Investment Update – Summer 2021

Global stock markets have continued their upward march since our last market commentary in April. When compared to the darkest days of March 2020, the US S&P 500 stock index has now doubled in value and broadly similar, albeit slightly less impressive, figures are being witnessed by other key market exchanges.

The effectiveness of leading vaccines has largely been confirmed by the data.  Covid-19 fatality rates have been vastly reduced in recent months whilst the risk of transmission throughout the population has also notably faded.

Not only is this encouraging in itself, but governments have collectively, for the most part, responded by getting their acts together rolling out supplies across the globe, no doubt incentivised by the financial prospect of a return towards economic ‘normality’.

This positive vaccine picture gives us greater confidence that the worst might be behind us. Of course, we must not forget that no vaccine is 100% effective and further mutations and variants could yet change the picture. However, the facts would suggest that a light can now be seen at the end of the tunnel as far as economic – and hopefully daily – life is concerned. Inevitably there will be winners and losers from the changes brought to the world. For example, commercial property landlords might face new pressures from changing work and shopping habits, but it would appear that ‘business as usual’ is getting closer.

Notwithstanding the progress made in taming the virus during the first half of the year, a defensive rotation was simultaneously taking place beneath the surface in financial markets. Inflation fears (prevalent in January and February) receded almost as quickly as they prevailed! Related rising bond market rates retreated following a brief but aggressive rise. For example, US 10-year Treasury yields rose from sub 1% in late 2020 to almost 1.8%, before falling back down to 1.27% at the time of writing. UK Gilt yields followed a similar pattern. Such examples of market zig-zags in the short-term confirm to us the importance of not losing sight of the longer term picture.

As economic growth expectations weakened and inflation fears petered out more recently, some of the shine was taken off a chunk of the recovery trade. Consequently, Value, Commodity and Smaller Cap shares stalled in June as market participants looked for shelter in larger, ‘safer’ Growth stocks with greater structural prospects (but also with greater price tags).

Less aggressive economic growth forecasts might also serve to provide an important extended signal that the zero interest rate punchbowl might not be taken away any time soon. This is important when considered alongside the enormous global debt pile that has ballooned as a result of fighting the pandemic with economic stimulus. With such a large debt mound to work through, it is inconceivable that policymakers would wish to raise their own financing costs. With reopening prospects looking rosier, that seemingly offers something of an extended set of ‘Goldilocks’ conditions (not too hot, not too cold, but just right) for a little longer yet – hence explaining the continued sugar rush dynamics.

We have written several times that we feel some areas of global stock markets appear excessively valued, matched only by the degree of their popularity. In particular, US Tech/Growth names fit the bill, with these forming a large proportion of major US indices (circa 30%). Furthermore, the US stock market itself now represents nearly 60% of global stocks by value (roughly doubling from the level of a decade ago). This has been fuelled by the increasing popularity of the ‘FAANG’ Tech stocks, ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) trends driving money into the same stocks, a shift toward passive investments that track the largest global stocks and momentum trades. All these are providing a wall of money that appears less concerned with elevated valuations, but that continues to extend this trend further still. Bearing this in mind, we continue to exercise caution with regard to areas of extreme popularity where we believe high valuation levels might come to pose a concern at some point. But until then, the music continues to play and everyone is up dancing.

The FTSE 250 Mid Cap index and UK Small Caps have surged over the past six to nine months since the recovery trade switch was flicked. Sterling assets are starting to get noticed again now that the worst of the Brexit uncertainty appears to have passed. The FTSE 100 index has fared well, albeit less spectacularly than its younger siblings. European stocks, which are more geared to global economic recovery, have also started performing over the past six months or so.

All in all, markets are continuing to absorb good news, but we remain aware that much complacency seems apparent with regard to high valuations in general. Much of this is due to the assumption of low interest rates for the foreseeable future.

The damage that unexpected inflation could cause to both components of a classic 60/40 Equities/Bonds portfolio is never far away from our minds. Should such a scenario prevail, we believe our more rounded exposures to portfolio construction and consideration of many of the historical drivers of long-term portfolio returns, could provide a greater shelter from such forces, as well as possible beneficiaries in many cases eg Commodity stocks, Value, Gold, Absolute Returns.

