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It was an eventful start to February for global stock markets – and here with some pointers for the first quarter and to remind us of why a long-term view is important, is Kasim Zafar, Portfolio Manager at EQ Investors.

Equity markets had a very strong start to the year, continuing their trend from 2017 and supported by robust economic and earnings growth. For the first time since September 2011, all geographic regions are achieving sustained positive earnings growth – and we see this global ‘synchronicity’ as generally being a good thing.

However, with the S&P 500 (as an example) up 7% year to date in mid-January, the magnitude of this momentum was difficult to justify. Subsequently, we have seen some violent moves in markets. In our view this was a long overdue market correction and see volatility as a healthy sign investors are taking account of the risks inherent in markets.

So our current outlook and base case remain unchanged: global growth has improved markedly and inflation expectations in Europe and the US are increasing. This has led to more hawkish rhetoric from central banks – including plans to increase interest rates and rein back on quantitative easing – but in the grand scheme of things they remain relatively accommodative.

Recently, we have marginally increased our developed equity exposure, and remain excited by developments in Japan & Europe where we are overweight our long term benchmarks. Political stability is set to continue in Japan following the re-election of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This likely means business as usual and a continuation of structural reforms feeding through into strong corporate earnings and wage growth.

And European growth prospects are now among the most exciting globally, after years lagging other developed markets. Europe is likely to benefit in a similar vein to Asia from ongoing synchronised global growth and its economic recovery is much less mature than that in the UK or the US – with low inflation suggesting that, in spite of strong growth, the economy is some way from overheating.

We still hold a slightly negative view on long duration bonds as inflation may rise in the short term – negatively impacting values. With tight credit spreads we see little value in either investment grade or high yield bonds as an asset class either. So in fixed income we continue to invest in flexible strategies that can take advantage of specific opportunities as they arise.

One impact of globalisation is that corporate revenues and earnings are increasingly spread across the globe. This has a big impact on geographic equity allocation, which has been the basis for traditional asset allocation. In short, it is far less relevant than it once was. As an example, around 80% of revenues generated by FTSE 100 companies (i.e. listed in the UK) come from overseas.

Because of this, and drawing the success of this approach with our Positive Impact Portfolios, the research team are increasingly finding interesting investment ideas from funds that invest in global themes rather than specific geographies.

Healthcare, artificial intelligence and the millennial generation are three examples and you can expect more of this ‘thematic thinking’ in our outlook going forward.

Various expert Partners at Crowe Clark Whitehill, a leading audit, tax and advisory firm, share their expectations below ahead of the UK Chancellor Phillip Hammond's Spring Statement tomorrow.

Dinesh Jangra, Partner, Head of Global Mobility Solutions, calls for measures to help the UK retain and attract talent and investment: “Let there be no doubt, UK PLC will benefit immensely from the world’s best talent being here. The question is what role can the UK tax system play in encouraging this?

Regardless of what is announced in the Spring Statement, Brexit looming in the background and this is causing concerns around the UK’s attractiveness for talent and investment. With that in mind, I would like to see the UK tax system in the area of mobility (expatriate tax breaks) being reviewed to enhance UK attractiveness. The tax effectiveness of non-domicile status has been eroded over time and while we have overseas workday relief and temporary workplace relief, I question if they are enough to continue to attract the best talent to the UK. Often, employers take on the UK income taxes due in respect of employees under tax equalisation arrangements so more UK tax breaks can reduce overall employer tax costs.”

Stacy Eden, Head of Property and Construction, calls for a stamp duty cut and a freeing up of Green Belt land to reinvigorate housebuilding: “An SDLT reduction would free-up liquidity in the market, which will ultimately increase housing transactions and sales, which are currently at extremely low levels. We may even find that it raises more money. There is a broader concern that our tax system is not favourable to property investors and developers, which is not surprising given we have one of the highest property taxes amongst OECD countries.”

“I’m looking out for the Chancellor’s approach to simplifying the planning process. He could reinvigorate UK housebuilding by freeing up more areas of Green Belt land. Investing in planning departments to try and get closer to housebuilding targets is of great importance. We are currently well short of targets and this is contributing to higher house prices in certain areas.”

Rob Marchant, VAT Partner, calls for VAT reform to stimulate the residential build-to-rent market: “It may be an ambitious ask, but I would like VAT changes to encourage the residential build-to-rent market. If rental income were treated as zero-rated rather than VAT exempt, it would allow landlords to reclaim VAT on running, management and repair costs.”

Matteo Timpani, Partner, Corporate Finance, calls for Entrepreneurs Relief to be expanded: “I would like to see the government retain and even expand the reach of Entrepreneurs’ Relief (ER) and other tax reliefs, aimed at rewarding enterprise for UK entrepreneurs.

Recent soundings around restrictions to Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) relief and other reliefs designed to foster growth in the UK economy can cause uncertainty among a community of risk accepting entrepreneurs, the success of which, in the mid-market, drives our economy.

The government should be careful not to underestimate how much of an incentive ER is for business owners to drive growth and ultimately create wealth and jobs for the UK economy as a whole.”

Johnathan Dudley, Partner, Head of Manufacturing, calls for clarity around pensions for SMEs: “With Brexit on the horizon and the possibility of yet another general election, what businesses really need is a period of stability and for politicians to provide some certainty.

Provided this ‘certainty’ is forthcoming, I would expect to see further changes to pensions provisions, aid for businesses to strengthen their international trade capabilities and the tightening of provisions to IR35 and tax evasion rules around employment and self-employment.

Many SMEs have invested time and effort into dealing with pension auto-enrolment duties and a relief for these businesses around payroll provision would be welcomed and well deserved.”

Caroline Harwood, Partner, Head of Share Plans and Reward, calls for clarity about remuneration in light of the Rangers EBT case: “During 2017 we saw the introduction of yet more measures to tackle remuneration structures designed to avoid tax, including a charge on all outstanding ‘disguised remuneration loans’ made to employees by Employee Benefit Trusts (EBT) or other third parties, as well as the new ‘close company gateway’.

