Tuesday 21 November 2017

How Brexit will hit your pocket - and ways to help ease the pain

The UK's departure from the EU may lead to pay cuts and redundancies and put a halt to the tax cuts which many are enjoying, writes Louise McBride

'Whose pockets could be hardest hit by Britain's move to leave the EU - and what can you do to shield your finances from Brexit?'
'Whose pockets could be hardest hit by Britain's move to leave the EU - and what can you do to shield your finances from Brexit?'
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

Brexit will have a more permanent impact on Ireland than the financial crisis which rocked the country in 2008, a top economist has warned.

"The shock from Brexit won't be as deep as the 2008 financial crisis - but it will be more permanent," said Alan Ahearne, director of the Whitaker Institute in NUI Galway, and a former special adviser to the late Finance Minister Brian Lenihan. "Some people will be severely affected by Brexit while others will be relatively affected."

So whose pockets could be hardest hit by Britain's move to leave the EU - and what can you do to shield your finances from Brexit?

The workers

For most people, the biggest threat to their ability to make ends meet is the loss of a job. Now could be a good time to upskill or consider a career change - if your job is vulnerable to Brexit. Those working in agri-food and agriculture are likely to be hardest hit by Brexit, according to Ahearne.

"A lot will depend on the trade deal between the EU and the UK post-Brexit," said Ahearne. "It's possible that the barriers to trade post-Brexit will be highest in the agri-food and agriculture sectors. People in these sectors are working for businesses selling to the UK - if there were very high trade barriers or tariffs under Brexit, it would be harder for those sectors to continue to sell to Britain. So you could see a lot of layoffs and wage cuts in those businesses as a result."

Those working in traditional manufacturing jobs (such as metal products and industrial machinery) are also vulnerable to Brexit because such businesses are very dependent on Britain, according to Ahearne. Workers in agri-food, agriculture and traditional manufacturing could be in a similar position as construction workers were during the property crash, he said.

Jobs could also be lost in the trickle-down effect. "There are towns around Ireland where businesses and other activities depend a lot on people working in agri-food and agriculture," said Ahearne. "Although the people who work in shops in those towns are not selling to the UK, they are selling to people working in businesses that export to the UK - so you'll get a trickle-down effect here. During the boom, shops were selling tonnes of breakfast rolls to construction workers - so when the property downturn happened, many shops had to lay off some staff."

It's not all bad news on the jobs front though: there are likely to be more job opportunities and possibilities of better pay in financial services and IT. This is because Brexit has prompted a some big financial services companies to start relocating to Ireland - and others are expected to follow suit.

CPL Resources recently reported a big jump in the number of jobs advertised in the finance sector.

"This [increase in jobs] may well push up wages in financial services - as businesses will be competing for staff," said Ahearne.

The jobs boon however will be "very much Dublin-based", warned Ahearne. "The effects of Brexit will be very sectoral and very regional. Be wise: the more skills you have, the less you will be at risk of Brexit. There will be a huge shortage of workers in financial services and ICT - however, an individual who doesn't have skills for those jobs, or who has skills for jobs exposed to the UK, could suffer."

The pensioners

Irish residents who hold a British pension could be among the most vulnerable to Brexit. As sterling has dived since the Brexit vote, the British pensions held by Irish residents are likely to be worth less when they're converted into euro - unless sterling recovers by the time those pensions are drawn down. There are many Irish people who have a British pension because they worked - or continue to work - in Britain. About 135,000 Irish residents receive a British state pension, according to the latest available figures. It's estimated that about 70,000 of these also have a British company pension.

Should you have a British work pension which you will rely heavily on in your retirement, get advice from an independent financial adviser about what you should do with your pension.

"You may need to look at whether you should transfer your British company pension over to Ireland," said Jerry Moriarty, ceo of the Irish Association of Pension Funds (IAPF). "A financial adviser will show you what kind of an impact a fall in sterling could have on your pension fund. Your adviser should also be able to tell you if there are any euro-based investments that would be worth transferring your money into."

Even those with Irish company pensions could see their pension income hit by Brexit - if their pension fund has a lot of exposure to British stock markets and assets. "If Britain ends up with a bad deal under Brexit and that impacts its economy, any investment which an Irish pension fund has in British stock markets could be vulnerable," said Moriarty.

Most Irish work pensions are likely to only have a small part of their pension fund in British investments - as they would typically invest in eurozone assets, according to Moriarty. Even so, if you have a company pension, ask the trustees of that scheme if the fund is exposed to British investments - and by how much.

Should you have a defined contribution scheme and only have a few years to go until you retire, it is particularly important to check where your pension savings are invested - and if necessary, to switch your money into funds or investments that are less vulnerable to Brexit.

