What does Brexit mean for your finances?

A guide on what to do with assets and investments in the UK

Illustration by Mathew Kurian
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It seems like every day Brexit gets that little bit more twisty, confusing and frustrating.

If the British Parliament cannot find a satisfactory resolution the UK could still crash out of the EU without a deal, possibly as soon as April 12. Alternatives include a second referendum, general election or a long drawn-out period of uncertainty. Confused? So is everybody else.

British expats and UAE residents with ties to the UK will be wondering where this leaves them. Here are some of the questions people are asking:

Should I take advantage of the uncertainty to send money to the UK?

The shock referendum result in June 2016 smashed the pound, which fell between 15 and 20 per cent against a basket of currencies. This was great news for UAE residents’ US dollar-linked AED dirhams, as their remittances were suddenly worth far more.

This year sterling has been the best performing major global currency, as hopes rose of a deal. At time of writing it is up 3.33 per cent against the US dollar year-to-date and 5.41 per cent against the euro.

Currency markets see a soft Brexit as positive for sterling, while a no-deal departure could be brutal. The pound currently trades at $1.318 but Gaurav Kashyap, head of futures at EGM in Dubai, says it could crash below $1.24 on a hard Brexit.

“However, a favourable development such as another Brexit extension, a negotiated deal for a softer Brexit or even a second referendum could see it rise above $1.338,” says Mr Kashyap.

Investment banks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs both forecast dramatic climbs for sterling this year, provided we get a soft Brexit. If they’re right, your opportunity to send money to the UK at great rates may already have passed — but nobody knows for sure.

Little and often is probably the best way to make currency transfers at the moment, taking advantage of any favourable movements.

Will a no-deal Brexit crash the housing market?

Once an outcome is certain and confidence is restored, we will see an upswing in buyers and sellers.

Many UAE expats and residents either own property in the UK or are considering buying property there. A hard Brexit could be a threat for existing owners but an opportunity for new buyers.

So far, the UK property market has held up surprisingly well, but now there are signs of strain. Prices across England fell for the first time in seven years in the first quarter of 2019, a year-on-year drop of 0.7 per cent, according to new figures from mortgage lender Nationwide. The fall is a much greater 3.8 per cent in London, where prices have now fallen for seven consecutive quarters.

Brexit has scared off foreign buyers but it isn't the only culprit — increased stamp duty on second homes has played a part, while London property has also become dizzyingly expensive.

A hard Brexit could be your opportunity to snap up the central London bolthole of your dreams at a bargain price. The Bank of England's worst-case scenario suggests house prices could fall by a third over three years, and the pound is likely to crash as well, allowing dollar and dirham earners to scoop up property on the cheap.

However, if there is a Brexit fix, prices could quickly rebound. Gary Barker, chief executive of UK property technology company Reapit, says: “Once an outcome is certain and confidence is restored, we will see an upswing in buyers and sellers."

North London estate agent Jeremy Leaf is similarly optimistic: “If we get a deal, pent-up demand for British property will be released.”

Like everything else, the British property market is hanging in the balance.

Should I sell my UK shares and funds?

London’s FTSE 100 index crashed in the immediate aftermath of the shock EU referendum result, only to recover within hours.

That was due to the crash in the pound. Top UK companies generate three quarters of their revenues overseas, and these were suddenly worth more when converted back into weaker sterling.

However, UK shares have underperformed since then, and could crash on a disruptive no-deal.

Aruna Karunathilake, portfolio manager at the Fidelity UK Select Fund, says it is time to be brave. “The UK is currently a hunting ground for wonderful businesses at wonderful prices.”

This happens when the market confuses short-term uncertainty with the long-term prospects of a business. “It is happening right now with domestic UK companies given Brexit uncertainty.”

Mr Karunathilake picks out Lloyds Banking Group, car-buying platform AutoTrader and Dominos Pizza Group as top stock opportunities.

He urges investors to follow Warren Buffett’s advice to be ‘greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy’.

“I would argue we are now close to the point of maximum fear,” he says.

A low-cost exchange traded fund such as iShares Core FTSE 100 ETF or the SPDR FTSE 100 UK All Share UCITS ETF is the simplest way to buy into a potential UK recovery.

Stuart Ritchie, director of wealth advice at AES International in Dubai, says there is no need to panic if you have a globally diversified portfolio. “The UK only represents around 6 per cent of global market capitalisation and our clients' exposure to UK equites is very low.”

George Lagarias, chief economist at international tax specialists Mazars, which has offices in Dubai, says Brexit is a mess but investors face bigger worries. “Brexit isn't even a top three risk, given the precipitous slowdown of Europe, China’s tumultuous economic transition and Washington’s political gridlock.”

What impact would Brexit have on my ability to claim my UK state pension overseas?

The UK will continue to pay accrued state pension wherever you live in the world, although what you get depends on your choice of retirement destination.

Currently, Britons who retire in the EU will see their state pension uprated every year, in line with UK increases. This also applies in countries where the UK has struck reciprocal social security agreements, including the US, Jamaica and Turkey.

There are some surprising exceptions. For example, an estimated 500,000 expat pensioners in Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia have had their pension income frozen at the point they left the UK or started collecting it, despite paying their National Insurance contributions just like everyone else. The same happens in the UAE.

This could potentially happen to Britons retiring in, say, Spain or France, unless there is a reciprocal deal.

Mr Ritchie at AES says the only honest answer is: nobody knows what will happen at the moment. “We don’t expect major changes to pension legislation, but this hasn’t been confirmed by the British Government.”

Will I continue to receive UK personal and company pensions as before?

Currently, if you retire anywhere in the EU, British pension and investment companies can pay out wherever you live under so-called “passporting" arrangements.

This could be threatened by a no-deal Brexit, although the UK Government has committed to granting temporary permission to avoid contracts falling into default overnight.

The UK and EU are keen to agree an ongoing regime but like so many things, that is part of the negotiation process. Once again, uncertainty rules.