The Supreme Court decision to favour HMRC in the ‘big tax case’ against Rangers FC brought the ‘redirection principle’ into the foreground, in ruling that payments via EBTs qualified as taxable income. Initially, the interaction between this new case law, the disguised remuneration rules and arranging such salary sacrifice into a pension scheme, was unclear.

HMRC have made statements as to how they expect these rules to interact in certain cases in the future, but formal clarification in the Spring Statement would be welcomed.”

If cash is in decline, how does the future look for finance?

Once the preserve of banks, states and major institutions, the world of finance has seen big changes in its product offering. A huge growth in tech companies creating ways to make spending easier for both consumers and institutions has seen a shift away from banks ruling the finance industry. Cryptocurrencies have gone even further, removing the need for major institutions to even get involved with both positive and negative results.

Money comparison experts Money Guru have analysed the growing payment trends, how tech and finance have formed an unlikely partnership, and what the future has in store for our spending.

World

Payments

Budging and correcting your forecast should come as a benchmark practice. Below Finance Monthly hears from Chris Howard, Vice President of Customer Experience at Centage Corporation, on the growing importance of forecasting.

On January 1, a new set of tax cuts went into effect designed to stimulate growth in the small to mid-size business sector. I speak to a lot of CEOs who oversee companies with revenues in the $50 to $150 million range, and they’re approaching the start of the New Year with cautious optimism.

In addition to the tax breaks, there’s a lot to be optimistic about: low unemployment and inflation, coupled with steady growth in the GDP and stock markets. But there’s also plenty of reasons to be cautious as well. What happens if the tax cuts hit middle income families in states with high local and state taxes? Will they be able to afford their mortgages? If not, what’s the impact on the economy if many default on their mortgages?

Many CEOs tell me they’d feel more confident if they could keep better tabs on their financials. They’ve put their plans into place based on economic and market assumptions made a few months back, but will they hold up?

My message to them is always the same: forecast Quarterly, or even monthly. As one CEO of a manufacturing company who updates all of his forecasts weekly told me: “I try to analyze actual results against my forecasts on a weekly basis, because it gives my organization 52 chances a year to make corrections.”

Forecasting is a critical endeavor in times of cautious optimism. By treating your budget as a valuable asset that you consult regularly, you give your management team the opportunity to course correct as conditions change or new trends emerge.

To a certain extent, forecasts represent a best guess of what lies ahead. Predicting unforeseen trends and opportunities 12 or 18 months in advance is difficult in the best cases, and nearly impossible when the economy or specific industry experiences uncertainty or volatility. For this reason, it’s worth considering a shift to a rolling forecast (aka rolling planning system).

A rolling financial forecast allows financial teams to project out as the year progresses in order to accommodate trends that affect key business drivers. Typically, with a quarterly rolling forecast, businesses project out approximately four to six quarters ahead, irrespective of the calendar date or year. Of course, successful rolling forecasts depend on knowing a company’s key business drivers, so that the team can watch them for unplanned surprises.

I’ve also become an advocate for balance sheet forecasts. Few CFOs take the time to forecast their balance sheets, preferring to rely on their P&Ls to monitor their cash levels. Granted, forecasting a balance sheet is a difficult task, and nearly impossible to do in Excel. But I’ve seen how valuable the process is, given the critical details often missed when relying on the P&L.

For instance, let’s assume a company has earned $1 million in revenue in March, and incurred $800K in expenses. The P&L would indicate that the company has $200K in cash on hand when in fact, that may not be the case at all if the sales team offered unusually long payment terms for a client. That means the company won’t realize a chunk of revenue until some point in the future. And although it has incurred $800K in expenses, its own payment terms may mean it doesn’t need to pay an invoice immediately or all at once. Deferred revenue and liabilities are the kinds of details that the balance sheet alone can capture, which is why forecasting it monthly is the only way a CFO will know how much cash the company will have in the months and quarters ahead.

Any company seeking growth in 2018 would be wise to include sensitivity analysis as part of the balance sheet forecast. There are many ways to book actuals and financial teams may want to spend some time determining the optimal process for their company. For instance, experiment with sales and expenses within the P&L to see how they flow through to the balance sheet. This exercise will help the management team make better and more accurate decisions.

The largest part of a budget for many companies is workforce expenses. Salaries, hourly, overtime, taxes (employee and employer), 401(k) contributions, insurance, employee stock purchases, garnishments, pre-tax items, post-tax items, holiday pay, sick day pay and vacation pay, are just a few of the items that make it complex. And that complexity will only increase as a company grows and adds headcount. The more detail entered into the workforce expense forecast, the more accurate it will be.

Getting There

Earlier I noted that many CFOs want to forecast regularly, but don’t do so. Coordinating data to analyze, report, and predict performance simply requires too much time and effort, but that’s changing for two reasons. First, new budgeting platforms streamline the process, applying intelligence to ensure inputs are applied accurately and automatically.

Second, critical business systems, such as CRM and HR platforms, generate robust data that can be entered into the budget modeling software, enabling CFOs to create highly detailed forecasts. When combined, these two trends allow financial teams to quickly identify where, when and why actuals differ from plan, and inform the management team so it can take appropriate action.

Every employee of a company has a part to play in meeting the business plan set forth in the year ahead. One of the best things a CFO can do is to jettison Excel, and replace it with an automated platform.

So here we are in 2018, year in which, if the deal-junkies at Citi are to be believed, portends to be a ‘monster year’ for M&A. Given the globally-synchronised economic upturn, continuing low interest rates, suppressed inflation and roaring capital markets, they could very well be right. Below Carlos Keener, Founding Partner at BTD Consulting, talks Finance Monthly through some of the most anticipated M&A activity of the year.

Indeed the deal frenzy has already begun, with the final half of 2017 witnessing GVC’s takeover of Ladbrokes Coral and the Standard Life/Aberdeen Asset Management merger among others. But a word of caution, at least for those considering acquisitions in the UK: Brexit – soft, hard, or otherwise, is now less than 13 months away, and still we’re without (at time of writing) any certainty on even the outline shape of our future relationship with Europe.

