produce locally for environmental reasons, which could give an edge in this new world where we realise the fragility of global imports and the importance of supporting local business. Other companies may still need to adapt their supply chain.

We have already seen businesses launching new initiatives to help those in need during this time. Beyond Covid-19, it stands to reason that there will be heightened social awareness. More than ever, people are thinking about social factors and uplifting communities. Sustainability could well be in focus as the world collectively heals and looks to the long-term for the planet and its people.

 

Wealth Management

STOCK MARKET ANALYSTS DISCUSS HOW TO INVEST DURING A RECESSION

  • Online tool looks back at how world markets recovered after the last recession in 2008
  • Analysts take learnings from previous recessions to offer insight on how to invest during a period of instability
  • Certain areas of the stock market can increase in value during a recession

The economic crash due to Covid-19 is a unique event, however stock market experts have taken learnings from previous recessions to predict the stocks that may increase in value during this time.

IG Markets, Europe’s largest online derivatives trading provider, has taken learnings from previous recessions, using historical data and online tools such as Decade of Trade, which visualises world stock market trends over the 10 years since the 2008 crash, to provide predictions about the areas of the stock market to watch during an inevitable recession.

 

Stocks to watch during a recession

Under expansionary circumstances, stocks that have strong growth prospects such as healthcare and consumer staple sectors, for the future typically command lofty valuations and produce high returns, as investors bank on the company’s ability to generate more income as time progresses. This phenomenon typically results in high price to earnings (P/E) ratios like those currently present in some of the market-leading tech stocks.

In the event of an economic downturn, however, these profit-hopeful stocks are often discarded as investors align their income assumptions with slowing growth and lower consumer spending.

On the other hand, stocks with stable – but often more modest – income generation tend to be more insulated from dramatic stock shocks that frequently accompany recessionary periods. These stocks are known as “defensives” and, broadly speaking, include the utility, healthcare and consumer staple sectors. Given their profitability profiles, they become an important collection of stocks to keep an eye on when the broader market encounters a rough patch.

Consequently, a portfolio comprised entirely of equities is remarkably vulnerable in times of recession, particularly at the onset when losses are often steepest. With that in mind, it may prove beneficial to look outside of the equity market for some of the best recession-proof investments.

 

Gold can be an investment during a recession

XAU/USD is widely regarded as a safe haven asset for its stable store of value and tangibility. Further still, gold can act as an inflationary hedge, making it an attractive investment in times of recession and in periods of lower interest rates when inflation may threaten to take hold. Gold has demonstrated an almost innate ability to retain its value during contractionary periods, thus making it an attractive investment in times of uncertainty.

 

The US dollar: an attractive currency during recessions

Sharing similarities with gold, the US Dollar also boasts safe haven attributes. Due to its role as the world’s reserve currency and the backing of the world’s largest economy, the US Dollar is both incredibly liquid and sought after. Issued by the Federal Reserve, the Greenback is arguably the safest currency in the world and has become a quasi-currency of exchange in many nations where domestic currencies have had their purchasing power fall, due to inflationary pressures or other economic woes.

Consequently, holding US Dollars during periods of uncertainty or turmoil is often viewed as an attractive alternative to other assets. Evidenced in the Great Financial Crisis when the United States dragged the rest of the world into a global recession, the US Dollar surged almost 25% during 2007 to 2009 even as the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates to the floor.

The Dollar’s strength was largely owed to the fact that the Federal Reserve possessed ample liquidity and the US economy was soon in a position to recover while others were mired in recessions – some of which have never fully recovered.

Joshua Warner, Anaylst at IG Markets, said: “While there is a strong argument that a global health pandemic like Covid-19 has been on the radar of governments and institutions for decades, the lack of preparedness of most governments and businesses shows how unprecedented the current situation is.

“It is almost guaranteed that the UK will enter a recession in the coming months. The Bank of England (BoE) has said it is likely to be the sharpest one on record, while Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned it will be a ‘severe recession the likes of which we haven’t seen before’.”

Peter Hanks, Junior Analyst at Daily FX.com, said: “With the benefit of hindsight and the lessons of the three most recent recessions, it can be argued the best recession investments are not stocks at all, but rather assets that retain their value even as growth slips. Therefore, if equity exposure is a must-have in your portfolio, the US Dollar and gold should also be given consideration – particularly for the risk-averse investor or one who suspects an impending recession.”

 

To learn more about the stock market over the last 10 years to understand future trends, please visit: https://www.ig.com/uk/special-reports/decade-of-trade

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Wealth Management

SECURING THE EVIDENCE FOR VAT AND TAX

Filippa Jörnstedt, Senior Regulatory Counsel at Sovos

 

Businesses are almost entirely digital in their nature. With sophisticated technology now in the reach of most, the measurement and reporting of business transactions have transitioned from slow, manual processes to being automated, allowing finance teams room to breathe. However, alongside the positives of these advancements, there also comes a responsibility to understand the wide-ranging requirements of governments worldwide when it comes to financial transparency.