Ultimately, we will continue to manage your investments with discipline and without distraction in what we believe to be the most appropriate style – leaning into areas where we see value and exhibiting caution in those where we feel such a stance is warranted.

The details, views and opinions expressed above are KMD’s, can change at any time and are not intended to be advice or a solicitation to make an investment. Professional advice should be sought before acting on any information contained in this document. The value of investments can fall as well as rise and your capital is not guaranteed. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

Investment Update – Spring 2021

The state of the world’s health seems to have turned a corner since our last  investment communication. Notwithstanding the terrible situations in those countries struggling to get on a grip on the pandemic such as India and Brazil, at last there appears to be real hope that COVID-19 will be defeated sooner rather than later.

Although it was inevitable that the progress of individual nations has varied, it is shameful that political ideologies and squabbles have taken priority over human life in too many instances. Thankfully the UK and US administrations have placed considerable focus on their vaccination efforts, as have some smaller nations such as Israel, bringing with it a reduction in transmission rates

The hope is that something closer to daily life will now follow, at which point much of the lost ground of the past year could potentially be made back in terms of both economic recovery and personal freedom.

Against this backdrop, it was perhaps not surprising to have seen Value/Recovery stocks surge since the first vaccine announcement was made in early November. Smaller companies, with their increased sensitivity to global economic growth, also outperformed.

Although the entire stock market tide rose, highly priced Growth/Quality/Momentum stocks (in general terms, past winners of recent years) have struggled in a relative sense since the first vaccine announcement in November. Global Technology (+9.6%) and Healthcare (+2.2%) have seen relatively muted gains compared to Financials (+28.4%) and Commodity Producers (+35.6%). [MSCI World sectors measured in GBP terms between opening prices 09/11/2020 to 20/04/2021]. There is talk that this rotation into ‘out of favour’ sectors is the beginning of a longer trend. Either way, the KMD portfolios have enjoyed this turn in sentiment and are well positioned if the new momentum does persist.

Commodities prices have trended upwards in line with anticipated economic demand. There is a suggestion that notably higher demand could create supply shortages and inflationary squeezes. Supply chains have also been disrupted by the impacts of semi-closed economies – notably in semi-conductor chips – in which Sino-American tensions have also become elevated.

Whether or not inflation may come to rear its ugly head has become a big discussion point in financial market circles in recent months. Central banks are keen to introduce some mild inflation into the system as it would be a useful way of helping erode some of the gargantuan public debt pile by stealth.

According to central bankers, although central bank policy interest rates globally look set to stay on the floor for several years, bond markets have started to price in a legitimate case for higher interest rates sooner than was generally expected back in late 2020. This will no doubt please savers.

As a result, global bond yields spiked rapidly during January and February causing significant losses to conventional defensive fixed income Government bonds. US Treasury Government Bonds saw their largest quarterly decline in 40 years, justifying our light stance with so-called ‘riskless’ bond investments. (Nothing is riskless if you overpay).

It was not only conventional Bonds that fell in value. ‘Bond proxy’ defensive equity instruments such as Consumer Staples, Utilities and Infrastructure stocks also struggled, as did Gold, despite the longer-term arguments for the yellow metal in the event of heightened inflation prospects. But in the short-term, the defensive stance lost that tug of war.

Turning to global stock markets, our taking of pole position on vaccines meant that British stock markets powered ahead against global yardsticks.  For a similar reason, US equities also outperformed, despite their heavy Tech and Healthcare weightings – other areas did the heavy lifting.

In currency markets Sterling rallied, while UK Small and Mid Cap stocks outperformed to an even greater extent than the FTSE 100. Sterling assets look like they are beginning to play catch-up after being left on the ‘naughty step’ in recent years.

In the Emerging Markets, Brazil and India look to be under immense stress from surging infection rates and hospital infrastructures struggling to cope. Unlike their developed market counterparts, general rising indebtedness levels in the emerging world could potentially pose more serious financial credibility problems. Large developed Western countries have the keys to the printing presses, whereas emerging countries have traditionally faced little choice but to keep their houses in order otherwise they run the risk of traditional financial crises. Ensuring that those in the developing world receive access to vaccines will be critically important in avoiding this fate at a difficult time for their people and economies.