No doubt the lawyers and bankers will continue to talk up the Brexit boom, but the reality on the ground may be rather less clear. At a recent conference, a leading M&A professional representing a FTSE100 organisation disappointingly stated "I think someone in the company is looking into the likely impact of Brexit, I’m sure they’ll tell us if we need to do anything differently as soon they’re ready.” While we all can sympathise, that’s not nearly good enough.

Making a rational assessment of the likely risks UK firms may see over the coming years doesn’t require a crystal ball view of what form Brexit will ultimately take. A look at some upcoming or predicted deals for 2018 illustrates this well.

1. Prompted by its recent struggles, Capita, the outsourcing and professional services group, has just announced that it will be disposing of its less profitable and strategically-central assets and services. Firms heavily reliant on professional service revenue are typically the first to be hit hard in a downturn or in times of uncertainty, and even with a clear, decisive Brexit, lack of business certainty may extend for many years as post-Brexit regulatory and trade conditions – and how they are to be applied – crystallise and settle.

Divesting in an effort to return to core is a traditional approach when the future is relatively predictable and fairly speedy recovery is anticipated. But that’s not exactly the scenario ahead of us. Capita will need to prepare its balance sheet for an extended period of uncertainty while retaining sufficient service diversity and operational agility to accommodate new market demands, conditions, constraints (and yes, opportunities) as they emerge. It is adaptability and not strength which may win the day.

2. The global Pharma sector is likely to see significant M&A activity in 2018 as new drug pipelines soften and US corporate tax reductions take effect. One of the most prominent deals in recent years in this sector was the asset swap and joint venture creation between GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis. And last month GSK’s new CEO, Emma Walmsley, expressed an interest in acquiring Pfizer’s Consumer Health division, estimated to be valued at over $15bn.

Like any global manufacturing organisation with highly-complex supply chains in which materials may cross borders multiple times before reaching the market as a finished product, GSK will need to be extremely careful to scenario-plan the potential impact of new hard, soft or otherwise cross-border tariffs and associated regulations as they come into force.

Business cases that assumed free trade across the EU should be re-examined, and supply chains reviewed to minimise any potential increased cost. Acquisitions of EU-based manufacturing capabilities with the ability to serve local markets may help buffer the firm against any emerging trade barriers.

3. News appeared in January that Fox still wants full control of Sky, despite rejection of the deal by British regulators. The rejection shows the growing importance of political and economic nationalism which can trump investor returns, competition or corporate tax repatriation.

A report in October 2017 by Latham & Watkins describes governments and regulators taking an increasing interest in ’foreign’ acquisitions of nationally important companies in the name of national security. In a twist on this, at the time of writing GKN, the FTSE100 aerospace and automotive giant was fending off an unsolicited £7bn takeover bid by Melrose. While a ‘UK only’ deal, politicians including Vince Cable were commenting on the risk the deal may pose to the UK’s industrial strategy.

Economic nationalism begins at home. So, any UK business looking to buy or sell across borders will need to consider how the deal would look to the public and politicians, not just the shareholders.

4. One area in which everyone agrees change is upon us is FinTech. 2017 deals included Vantiv/Worldpay and JPMorgan Chase/WePay. Brexit’s impact on London’s financial sector will accelerate M&A in the coming years within a sector that’s evolving at warp speed. It will be more important than ever to predict the effects of changes. How will the financial regulatory landscape diverge between the UK and the EU post-Brexit? How will GDPR, data protection and safe haven legislation and practices impact market opportunities and operational challenges across borders? And more tactically – if the FinTech gravity moves or disperses (say to Paris), how will FinTech firms find and retain the top technical talent they need?

As ever, change provides an opportunity and a threat to businesses doing M&A. Size alone will not guarantee success. The successful organisation will pull ahead through a clear strategy and use M&A to expand or adapt their propositions and capabilities in the market. Whatever form Brexit takes, one thing is certain – interesting times lie ahead.

Optimism is high among SMEs across both Europe and the US, but is said optimism enough to warrant actual business expansion?

With investment in tech, especially AI, can SMEs afford to expand into new markets and regions? With tax cuts in the US, the new budget, incentives in the UK and confidence in markets all together, is optimism on the rise? Is this a year of your business expansion? What are your thoughts on the current climate, risks and opportunities?

In this week’s Your Thoughts Finance Monthly has heard from a number of top experts and businesses on their opinions and plans for expansion in 2018.

Rick Smith, Managing Director, Forbes Burton:

These days, with so many alternative funding streams available to entrepreneurs and established companies alike, it is easier than ever to get funding. However, this comes with an immediate danger and risk. How companies use this money is often the reason they run into trouble.

The tired adage of not putting all one’s eggs into one basket comes to mind, but it remains true. Diversifying, rather than concentrating on singular vision, is essential.

One thing we always advise companies to do is to think about having physical assets. Being labour-intensive and hiring equipment in the construction industry for example will only serve your growth so far. The lack of bricks and mortar or equipment assets can hit companies hard if things start to go wrong.

With so much uncertainty about, including Brexit, companies need to be mindful in order to be able to recover if things deviate.

Consider expansion of business premises or the purchase of a large, well priced piece of equipment. Ring-fencing that kind of value is wise and can be leveraged more easily. The danger in not looking for this kind of self-preservation is having to borrow more when you fall into a hole. By then it could well be too late. Growth is fantastic, but only when properly managed.”

Lewis Miller, Chief Financial Officer, Frank Recruitment Group:

When it comes to expanding your business in 2018, it isn’t a question of can you can afford to, it’s a question of can you afford not to?

Currently, the availability of cheap debt is at an all-time high; technology advancements are making it easier to invest in new capabilities and new markets, and trading internationally is becoming easier.

For these same reasons, competition is growing and getting tougher. If you are confident in your products and your capabilities, there is no time like the present to bite the bullet and invest in your expansion. If you don’t, it could be a decision you come to regret.

We are already seeing interest rates starting to rise and with strong wage rate growth being reported, this appears to be a trend set to continue. This will eventually place pressure on the economy. It’s impossible to predict the extent of which but I certainly wouldn’t rule out a recession over the next few years.

Expanding now, whilst the market dynamics are supportive will not only open up new opportunities, but the diversification will help protect your business in the event of downturn.

Having access to different markets can also give you a competitive edge with your customers as well as help attract new customers who are looking for a partner who can serve them across a wider array of offerings or geographies.