"It's also worth asking the trustees what they're doing about the exposure to British investments - and if they're monitoring the situation," said Moriarty.

You don't have much, if any, say on how your pension is invested if you have a defined benefit (DB) scheme, as it is the trustees, in conjunction with the scheme's investment manager, who decide how the money is invested. It's still worth finding out how much exposure your DB scheme has to British investments though: poor investment could be one of the reasons a DB scheme runs out of money.

The investors

Britain's vote to leave has sent sterling into freefall since last June - and so many Irish investors with sterling-based investments have seen the value of those investments dive. Investors in British property funds have been among the worst hit as the British property market has come under pressure since Brexit. The stockbrokers Davy expects there to be more falls in the value of British residential and commercial property in the coming years.

"House prices in London are coming off significantly," said Brian O'Reilly, head of global investment strategy with Davy. "The share price of British Land [one of the largest publicly-listed British property development companies] is down about 25pc (in euro terms) since Brexit, while European equities are up 25pc."

Irish investors who are living in Ireland or elsewhere in the eurozone should have no more than 5pc to 10pc of their portfolio in sterling-based investments - whether that be stocks or property, advised O'Reilly.

"We're likely to see quite a lot of volatility in sterling in the coming years," said O'Reilly. "It's not inconceivable that we could get another significant fall in sterling in the next two years."

Having a well-diversified investment portfolio - where your money is invested in various types of investments - can also help to shield your investments from Brexit. "By holding a mix of assets like equities and bonds, investors can help insulate their investments against any negative events such as a hard Brexit," said O'Reilly.

Although investors in international shares should monitor the impact of Brexit on stock markets, such investors may not to be too badly hit by Brexit.

"Brexit won't be the primary driver of equity returns on global markets," said O'Reilly. "Ultimately, the British stock market is less than 10pc of global markets. It is the performance of the US economy - and how that performance translates into profit growth for US companies, which will have more of an impact on global stock markets. We are seeing quite a strong rebound in US and European corporate profits - and we envisage that will continue."

At risk of brexit

Tax cuts

Brexit could postpone - or put an end to -Government plans to continue to cut taxes and increase public spending. "If there's a severe or hard Brexit, the Government may not be in a position to cut taxes or increase expenditure as much as it wanted to," said the economist Alan Ahearne. "After the collapse of the property market in 2008, the Government took a lot of money out of people's pockets through tax increases. The Government's budget is not as exposed to Brexit as it was Irish construction. So while it's unlikely we'd see increases in taxation, there may be some fiscal tightening with Brexit."

Cheaper groceries

Although Irish grocery prices have fallen slightly since the Brexit vote, the weekly shop could get more expensive once Brexit goes through - depending on the trade deal negotiated by Britain with the EU. "If there's no trade deal done, you would tend to see higher tariffs on food products and clothing coming into Ireland from the UK," said Ahearne. "Customs charges would also be passed on. We'll likely see increases in the prices of food and clothes coming in from the UK as a result of such tariffs and charges." The huge competition between the Irish supermarkets could help to limit the extent to which prices might increase however. "A lot of the products we get from the UK come in through supermarket chains - so there may be pressure on supermarkets to absorb some of the costs," said Ahearne. "Supermarkets are also big enough to move suppliers - so they mind find alternative suppliers to the UK within the EU."

Consumer rights

Irish people are entitled to a raft of consumer rights when travelling within the EU. These include the right not to be charged anymore to withdraw money from an ATM machine - or to use your mobile phone - when travelling in the EU as you would at home, the right to compensation if your flight is cancelled or delayed, and the right to free or cheaper public healthcare under the European Health Insurance Card. There are concerns that consumers across Europe could see such rights diminished.

This all depends on the details of the trade negotiations. Should the EU's consumer protection rules not be carried over under Brexit, Irish people could face higher charges to use their mobile phone, and debit and credit cards, when travelling in Britain. Irish holidaymakers could also find themselves out of pocket if they are travelling in Britain and their flight is delayed or cancelled - or if they become ill or injured."

If, after Brexit, an Irish consumer returns from Britain with a non-EU airline and the flight is delayed or cancelled, he might not have rights to financial compensation anymore," said Johannes Kleis, a spokesman for the European consumer's organisation, BEUC. "At this stage, it is impossible to say if this will occur. The EU and Britain might conclude an agreement to maintain the rights which are enshrined in the existing air passenger rights regulation. There will be no changes until the UK has left the EU on March 30, 2019. But without an agreement before the end of the negotiations, existing EU consumer protections and rights might cease to exist in the UK."

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