On the other side of the Channel, political bickering and inaction in Europe looks to have presented the real risk of a third virus wave across much of the continent, in contrast to the proactivity demonstrated in the US and UK. Asia also looks to have the virus and economic situation largely contained, highlighting yet again the case for regional diversification within investment portfolios at all times.

Wrapping up, financial markets have continued to progress to dizzy new heights, hitting new peaks on many international stages. This has been fuelled in part by optimism and also due to the immense global fiscal stimulus packages that have been put in place, leaving the financial system awash with cash. The inflation hawks and gold bugs are starting to speak up as expectations for higher prices creep in.

Stock and bond market valuations are both on the high side, albeit there is polarisation between the various camps. The real elephant in the room would be that unexpected inflation could threaten equity and bond markets simultaneously. Given the risk posed by this dynamic to traditional bond and equity portfolios, we are mindful of the need to remain vigilant on this count.

It would appear that 2021 has got off to a very good start, but by summer we are likely to be in a position to know whether that bullish optimism today can be justified by the data. Fingers crossed that it can.

The details, views and opinions expressed above are KMD’s, can change at any time and are not intended to be advice or a solicitation to make an investment. Professional advice should be sought before acting on any information contained in this document. The value of investments can fall as well as rise and your capital is not guaranteed. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

Investment Update – Summer 2020

The disconnect between unstoppable financial markets and deteriorating global economic fundamentals continues to widen as the world maintains its efforts to manage the spread of COVID-19. If anything serves to remind us that the stock market is not the economy, this is certainly it.

The huge stimulus packages put in place by the authorities – for example the US Fed policies measured in $ trillions and the latest €750bn European recovery package – have, in effect, put a floor in place for financial asset prices, creating a tide of global liquidity.

Much of this wall of money – hot off the financial printing presses – is finding its way into global asset markets, pushing many stock and bond prices close to pre-virus highs and, in some cases, beyond.

This apparent resultant steadiness may, on the surface, suggest that things are returning to normal, but financial market professionals know that there are notable lessons from historical bear markets that we must observe. When the authorities put a floor in place (especially via co-ordinated action from multiple central banks) despite dismal news and outlook, asset prices tend to then find the potential to recover, laying the foundations for moving on and this same pattern is presenting.

Meanwhile, in the ‘real world’, it is becoming evident how differing virus containment strategies (to simplify) have led to diverging outcomes between countries eg. US deaths are looking of great concern in comparison to those in Europe, while trends are also worrying in India and Brazil.

On the whole, mortality statistics would suggest, positively, that knowledge on how to contain the virus and slow its spread/impact appears to be increasing. Although it could be argued that perhaps with wiser, older generations being understandably more cautious and sensibly staying at home, they are keeping out of trouble and away from the grimmest category of the published statistics.

Unfortunately, the risk of economic health being placed ahead of the literal health of citizens is a disappointing but inevitable outcome in many instances. When the economic stakes are so high, the show must go on, when perhaps it shouldn’t.

It is often written that the virus has imposed dramatic technological progress and engagement upon us all. The anticipated sedate adoption over  multiple years of home working, Zoom meetings, online consultations with doctors and to some degree  obsolete shopping centres and fully manned offices are just part of our ‘new normal’ when previously they would have been seen as radical jumps. While this is true, the immense polarisation this is creating is leading to a widening gulf between investment winners (Tech, Healthcare, Gold) and losers (to oversimplify, anything else). Having said that, we note that the rising tide has lifted even the losing boats, albeit not by as much.

Markets are knee-jerking to vaccine hopes although for the most part, cheaper, out of favour recovery stocks (‘Value style’) are facing ever greater risks. Zero sales revenue is a new scenario that few, if any, analysts had seriously modelled in recent times, threatening the financial viability of even some big, ‘grown-up’ companies.

This outcome has sadly hurt our portfolios given our long-term tilt to cheap stocks (based on long-term history and the merits thereof) and we have naturally had to make some difficult assessments and cut losses in places as we look to draw a line and adapt where it is the right thing to do.

With Government Bond rates now essentially pinned at zero across the developed world, money has fewer safe places to hide than ever, that is if you wish to receive a return at the same time.