If you are looking at expanding this year into new markets, whether it be geographically or product, I would offer this one piece of advice – don’t assume that the secret sauce that has made you successful in your current market is the exact same secret sauce to enable you to succeed in new markets. You need to do your homework thoroughly across all key areas, such as; your value proposition; cultural differences in how people buy in the target market; laws and regulations; employing staff; and so on.

In SME’s, often we rely on our existing staff to drive the expansion agenda. Sometimes hiring or partnering with someone that has been there and done it in the market you are looking at, whilst costly, can be the difference in you getting it right the first time and really accelerating your growth.

Adam Schallamach, SME Growth Consultant, Business Doctors:

For a small or medium sized business, the timing of any decision to invest or expand is crucial to ensuring its continued success and, typically, owners will look at both internal and external factors before coming to any conclusions.

The external environment is confusing at the moment. For every article you find stating that business confidence is on the up, you can also find an article talking about how difficult conditions are. But, if you look through the noise, there are certain key themes at the macro level.

Despite it being 18 months since the referendum and nearly 12 months since Article 50 was triggered, we are no clearer about what the future relationship between the UK and Europe will look like. Obviously, if you are a business that relies on European interaction, this uncertainty could be crippling. But, even if you are not, the broader impacts of Brexit on the UK economy and its competitiveness, which could be positive or negative, will have an impact.

Interest rates are another key issue. As a result of inflationary pressures, the Bank of England is giving strong signals that there will be further interest rate hikes this year. These will impact the cost of borrowing and may raise pressures on finances going forward. However, interest rate rises can also have a positive impact on exchange rates altering costs for import/export businesses and supply chains.

As a consequence of Brexit, the Government is looking at how it realigns business related policies to refocus the economy. A major part of this is the Industrial Strategy which is intended to set out the broad vision going forward. Allied to this are the funding schemes/tax credits which are available and will continue to be available to assist business investment/expansion but it is clear that Government will increasingly use this tools to focus on particular areas rather than general business support.

However, whether the broader economic environment is up, down or sideways, businesses still succeed and prosper. And although there will always be exceptions, I would argue that for most small and medium businesses, the key is having a clear direction and strategy.

If a business owner knows what they want to get out of their business and has a clear alignment between that and their business objectives, that will drive what they need to do and when they need to do it. Worrying about external factors which are out of their control and even experts cannot agree on, is frankly a waste of time. So my advice is, if you do nothing else, take the time to revisit and refresh your business plan if you have one, or invest in pulling one together.

Mike Hoyle, Finance Director, Sellick Partnership:

We recognised early on that our financial year to February 2018 was going to be a big year for growth - not just for Sellick Partnership but for our clients and the wider economy.

Our temporary contractor numbers have grown steadily and the number of permanent placement has increased significantly on the year before. This reflects employers’ confidence in the market, indicating that they can afford to keep their new hires long-term.

Demand for recruitment services has increased across all sectors - including finance - and as a result, this year we are focusing on organically growing our professional services offering. We will strengthen our teams by recruiting more specialist consultants to make sure we reach our ambitious financial and operational targets for the next financial year - including surpassing £2m turnover for permanent placements.

These signs are all positive and optimism is certainly on the rise, but there still remains some uncertainty for business owners and employees alike. Although all things Brexit are definitely picking up pace, the remaining uncertainty creates risk, as businesses may struggle to properly plan for the future. With that in mind, it’s imperative that Theresa May pushes on with developments if we want a shot at further economic growth post-Brexit.

Mark O'Connell, CEO, OCO Global:

Market volatility in global equity markets in recent weeks might make you think 2018 has gotten off to a shaky start. But looking beyond this at the wider global economy, 2018 is shaping up to be a promising year for SMEs and could be the year for expansion. Last year, only just over one in ten UK SMEs exported, with businesses missing out on significant opportunities in markets outside of the UK.

2017 saw the return of a booming Europe. Key markets such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain are growing at the fastest pace in a decade and have not yet been fully explored. The German market in particular is a key prize – friendly, accessible and well-disposed to quality and strong service support. The weakness of Sterling also makes UK exporters more competitive than ever right now.

Uncertainty surrounding Brexit arrangements is also prompting many to look further afield for opportunities for growth. In the last year we have seen a significant increase in companies exploring North America. New tax friendly policies in the US have boosted small-business optimism, government-related cost pressures continue to ease and consumer spending remains strong. The US presents a supportive business climate for small firms and a wealth of opportunities.

The benefits of exporting are manifold; diversifying an export portfolio can increase both sales and business stability. A wider base of customers and distributors results in a more resilient business that is able to weather downturns in one or more markets, or offset quieter seasonal periods in one part of the world. Additionally, exporting exposes a business to new ideas and supports innovation. And one thing which UK SMEs are regularly chided for is ‘lack of ambition’: the fact is that more internationally diverse businesses achieve higher exit valuations, so don’t just fly the flag for the country- fly it for yourself.

Adrian O’Connor, Founding Director, Global Accounting Network:

There is no doubt that organisations of every size are increasingly taking a global approach to future expansion plans. It may sound like a cliché, but rapid technological advancements mean that geographic borders are not the barrier they once were - the world is getting smaller. Meanwhile, future uncertainty caused by myriad external factors, not least Brexit, is encouraging smart business leaders to explore opportunities outside of the UK. It’s no wonder that a growing number of organisations are looking to capitalise on favourable market conditions elsewhere, or simply hedge their bets against unpredictable local economies.

Recent client demand, and subsequent recruitment activity, reflects this growing thirst for international growth. The organisations we work with are increasingly seeking senior finance professionals who have experience within a global operation, are familiar with specific international tax structures or who have a solid background in analysing risk associated with global expansion strategies. Unsurprisingly, we have also witnessed job roles, and associated remits, shift in recent years to fit within business structures which are conducive to international operations.

While due diligence associated with overseas expansion expands far beyond the remit of finance teams alone, FP&A specialists who can provide detailed analysis of the strengths and opportunities of target markets - and management accountants who can advise on compensation packages based on local standards and customs - are highly sought after.