Recently, we’ve witnessed a shift towards more continuous transactional controls and reporting schemes carried out in real-time, as governments look to reduce their VAT gaps and discrepancies in their economies. Historically, the pressure was on businesses to report their own transaction data, but with the new formats being used, governments are beginning to take matters into their own hands. This makes logical sense, as there is far more complex real-time data being submitted by businesses that governments have access to.

Filippa Jörnstedt

The figurative stick that is VAT control reform is often introduced together with a carrot: removing the need to collate and submit periodic reports, such as VAT returns, to the tax authorities. Ideally, this means less pressure on businesses.  That is, until a problem surfaces, such as data being interpreted in the wrong way, or a dispute arising about the timing of a transaction. Often, these problems originate from reporting being mishandled or through the clearance of transaction data, so keeping a rigorously organised and in-depth record of financial information is imperative for businesses to avoid these problems. Aside from this, it allows them to substantiate any government reports and fix any issues. The difficult aspect, though, is how to build these archives in this way.

 

Digital paper trails

In previous iterations, financial employees were responsible for collating and archiving paper invoices, receipts and other data to provide evidence of their business activity. So, the process of archiving isn’t new, but it needs to reflect the digital times we find ourselves operating in. Simply put, this isn’t a manual task anymore, but many businesses have seemingly just moved to e-archiving without too much thought to just how crucial it is to get right. Modern tax authorities are asking for specific details behind each transaction, paying particularly close attention to time and date, so the archive cannot simply be moved to a digital filing drawer.

Looking at a recent example, India’s reporting requirements now involve invoice data to be sent to the authorities in real-time, for pre-approval and registration onto a state-operated platform.  The invoice will only be considered valid following the generation of a unique Invoice Reference Number by the same platform.

Looking at this from an audit perspective, if a business is later questioned on a transaction then they need to be able to quickly find the correct evidence of that particular transaction, as well as any government response message in relation to that transaction, or risk major fines. Alongside India, also countries closer to home such as Poland and Finland are shifting the way they operate with invoicing and reporting, following Italy’s successful system change last year.

And this is a clear trend; audits into business activity are only going to become more precise and closer to real-time as further governments see the benefits of adopting these methods of tax control. Real-time reporting and mandatory e-invoicing makes sense more widely as these systems have proven to be very effective at reducing VAT gaps, with evidence of this going back decades in areas of Latin America.

 

An authority shift

As outlined, with further countries adopting real-time reporting or variations of this, the tax authority is becoming more central to processes as they receive and gather details on VAT owed by businesses. Reporting in this way makes sense, but pressure on finance teams to keep incredibly detailed data-trails is more important than ever. Tax authorities are increasingly building rich data records of their own as they are receiving more and more granular data in real-time. As a result, the source-of-truth no longer primarily lies with the taxpayer’s financial records, but instead with the tax authority’s ledgers.

To keep pace with this, businesses can no longer simply file away invoices digitally, but also need to record as much data as possible to corroborate the authorities’ records of their transactions. By doing so, they are building an evidence base to be able to dispute any queries or wrong decisions to safeguard their activity. Keeping this front of mind will make the process of addressing any problems far easier than relying on old, less-detailed archives.

Throughout the EU, there are many variations in archiving laws that need to be adhered to. German requirements are set out in their GoBD principles, but in Italy the regulations are far more technical and detailed, reflecting their tax setup. This Italian model asks businesses to provide a documented description of their archives, an overview of its process, but also a delegation plan to show assigned responsibility for those processes. This isn’t an easy set of requirements, especially with laws frequently changing.

The whole aspect of archiving has long been important, but now the stakes are higher; it’s not simply a box-ticking exercise. A complacent, old-school approach to both invoice and transaction data archiving could now result in severe repercussions for businesses. A robust digital strategy is vital.

 

Managing archives to reflect the new normal

Digitalisation does have the benefit of taking some of the pressure off businesses, but this switch in data authority from the business to the tax authority doesn’t mean less work. Regardless of where information is stored, e-invoices must be now kept centrally and be available at any time for those that may need them. Storing these individually, including specific supporting transaction data will mean faster access to relevant evidence for any issues that may arise. Fortunately, technology is now available to do much of the heavy lifting.

To keep up with continually shifting regulation and, importantly, keep compliant with it, businesses must examine how they manage their transaction data and how to ensure their VAT evidence locker is fully stocked. Because legislation may change, but compliance is always compulsory.

 

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