Logically, Gold looks to be the next ‘safest’ place if Government bonds no longer offer a return. This probably explains much of the yellow metal’s ferocious rise year-to-date with related gold mining stocks rising at an even faster pace.

It is entirely possible that a ‘gold bubble’ could follow given the wall of money and long-term fundamental case for escaping debt-ridden fiat (Government-issued) paper currencies like Sterling, Dollar etc. over the decades ahead. That said, perhaps the gold market might have run a bit hot in the near-term and progress with a vaccine could certainly reverse the sentiment for ‘fear assets’. Nothing ever moves in a straight line.

Back in Britain, the authorities are desperately looking to stem the leaks from the bucket by plugging dozens of multi-billion pound holes with economic stimulus. It certainly seems far too early to worry that the bucket will overflow pushing up inflation. However, Brexit concerns are still afoot and the usual late night poker antics are surely inevitable at the negotiating table while the political stakes remain so high.

The FTSE 100 index continues to prop up the table of global stock indices given its multiple out-of-fashion characteristics and highlights the importance of having a global investment portfolio.

In conclusion, the risks of being very right or very wrong are higher than ever and we are unwilling to take big bets on the future market direction from here and instead are seeking appropriate ways to hedge against varying scenarios.

The details, views and opinions expressed above are KMD’s, can change at any time and are not intended to be advice or a solicitation to make an investment. Professional advice should be sought before acting on any information contained in this document. The value of investments can fall as well as rise and your capital is not guaranteed. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

Coronavirus War

Coronavirus has certainly focused the mind on what is and isn’t important – a personal lifestyle re-set button if you like. For many of you with more pressing things to worry about than money, the only message that you’ll want to hear from KMD at this time is that – financially speaking – things will be alright in the long run. We would like to reassure you that we firmly believe this to be the case. Centuries of financial history show that stock markets always bounce back – even if they have to ‘climb a wall of worry’ to do so. It’s always a matter of time – we just can’t tell you how much time.

Continue reading

Coronavirus – A Briefing Note

Although we touched on the Coronavirus in our recent investment update since then, the volatility of world stock markets has been hitting the headlines. We therefore thought you might appreciate some reassurance about the long-term prospects for client portfolios.

What’s been happening?

Markets have been slow to respond to the potential for Coronavirus to develop into a global pandemic. As contagion has spread beyond China, however, we have seen a sudden sell-off across global markets to the point where many individual stocks – especially in the US market – are heading towards correction territory  (-10%).

There are a number of reasons for the severity of the sell-off:

  • Although indications are that the number of deaths from Coronavirus is only a fraction of that for seasonal flu’, there is no known protection or cure at present. Markets hate uncertainty and that includes a previously unknown and unpredictable pandemic. The race for a vaccine is on.
  • In recent years, China has become the world’s factory for the component parts that other companies rely on to build their own products – everything from chips in smartphones to engine parts for cars. So when China closes its manufacturing plants, it creates a supply chain gap for other global businesses.
  • People businesses – such as casinos, hotel chains, shopping centres and airlines are suffering as people avoid travel and shy away from crowded places and the risk of contagion.
  • Some stocks – particularly in overcrowded growth sectors like IT – were already looking very expensive and due for a correction.

It’s not all bad news.

As is often the case where stock markets decline sharply, there has been a ‘flight to safety’ – meaning that people are buying government bonds and gold. This is good news for KMD’s diverse portfolios that already have exposure to these investments. Stock markets can never be a one-way bet, and so maintaining a diversity of exposure to different types of asset has always been our preferred way to mitigate the downside risks of a hit to one portfolio element.

Another important attribute for long-term investment success is patience and the art of knowing when it’s best just to do nothing. As Warren Buffet, one of the world’s most successful investors said this week: “investors should not buy or sell businesses based on the day’s headlines”. It’s important to remember that there are real businesses behind these falling stocks and they have not closed their doors forever. They may experience a temporary trading set-back but, if the world needed their products and services before Coronavirus, they will need them again when it’s over and normality returns.