This is a strategy we have applied to our own growth plans and Global Accounting Network is expanding into the US this year. The decision was based on a similar market with a shared language and a business-friendly tax regime. International expansion is no longer a pipe-dream for the majority of business: it’s a logical next step for companies which have their ear to the ground and are looking to take their business to the next level.

Dany Rastelli, Global Marketing and Communications Manager, Elements Global Services:

2018 is the year for expansion. 2017 saw stronger growth than many had predicted and I think businesses are starting to look at their expansion timelines with greater optimism. Although companies will continue to proceed with caution in light of current geo-political events, they will no doubt look at international expansion with a view to offsetting negative growth in one market by starting to operate successfully in another.

With regards to Elements Global Services, we are certainly optimistic about what this year will hold for the company. As a global organisation we know our strengths, and are ready to put them to good use to achieve our short, medium and long term goals – no matter how ambitious they might seem. One example of our expansion plans this year, is our ambition to double our head count in the next twelve months across all offices.

It is clear that investing in tech, and more specifically AI, will be essential to a small business’ survival later down the line. In my opinion, this is a short-term (albeit costly) investment for a long-term gain that will give small businesses the competitive advantage. Companies are investing in their futures and it is widely acknowledged within the industry that automation and digitalisation will be the dominant route to market going forward. This influx of tech adoption now should see lower overheads further down the line, allowing for companies to become more profitable across a multitude of markets.

With the latest tax cuts in the US, incentives in the UK and a general confidence in the markets, I think a mood of cautious optimism has pervaded the financial markets in the last 18 months and the global economy has witnessed a positive trend developing. As a result, companies have started to look at expansion with more confidence than before. Although it is indisputable that the current economic climate is volatile, I personally believe that in every risk lies an opportunity. In 2017 the global economy far surpassed expectation and I predict that 2018 will continue this trend and allow businesses to expand and triumph in the face of both global and local adversities.

Chris McClellan, CEO, RAM Tracking:

Despite the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit, and the value of sterling, UK SMEs are still operating in a dynamic and exciting business environment where expansion is a viable option. A recent survey by American Express found that 41% of UK SMEs cite their leveraging of the particular advantages they enjoy as an SME – such as adaptability, innovation and strong customer relationships – as one of their top three strategies for fuelling revenue growth in 2018. And this optimism doesn’t cease when crossing the pond with the recent US National Federation of Independent Business survey reporting one in five SMEs looking to both hire and expand during 2018.

Back in the UK, the American Express survey also states that the majority of those surveyed cite economic uncertainty the most significant threat they face – which has switched from political uncertainty within the same poll just a year earlier. While concerns are ever-present though, this is matched with increased optimism about the opportunities that are out there to trade and form strategic alliances, both in the UK and overseas.

Indeed, developing a specific overseas strategy is a clear advantage for SMEs particularly as it provides a safety net/ pool of new customers and suppliers to fall back upon, as the UK’s departure from the EU draws ever nearer and the weaker pound becomes more attractive for overseas buyers. According to KPMG, almost half of UK exports were destined for the EU in 2017, which demonstrates the dire need to start looking at forging wider global relationships now as a safeguard.

Naturally, global expansion requires a number of obligations around tax and culture to consider but the typical make up of a successful small business – which incorporates focus, strong working/ customer relationships and consistency – helps provide the ‘front’ required to successfully move beyond our national barriers. Financing is of course, an ever-present issue – and barrier – for some, but again, by utilising the agility and innovative nature of an offering and in-house team, investment can become much easier to source. For those not quite at the stage where they can do this, perhaps 2018 is better used looking at the business and how they can make it ‘overseas expansion ready’ in order to make 2019 or 20 the year when they truly elevate.

Indicating business efficiencies is a key element of driving success within existing efforts but this also helps in demonstrating the potential for an SME to move to the next level where expansion (in the UK or indeed, overseas, is concerned). This comes down to measures like ensuring that supplier relationships are properly managed in terms of spend and consolidating requirements down to the fewest suppliers possible. However, internal measures that drill down the day-to-day costs are always needed, an example of such measures is the use of vehicle tracking devices for employees out on the road, as these are very effective and also demonstrate that employee safety and well-being is proactively being monitored.

While nothing in life that is worth getting comes easily, it does seem that the current business landscape is 'expansion-ready' where SMEs are concerned – indeed, the expected uncertainty caused by the current Brexit negotiations actually represents an opportunity for SMEs to forge new relationships that are not as dependent on exiting the EU in terms of tariffs and taxation. So, in conclusion, go forth and conquer!

We would also love to hear more of Your Thoughts on this, so feel free to comment below and tell us what you think!

This new year, there is one question on the lips of business men and women around the UK: “Is now the best time to purchase commercial property?” Thus, commercial property experts, Savoystewart.co.uk, have analysed how the market faired in 2017, and whether 2018 is the ‘peak time’ to buy.

The latest Property Data Report shows that since 2000, the value of the UK’s commercial property stock has grown, considerably, at an average of 3% each year – surprisingly, more than RPI inflation, which grows at an average rate of 2.8%.

Whilst exploring the report, Savoy Stewart found that the commercial property market in the UK in 2016 was valued at a staggering £883 billion, representing 10% of the UK’s net wealth. Investors now own £486 billion worth of commercial property in the UK; with overseas investors owning 29%.

In central London alone, around £2.4 billion was invested in commercial property, resulting in the total turnover for the end of July reaching a substantial £11.5 billion – a 24% increase on the same point a year earlier, in 2016.

July was the strongest month recorded for the City of London since March 2007, owing to the sale of the “Walkie Talkie” building – the UK’s largest single office building deal – which accounted for a staggering 61% of turnover.

Is now the best time to purchase commercial property?

2017 was a much stronger year than many ever anticipated. The economy pleasantly surprised many businesses and forecasters, with unemployment falling to the lowest level since 1975, consumer spending robust, and occupier take-up healthy.

According to Knight Frank, London office take-up is on the rise, despite the impact of Brexit, with demand in the West End at its highest for more than a decade. Savoy Stewart concluded, from their analysis of the research, that the third quarter of 2017 recorded the highest level of office take-up.

