Q&A: Will euro weakness allow me to boost sterling savings?

The reason most Standard Life shareholders will put 100 per cent of their return of value towards an assessment of liability for capital gains tax is because most received those shares (including the bonus shares) for nothing.    Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The reason most Standard Life shareholders will put 100 per cent of their return of value towards an assessment of liability for capital gains tax is because most received those shares (including the bonus shares) for nothing. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

 

Would you advise transferring savings (which come from earnings in Northern Ireland) to euro to take advantage of the current favourable exchange rate? I own a house in the North and am employed there but will eventually return to the South. Much of my savings are in bonds and would incur penalties if I cash them in early. I intend to move back to the South in the next five to 10 years.

Ms J.J, email

Decisions of this nature are very much a matter of personal circumstance. As you say, the rate of exchange between sterling and the euro is currently very strongly in favour of sterling.

There is nothing to assure us that this will continue for the medium term but, equally, there is nothing to suggest it won’t. With the UK and US economies strengthening and Europe still looking for stimulus, the gap might widen further. Equally, the Quantitative Easing exercise being undertaken currently by the European Central Bank is unlikely to boost the euro’s strength in the short term. On the flip side, the UK is heading for an election in May and failure to get a decisive result – something which as it stands appears to be a real danger – would do little for the confidence of investors in sterling.

Away from the macro side of things, there are other considerations – not least your point that much of your savings are in bonds and that you would incur penalties for early encashment. Will this penalty outweigh or sharply reduce the advantage of switching currencies?

Also, while you indicate you will be returning South in the future, that future could be five or even 10 years away. Your home, your job and, it appears, much of your day-to-day life is based in the North now. What would happen if you made a large-scale transfer and then found you needed access to that money before retiring South: you would face a second set of foreign exchange charges and possibly a deeply disadvantageous rate.

Also, circumstances change and you might find that for family, health or other reasons, your plan to return south of the Border is deferred or cancelled permanently. You would then have money down here that is of little use to you unless you switch it back into sterling.

If some of your savings are easily accessible and you are looking to set aside a nest egg in the Republic that you will definitely not need to touch – but on which you could afford to take the hit if you had to bring it back into sterling later, go ahead. But I wouldn’t try too hard to outsmart the markets. A lot of professional brokers have tried and, especially in currency markets, been left with egg on their face. CGT and purchase of Standard Life shares I have been following your columns on the above and they don’t appear to me to cover my situation, which is a mix of demutualisation shares (287), shares purchased (2,517) and the 5 per cent loyalty bonus issue (140) for a total of 2,944 shares.

I am therefore due a return of value of £2,149.12 (€3,008.25 at current exchange rates) plus whatever my fraction of .73 of a share is sold for after the share reduction.

Obviously I shall opt for the “B” shares, but will the entire €3,000-plus be liable for CGT (less my personal allowance) or can I set off the cost of the reduction in the purchased shares in order to reduce my CGT liability?

Mr M.H., email

You can offset the money paid for the shares you purchased in the market plus any associated costs, such as broker fees.

The notion of capital gains is that you incur a tax liability on a gain in the value of the asset. Clearly, purchase cost needs to be realised before a gain occurs.

The reason most Standard Life shareholders will put 100 per cent of their return of value towards an assessment of liability for capital gains tax is because most received those shares (including the bonus shares) for nothing. Therefore the full payment from Standard Life is considered a gain.

Too late to sell SL shares ahead of payout My 84-year-old mother is keen to sell her 1,000 Standard Life shares but wonders if it is worth waiting to do so after she receives the windfall payment due in May?

If she waits, should she opt for the bonus share or special dividend given that she will sell all the share at the first available opportunity?

I spoke to someone at Standard Life and whilst they were not in a position to advise me, they did indicate that there was unlikely to be much difference in the value of the shares now and after the windfall payment (something along the lines that the value of the shares are likely to be reduced after the windfall payments have been made).

Ms U.F., email Time has caught up with your mum on this one. There are several key dates in the whole Standard Life return of capital exercise and one of them was last Friday, March 13th.

More specifically, 6pm London time last Friday. That was the point at which Standard Life assessed who owned shares in the company for the purposes of the return of capital.

In other words, even if she sold the shares now, it is she who is deemed to be the shareholder for the return of capital. As a result, the shares are likely to come back slightly from the record levels at which they have been trading in recent weeks as they become relatively less attractive to other investors than they would have, say, last Thursday.

Now another deadline looms. She must tell Standard Life by 4:30pm tomorrow, Wednesday, March 18th, how she wishes to receive any windfall. If she says nothing, it will be treated as income and she may well face unnecessary taxes on the payment.

If she chooses the capital option – B shares – she will be assessed under capital gains and, given the size of her shareholding, she will not face a tax bill, providing she has not sold other assets for a gain this year.

At this stage it is far too late to indicate your choice by post, so your mother will need to use her SRN (unique shareholder reference number) to express her choice online at standardlifeshareportal.com. Don’t put it off to tomorrow when the sheer weight of numbers rushing ahead of the deadline might cause problems.

Send your queries to Dominic Coyle, Q&A, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara St, D2, or email dcoyle@irishtimes.com. This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice

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