The latest figures indicate that inflation bounced right back up to 2.9% in the month of August. This means that the headline rate of inflation continues at a level well above the Bank of England’s 2% target. What’s making matters worse is that earnings are not increasing anywhere near enough to keep pace, thereby increasing the financial pressures felt by many households in the UK. So it is vital to consider all of your options in light of the impact inflation and sluggish wage growth could have on your savings. We therefore take a closer look at what is happening in the UK and explore the possible ways to get the most from your savings.
UK inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), dropped unexpectedly from 2.9% in May to 2.6% in June and remained at 2.6% for July. However, according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), inflation returned to the heights of 2.9% in August.
The increase to 2.9% recorded in May and again in August 2017 is the highest inflation level since April 2012, the rate having slowly increased after a much welcome period of very low inflation during 2015. It may shock many savers to learn that inflation sat at just 0.9% a short 12 months ago.
Economists who witnessed inflation balloon by 2% in a year do not forecast a bright future for the next few months, as The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), believe it will reach 3% by the end of 2017. This widely accepted pessimism was underpinned by the Bank of England’s (the Bank’s) Inflation Report in August, which predicted that inflation will likely peak at 3% as soon as October of this year.
The Future for Interest Rates
In line with the Bank of England’s recent summary, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) predictably voted by a majority of 6-2 to maintain interest rates at the record low of 0.25%. The recent decline in inflation may fill some with confidence that the Bank will raise interest rates soon. However, Charlie Bean, the former Bank of England’s deputy mused “it looks like the economy might be slowing, it seems like an odd time to increase interest rates”.
Upon review of the slow growth in the economy and the current rate of inflation, NIESR predicts that the Bank may increase interest rates in the first quarter of 2018, whilst Stuart Green of Santander Global Corporate Banking said that he “did not expect a rate hike to happen before 2019”. Either way, this does not fill us with a great amount of confidence.
Some have suggested that the interest rate will not increase until after Brexit negotiations are finished and judging by the latest reports about the negotiations, it seems we could be waiting a long time before the Band of England decide to raise interest rates again.
Even though the question is not ‘if’ the Bank of England will increase interest rates but ‘when’, the rate is likely only to increase to 0.5%, and so the impact on savings rates is likely to be minimal in the short term, and only very gradual over time.
Lagging Wage Growth
With inflation and the question marks over whether to increase interest rates, UK households are enduring a prolonged period of sluggish wage growth. In the last four months wage growth has experienced the biggest drop since August 2014.
Unfortunately, the pressure on incomes is likely to continue as the latest forecast for pay rises sits at just 1%. Households all over the country are feeling the pinch and their wages just do not go as far as they used to, resulting in people spending less money. UK consumer spending is down for the third month in a row.
With less disposable cash, fewer people have been able to put money aside into their savings, and it is no secret that the less you put into savings, the less you will get from it. Ultimately this leads us to the same conclusion: it remains as important as ever to find the best returns on offer.
Fixed rate bonds have historically been the cornerstone product for many savers. However, the rates on offer from these accounts have probably changed more than any other in recent years. Continued reductions in the returns from fixed rate bonds have seen many savers suffering significant falls in the income received from their savings.
At the time of writing, there is not a single fixed rate bond that matches the rate of inflation, and as a result, many savers are losing money in real terms. What’s more, the best savings rates currently on offer from an instant access account provides around 1.25% AER, which sits well below the rate of inflation.
Do Your Homework
Despite the mounting pressure from potentially increasing inflation and sluggish wage growth, it is important to take the time to make the right decision for your financial circumstances. It may be appropriate to review the current amount of interest paid on all your savings and compare this with other savings accounts on the market.
Although the current crop of savings accounts do not come close to matching inflation, if you do not want to put your capital at risk then there are not many options available. However, making sure you have found the best deal for your savings has to be a top priority.
Taking on More Risk or Face Losing Money in Real Terms
The harsh reality in today’s economic landscape is if you do nothing, your money is losing value in real terms so long as the interest rate you receive is lower than inflation. One course of action to combat the effect of inflation is to consider a change of strategy.
The current inflationary environment, along with the slow wage growth and poor interest rates, means that savers may have to consider taking on more risk with some of their capital, in order to try and replicate previous interest rates and secure better returns from their capital.
Capital at Risk Products
One alternative for savers is to consider capital at risk investment plans. These products offer the opportunity to secure competitive returns to potentially beat inflation. Though the capital is not directly invested in the stock market, the potential returns are generally linked to the performance of the FTSE 100 and so offer the potential for competitive rates of return when compared to fixed term bonds.
One such investment plan uniquely offers a fixed monthly income, paid to you regardless of what happens to the stock market, with only the return of your initial capital dependent on the performance of the FTSE 100 index (rather than your income as well).
Risk Versus Reward
Of course, it is important to note that these products do not provide the capital invested with complete protection, and there is a risk of losing some or all of the initial investment. When it comes to capital at risk products there is always a question of risk versus reward.
The principle of risk versus reward means that the search for higher fixed returns usually leads to the need to consider putting your capital at risk. A good benchmark for assessing your fixed rate investment is to compare what you could get from a fixed rate deposit over a similar time frame, and then consider whether you are prepared to accept the level of risk to your capital in return for the higher fixed rate.
However you decide to proceed, the impact of lagging wage growth, low savings rates and the possibility of soaring inflation cannot be ignored. Although savings accounts offer complete protection for your capital, it seems that the record low savings rates are here to stay for the foreseeable future. This could result in savers’ capital diminishing in value and losing money in real terms but before considering capital at risk products, you must make sure you fully understand all of the risks involved before proceeding.
No news, feature article or comment should be seen as a personal recommendation to invest. Prior to making any decision to invest, you should ensure that you are familiar with the risks associated with a particular investment. If you are at all unsure of the suitability of a particular investment, both in respect of its objectives and its risk profile, you should seek independent financial advice.
The fixed income investment mentioned is a structured investment plan that is not capital protected and is not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) for default alone. There is a risk of losing some or all of your initial investment. There is a risk that the company backing the plan or any company associated with the plan may be unable to repay your initial investment and any returns stated. In addition, you may not get back the full amount of your initial investment if the plan is not held for the full term. The past performance of the FTSE 100 Index is not a guide to its future performance. This investment does not include the same security of capital which is afforded to deposit accounts.