A substantial 3.8 million square feet of office space in central London was under offer and was due to close by the end of the year – and it is predicted to be the strongest final quarter since 2014. Office take-up in the West End alone reached 1.65 million square feet.

Trends in 2018

The uncertainty over the UK’s relationship with the EU will continue to cast a shadow over economic growth throughout 2018, resulting in a more cautious outlook amongst investors across all commercial property sectors. As a result, activity may be subdued, but it doesn’t

mean investment will stop any time soon, as investment volumes in the UK commercial property market, this year, are expected to total around £55 billion, per a report by JLL.

Savoy Stewart considered Savills ‘Sector Outlook’ and summarised the six main trends for commercial property in 2018:

  1. Non-domestic demand for UK commercial property to remain strong; Due to the weakening of the pound and commercial property yields looking high in comparison to prime European and Asian markets.
  2. Now is the best time to add value, and for opportunistic investors; Less competition and falling prices means now is the best opportunity to value-add and for opportunistic investors looking to change short-term income into long-term.
  3. Real earnings growth will improve for the retail market; In 2017, a perfect storm of negativity hit retail, but this year will better news. Watch out for good buys in some segments of the commercial property market – don’t just buy because it’s cheap.
  4. Brexit: It will become clearer how much, where and when the risks will be. London’s office market shrugged off the worst of the pre-Brexit negativity last year; 2018 will see more balance.
  5. 2018 will be the year of ‘alternatives’; The pace of recovery will be dictated predominantly by Brexit; investors this year will be exploring new opportunities in the market.
  6. New-tech tools, such as AI, will emerge; Wellness and staff satisfaction will continue to be important for employers, but some businesses will start to look at offsetting the costs of delivering wellness by using artificial intelligence.

Managing Director of Savoystewart.co.uk, Darren Best, discusses his view on commercial property investment in 2018: “As the figures show, despite the uncertainty around Brexit, London is still a pre-eminent city and performing better than Europe in some sectors. The research suggests that now is the best time to purchase commercial property in the UK, now that business confidence is more stable than many expected, which speaks volumes.”

He added: “The performance of the market, last year, surprised many of us. Occupiers are continuing to commit to London commercial property to satisfy their needs, and with the increase in foreign investment in UK commercial property over the last decade and overseas investors now owning 29% of UK commercial properties, it is safe to say 2018 isn’t going to be all doom and gloom – there will be scope for optimism too.”

Following on from last year’s top 10 must read finance books, Tamir Davies, content writer and researcher for Savoy Stewart, advises Finance Monthly on the top 10 business books to look out for, with her own blurb on each and some advice on which reader they are best suited to.

The first month of 2018 is done, and as we continue into the next few months, many Brits will have set aspiring goals and achievements to mark off their bucket lists for the remainder of the year. Whether it be a personal or professional accomplishment, the new year marks a ‘new you’, with a never-ending list of books to read, websites to browse, knowledge to be attained and situations to be resolved. Whilst it’s incredibly easy in this modern world to turn our eye to the internet for a quick fix, we have become incredibly complacent to picking up a book. There is nothing quite like opening freshly printed books, with that lingering sweet smell resembling notes of vanilla flowers and almonds. And even the manufactured smell of new books can’t be mistaken for being better than the world wide web.

If you’re looking to build your collection and to learn something new in your professional field, albeit financial and or business related, here are the 10 most inspiring must-read business books.

1. Cryptocurrency: Advanced Strategies and Techniques to Learn and Understand the World of Cryptocurrency by James C. Anderson

Cryptocurrencies have most certainly made their financial mark on business, proving to be worthy investments for the future of currency. Considering how many Brits have become self-made millionaires after holding onto the currency, it’s no surprise that those investing in cryptocurrencies are looking to know more than just the basics. Perhaps you’re asking yourself more in-depth questions such as ‘why does it have any value?’. Cryptocurrency: Advanced strategies and techniques to learn and understand the world of Cryptocurrency will answer all your questions of interest, demonstrating how this new inventive currency will fit into the modern economy. The book assesses its effect on the economy, how it will grow and shape finance, and finally whether it is sustainable.

Read this book if: You’re bored of conventional strategies to make money and looking to help change the world that little bit more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. When to Jump: If the Job You Have Isn't the Life You Want by Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis, the founder of When to Jump, presents his book When to Jump: If the Job You Have Isn’t the Life You Want, for anyone who feels they have reached a career crossroad. Do you follow your dreams, or do you stick it out because you need the money, the security and longevity of a job that is in front of you? Mike Lewis goes through in detail the ‘Jump Curve’, what he describes are four steps to wholeheartedly pursue the career you have always dreamt about. The book is a beautiful collection of curated stories from like-minded people who share how they took a leap into the unknown. Mike Lewis recently won the Goldman Sachs accolade for ‘100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs’.

Read this book if: You’re sat at your office desk, reading this post and thinking ‘what am I doing here?’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Crushing It! How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence-and How You Can, Too by Gary Vaynerchuk

Crushing It, explores how entrepreneurs and influencers who left their career path which had been somewhat mapped out for them, and went on to build thriving and highly successful businesses. The four-time New York Times bestselling author Gary Vaynerchuk hopes in his new book to inspire similar business men and women with dreams of doing what they love, by offering a unique perspective and lessons to be taken which would help with taking their career to a new level. Gary shares stories of those who have grown wealthier, by adopting principles discussed in his book. Gary dissects every social media platform to help anyone of any career field or title how to maximise and optimise their brand presence.

Read this if: You’re a lively individual, looking for something new to dabble in. Perhaps you’re not doing it for financial gains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google by Scott Galloway

We all log into Facebook, purchase from Amazon, use software from Apple and search for what our heart desires from Google. But have you ever considered their ultimate power as giants of the 21st century? Scott Galloway, in his new book The Four, asks fundamental questions, such as ‘how did the Four infiltrate our lives so completely that they’re almost impossible to avoid (or boycott). Scott Galloway is one of the world’s most celebrated and prolific business professors, and has deconstructed the methods and strategies used by these ‘Four’ giants, and shows you how you can apply the same measures and principles of their tenacity to your own business ventures.