What people often forget is that volatility is normal for stock markets and the best way to ride out the peaks and troughs is to avoid attempts at market timing – a sure way to lose money in brokerage fees. As the chart below shows, over the longer term, stock markets bounce back from epidemics. The war time advice of ‘keep calm and carry on’ has never seemed more appropriate. The worst thing to do is to ‘panic sell’ which only results in crystallised losses and the dilemma of when to buy back in.

When investors return to the markets (as they inevitably will) they will probably be more discerning and realistic about prices – perhaps signalling a revival in the value investment strategy.

A rebalancing exercise

As you are aware, our Investment Committee meets on a quarterly basis to discuss the medium- to long-term investment strategy and to review the performance of the underlying funds selected for our portfolios. At the last meeting, some minor adjustments to portfolios were recommended and agreed, and you will be receiving a separate communication from us about this. We would like to stress that our rebalancing decisions are taken as part of our long-term, cautious approach to investment and never as an attempt to time markets.

The details, views and opinions expressed above are KMD’s, can change at any time and are not intended to be advice or a solicitation to make an investment. Professional advice should be sought before acting on any information contained in this document. The value of investments can fall as well as rise and your capital is not guaranteed. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

Dean Aitchison
BSc (Hons), IMC, MCSI, MIMA
Chartered Wealth Manager
Investment Manager

www.kmdpwm.co.uk

February 2020

Copyright © 2020 KMD Private Wealth Management, All rights reserved.

LONDON – CAMBRIDGE – STANSTED – SAFFRON WALDEN

KMD Private Wealth Management Ltd
Stansted Office (All correspondence)
Western House, 2 Cambridge Road, Stansted CM24 8BZ
Tel: 01279 647663

London Office
10 Fitzroy Square, London W1T 5HP
Tel: 020 3778 1100

Cambridge Office
4 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge CB2 8BB
Tel: 01223 750100

Saffron Walden Office
9 Market Row, Saffron Walden CB10 1HB
Tel: 01799 521 900

KMD Private Wealth Management Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. FCA no. 803600. Registered Office: 8 High Street, Brentwood, Essex CM14 4AB. Registered in England no. 11059008.

Investment Update – Winter 2019/20

Featuring:

  • Year of the rising tide
  • A brief change in leadership
  • Coronavirus
  • Tech, Growth, the US and everything else
  • Relative cheer for UK stocks

Year of the rising tide
2019 proved to be a strong year all round for investment portfolios.

The first half was broadly comparable to a strong rising tide as, without much exception, significant positive returns were made by the vast majority of asset classes . This applied to both higher risk and lower risk investment types alike.

Such an outcome was in stark contrast to events only one year earlier, as the reverse was broadly true during 2018. How things can change quickly in financial markets!

What caused this violent reversal? The US Federal Reserve (equivalent of the Bank of England) u-turned into cutting interest rates during 2019. This saw off fears that tighter monetary policy might otherwise prove too much for the US economy – and, by extension, the global economy – to bear.

Consequently, the 10-year US Treasury (interest) yield roughly halved from 3% to 1.5% by late August, driving the aforementioned  rising tide of global investment returns.

A brief change in leadership
Once US interest rates stopped falling by late summer, defensive asset classes (Bonds and Gold, for example) generally ceased making further progress and fell back marginally as the tide went back out. In essence,  lower interest rates – driven by US policymakers for the benefit of their own economy – had run their near-term course.

A change of market leadership was consequently observed for the remainder of the year – one that proved useful for KMD portfolios. Non-US stocks saw a rare chance to outperform US stocks and, for  once, the immediate effect of the Fed’s interest rate cuts wore off and risk appetite returned.

The impact of Coronavirus 
However, the unfortunate emergence of Coronavirus called a halt to this dynamic as markets wobbled. US stocks reversed their temporary under-performance as investors sought comfort from the perceived ability of the world’s largest economy to drive its own economic fortune (and from a good economic starting point too). This contrasts with most other regions, all of which are seen to have near-term issues or vulnerabilities of some sort or another.

Driving the divergence, markets became particularly concerned that any longer lasting impact of the virus might, at worst, provoke a slowdown in the Chinese economy. This would, provide deflationary repercussions across the globe and to those directly involved in global manufacturing supply chains. Market analysts fretted that a severe reduction in activity and confidence might present a self-fulfilling negative turn, on top of the weighty debt levels that the Chinese authorities are already navigating.