Read this if: You love or loathe these giants of the world, but wish to replicate their deepest, darkest methods of success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Business for Bohemians: Live Well, Make Money by Tom Hodgkinson

Tom Hogkinson, a renowned journalist has combined his wisdom for cash flow forecasts, tax returns, and anything business related, in his book Business for Bohemians, with practical advice and engaging anecdotes to create a refreshing outlook on how to create a greater level of freedom in our working careers. No matter your business dreams, this book will equip you with the skills to turn your talent into a profitable and enjoyable business. The book will navigate how to become a wizard of excel, a social media maven and the art of negotiating with clients, companies and friends, when business is just business.

Read this if: You fear losing your mogul personality when building your business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click to reveal the NEXT 5 must read business books of 2018!

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2018 is the year you make more money. It’s one of your New Year’s resolutions – but you’ve got no idea where to start. You’ve done the research, read as much as you can, and are suffering from a serious case of paralysis by analysis. With so many options to choose from, it’s understandable that doing nothing at all seems like the easiest option. It’s also the worst. Below Jitan Solanki, Senior Trader at Learn to Trade, sheds light on your options for the year ahead.

So, where exactly should you invest your money this year? Read on to find out more about the pros and cons of different investments and make 2018 the year your money works harder.

ISAs

The beauty of cash ISAs is that you do not pay tax on the interest you earn. However, today, basic rate taxpayers can earn £1,000 in savings interest a year, and higher taxpayers can earn £500 – so ISAs are no longer quite as attractive.

Indeed, a standard ISA only offers one – two% interest per year. Even a stocks and shares ISA that can offer 13-14% per year typically incurs a 6p to every £1 charge. This eats away at margins and, when you factor in inflation – at its highest level for half a decade – not only is money not growing, it’s actually decreasing in value.

Cryptocurrency

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have seen the hype surrounding cryptocurrency, the decentralised virtual form of money that can be used to make purchases or be exchanged for other traditional and digital currencies. VeChain (VEN) is one of the hottest new cryptocurrencies around, having struck major deals with Renault, PwC and Fanghuwang, one of the fastest growing online lending platforms in China. Another that you may have heard of, Ripple, is also one to watch as it announced partnerships with American Express and Santander. When considering an investment in cryptocurrencies, the focus now has to be on identifying which coins offer the best technology and are most likely to be used by everyday people in the future – that will be where the value is.

Now that the hype around bitcoin has somewhat subsided, there are good opportunities for those with longer-term ambitions. However, cryptocurrencies are a highly speculative investment without government regulation so investors are warned to tread carefully. It remains to be seen how the crypto craze will play out, but whatever happens, ensure you research thoroughly before making any investments.

Stocks and Bonds

If you’re happy to tie up your money for a number of years, some of your investment options include: bonds, investing money into managed funds, and directly trading stocks, shares and commodities. A fixed rate bond with NS&I might be worth considering, if you’re willing to put away savings for three years, as it guarantees a 2.2% a year growth bond with no risk but is unfortunately taxable. Premium bonds, while not guaranteed, do offer savers the chance to win tax-free prizes between £25 and £1m.

In terms of stock, investment returns and risks for both types – common and preferred – vary depending on factors such as the economy, political scene and the company’s performance. In the short-term, this form of investment is volatile and choosing stocks requires substantial research. There are also a lot of hidden fees and a lack of transparency involved when buying and selling stocks. This said, we’d call out the Hang Seng 50 index as one market that remains a strong core focus for us. This has been on a radar for over a year now when new Shanghai Stock Exchange to Hong Kong Stock Exchange link launched. We continue to see outflows from mainland China into Hong Kong and continue to trade the trend.

Forex Trading

As it stands, by far the most lucrative choice – and one that manages the risk – is forex trading (the trading of currencies), turning over $5.3 trillion annually. Return on investment is typically four% per month on average, which equates to roughly a 60% increase on starting balance after one year.

The British Pound, which has benefitted greatly from open talks between UK and European ministers surrounding Brexit, and the Japanese Yen – weak due to changes in the Bank of Japan’s personnel and upcoming elections – are, currently, a highly effective pairing.

Though it’s hard to argue with the returns above, there is always risk involved. However, while trading does demand a disciplined mindset, as long as you stick to some simple rules you can largely mitigate risk and start to see consistent returns.

The best thing you can do this year is spend some time getting familiar with each of your investment options, understand the pros and cons of forex trading, ISAs, stocks and bonds, and new kid on the block, cryptocurrency, and make 2018 the year you see a return on your investment.

Blockchain is by now known as one of the leading technologies of the 4th industrial revolution and is set to have an impact as far and wide as the internet did. This month Finance Monthly delves into the growing world of blockchain, its biggest uses and the top companies that are using blockchain in their corresponding sectors: Banking, Energy, Retail and Gaming.

Banking

Once treated with caution, blockchain technology is now expected to cause substantial disruption to the banking industry, as banks and bankers are consistently seeking use of blockchain technology in order to transform sizeable areas of their business. From payments, settlements and compliance or identification, the accessibility to a decentralised platform by multiple parties at one time, cost-effectiveness and security benefits are winning legions of fans within the banking sector. Some of the main advantages and usage to blockchain technology within banking are:

Payments – Banks are able to shift their payment systems on to blockchain (or at least part of) or for launching digital currencies.

Trade finance – Blockchain technology provides a modernised update that many feel is necessary when it comes to working with various parties on goods shipment. The technology simplifies the process by enabling numerous parties’ access to the same information, at the same time, removing the need for unnecessary paperwork.

Identity – Due to the cryptographic protection blockchain technology provides, it is able to share a constantly updated digital record at all times to more than one person, or company - Great for customer identification and ensuring trust between consumers and banks.

Syndicated loans – Ideal for managing the lifecycle of a loan, Credit Suisse has already adopted the fashion of putting syndicated loans on blockchain technology.

Energy

Blockchain technology promises to help the energy industry radically transform its processes and markets. Although one of the slower industries to adopt the technology, for those who have, one of the many capabilities on offer is the adoption of a peer-to-peer trading model, which changes the way in which energy is bought and sold.