In particular, commodity markets witnessed steep declines in January as news of the deadly virus took hold. This was seen most vividly through the falling Oil price year-to-date. Copper – often seen as a good barometer of global economic health – also pared back notably. Such indicators can be a warning that global demand (for products) might be dissipating.

Foreign currencies and the stock markets of key commodity producing / emerging countries traded lower, while Japanese and European stock markets fell hard on concerns that these ‘manufacturing centres’ might be especially at risk. The Euro weakened notably.

Despite the unfortunate impacts on a human level, our research leads us to believe that the effects of viruses and similar historical parallels tend to prove temporary to stock markets (on the assumption that viruses get contained sooner or later).

Tech, Growth, the US, everything else – in that order
Despite the high valuations attached to American stocks (and below-average long-term expected returns by implication), it is clear that the nation’s strong near-term economic health contrasts with that of the rest of the world. With President Trump continuing to put America first, this dynamic does not look threatened anytime soon, potentially explaining investors’ recent preference for US stocks in the face of global concerns.

Technology and Growth stocks have surged in recent days/months/years – take your pick! This is despite eye-watering price tags  that often translate into weaker returns ahead, despite the undeniably great stories.

There have been numerous examples of investors who have tried to swim against this tide by ‘fighting a bubble’, only to then nurse losses through being too early in the trade. This is despite probably being ’right’ in their ultimate investment theses. There was no shortage of investment grandees who were sacked following a wave of redemptions,  shortly before being proved right in the 2000 Tech bubble!

We are conscious that when the excitement of the herd takes priority over more dull valuation logic, many of the bears or ’sensible guys’ will inevitably face tough questions over their more pedestrian (but controlled) levels of performance. Meanwhile, the more ’reckless’ investors continue moving higher at full throttle until they hit the top (with likely catastrophic results). The lead-up to this dynamic is especially tough to navigate (it doesn’t feel good to be coming second best), but we always try to maintain both a long-term perspective and patience at all times. The need for careful risk management is critical. It is imperative to survive first and then be right in a controlled fashion, rather than the alternative of being right, but not being around to collect the spoils through being too aggressive too early.

Relative cheer for UK stocks… at last… 
Finally, some mention of UK stocks is warranted following Boris Johnson’s election win. Sterling assets reacted well, both in the run-up to this event and beyond. This was in part due to the removal of some uncertainty by ’getting things done’ and from relief that some of Jeremy Corbyn’s policy threats to business will not come to fruition.

The FTSE 250 index of Mid (sized) Cap stocks – a proxy for those most exposed to the domestic economy – and the Pound Sterling have fared particularly well over the past three to six months.

With global investors excessively pessimistic on UK assets, –  our view is that the pendulum has swung too far –  we feel that the recent past could serve as a possible warm up for what could happen when longer term confidence in British assets eventually returns.

We are not trying to make a call on outcomes, but rather spot that UK assets appear to be cheap and oversold and so offering a return premium. making for a positive long-term investment case.

The details, views and opinions expressed above are KMD’s, can change at any time and are not intended to be advice or a solicitation to make an investment. Professional advice should be sought before acting on any information contained in this document. The value of investments can fall as well as rise and your capital is not guaranteed. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

Dean Aitchison
BSc (Hons), IMC, MCSI, MIMA
Chartered Wealth Manager
Investment Manager

www.kmdpwm.co.uk

February 2020

Copyright © 2020 KMD Private Wealth Management, All rights reserved.

LONDON – CAMBRIDGE – STANSTED – SAFFRON WALDEN

KMD Private Wealth Management Ltd
Stansted Office (All correspondence)
Western House, 2 Cambridge Road, Stansted CM24 8BZ
Tel: 01279 647663

London Office
10 Fitzroy Square, London W1T 5HP
Tel: 020 3778 1100

Cambridge Office
4 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge CB2 8BB
Tel: 01223 750100

Saffron Walden Office
9 Market Row, Saffron Walden CB10 1HB
Tel: 01799 521 900

KMD Private Wealth Management Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. FCA no. 803600. Registered Office: 8 High Street, Brentwood, Essex CM14 4AB. Registered in England no. 11059008.

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