The rise of renewable energy sources that connect back to a wider grid, has helped convert energy consumers in to producers, therefore letting them sell excess power back to the grid and cutting out the middleman; in short it connects those who want green energy, to the producers who can supply.

The other common use within the energy industry is within the development of cryptocurrencies for monetary payments – something only a handful of companies have begun to trial, such as MARUY.

Retail

There are a few areas within the retail sphere in which blockchain currency can add value. The first is with trust and transparency. With the rise of online shopping, it is harder for retailers to earn trust from their customers, as the human element of a company is essentially being removed.

Blockchain technology will help to support the transparency desired by consumers. Similar to banking, all parties involved – supplier, manufacturer, retailer and consumer – can all trace a products journey and history and therefore, reaffirms the trust between retailer and consumer.

A second and obvious use for the technology is of course with payments. Blockchain promises a shared ledger where all financial transactions are recorded, eliminating the margin of error within the transaction. Blockchain also permits retailers to bypass the fees of intermediaries with a currency such as Bitcoin – this offers all the benefits of traditional currency, but without transaction fees and reconciliation issues.

One retailer trialing the use of blockchain technology at present is Walmart. The US chain is using the technology within its food division. The retailer is able to identify and remove food from its stores that has been recalled and using blockchain, the company is able to obtain crucial information from its suppliers, on its food sources, to ensure all vital food standard requirements are being met.

Gaming

Developments within the gaming industry are not uncommon and blockchain technology is now the next, or for some the latest, wave of disruption to the industry. The key shifting factor for gaming is taking it from a traditional hardware platform and on to the cloud, via a decentralized gaming ecosystem. Blockchain technology naturally lends itself to achieving this.

With blockchain, the gaming industry can be a much more enriching experience for gamers, as currently gamers – both casual and hardcore – invest a lot of time and money in to obtaining collectable, limited edition items within their games, however with the help of blockchain, they’ll be able to play and pay for their gaming needs using tokens, such as Playkey’s token, PKT.

Blockchain technology helps in this shift by encouraging owners of powerful gaming PCs and GPUs, to “rent” their servers to the individuals who don’t necessarily have the funds, or hardware they require, to play the games they desire. This means gamers will not have to invest in expensive gaming consoles and other hardware. The more developers look into blockchain technology, the more it becomes obvious that it is a natural transition for the industry.

Below, Paul Richards, Chairman of Insignis Cash Solutions, explains why the end of the TFS will have adverse effects on savers and banks.

28 February 2018 marks the end of the term funding scheme (TFS), a source of cheap borrowing for banks since its launch in August 2016. This ability to borrow at a low repayment rate meant banks didn’t need to rely on retail deposits for funding; the resulting increase in liquidity reduced the need for banks to compete for savers’ cash, putting downward pressure on deposit rates.

When the scheme closes, the appetite for retail deposits will increase, prompting more competitive rates for savers. The longer term impact will be even more significant. Banks have four years to repay money to the scheme, and will increasingly need to rely on retail deposits during this time.

Failure to repay TFS loans is not an option. After 28 February, the clock starts ticking to pay back £100 billion and banks need to factor replacing these funds into their long term strategic planning. Banks are likely to focus on building up retail deposits as these funds are classified preferentially under regulatory ratio requirements and tend to be more ‘sticky’ long-term.

While we don’t expect instant access rates to improve dramatically straight away, we expect savers to be increasingly rewarded for longer terms savings products. For both notice and term accounts there should be a long term improvement in the market as banks work to replace the Bank of England liquidity.

We also have an increasing number of new bank entrants to the market seeking deposits. There are 20 plus challenger banks looking to enter the UK market, a big boost for competition. Then there is the relative robustness of the UK economy to consider – this combination of drivers will help to push rates higher and increase the options available to savers.

It’s likely we will see a 0.25-0.5% increase in longer terms savings rates over the next 12 months and potentially up to 1% over the next 24-36 months, which could leave a one year term account getting close to the 3% level.

S&P Global Ratings said that its top 50 rated European banks turned a corner last year, a decade after the start of the financial crisis, and are likely to continue down this brighter path in 2018, according to the report, ‘The Top Trends Shaping Major European Banks In 2018’.

Idiosyncratic developments aside, there was clear forward momentum, culminating in a raft of positive rating actions (outlook changes and upgrades) across a number of European banking systems in the third and fourth quarters.

"These actions reflected principally our view of improving economic risks, helped by massive monetary stimulus from central banks, and supportive industry risks, notwithstanding the emergence of fundamental long-term business model challenges," said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Giles Edwards.

Elsewhere, for example in Sweden and Germany, our concern about looming asset bubbles receded somewhat. What's more, for a few banks, we recognized a strengthening in their balance sheets, typically improving capitalization or a growing bail-in buffer.

We start 2018 with no fewer than 15 of the top 50 European banks carrying a positive outlook and only three with negative outlooks on the issuer credit ratings (ICRs), suggesting that this should be another year of generally positive ratings developments.

Under this supportive base case, here are trends we expect to play out in 2018:

Slightly improving profitability, aided by improving economic activity, sustained low NPA formation, and efficiency measures to offset weak revenue growth.
Improved dividend-paying capacity.
Generally stable balance sheets owing to solid economic conditions, modest net lending, NPA stock reduction, and given substantial enhancements in capitalization and funding.
Copious issuance of subordinated instruments to ramp-up bail-in buffers.
Further divestment of government stakes in banks such as ABN, AIB, Bankia, and Belfius, rescued in the financial crisis.
Possibly, the improvement in fortunes of some currently underperforming major banks: Barclays, Commerzbank, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Standard Chartered, and Royal Bank of Scotland.

"However, European banks' progress in areas like NPA reduction and debt issuance and the emerging improvement in economic activity could yet be undone if political risks rise or market conditions deteriorate significantly," Mr. Edwards said.

Furthermore, we continue to monitor the long-term challenges that European banks face:

Optimizing business models to ensure sufficient and sustainable profitability,
Leveraging the benefits of the digital era while fending off nimble emerging challengers,
Delivering effective measures to avoid disruption and franchise damage from cyberattacks and customer data mismanagement.

(Source: S&P Global Ratings)

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