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Retail investors wait for Scottish vote

Thursday, September 04 09:03:25

The prospect of major financial fallout from a "yes" vote in Scotland's independence referendum in two weeks time could have a big impact on retail investors, but there are no signs yet they are moving their money.

An independent Scotland has an increased chance of becoming a reality given the latest opinion polls. And this has put the spotlight on what independence will mean for Scotland's $250 billion economy, including what currency it would use, all of which will have major implications for investments in Scottish-based companies.

Credit rating agency Standard & Poor's, for example, warned last month that a vote for independence could trigger a negative rating action against insurance companies operating in Scotland.

But retail investors are showing no signs yet of voting with their money, partly because there is so much uncertainty over a range of issues from tax to regulation if there is a "yes" vote in the referendum on Sept. 18.

A small number of retail investors put in calls to their financial adviser after polls showed the gap between the "yes" and "no" votes narrowing.

"The feedback from our helpdesk is that we're not being deluged with calls, a few a day is the kind of numbers," Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at fund supermarket and financial advisor Hargreaves Lansdown, said.

"But if there's a major news story, such as the poll earlier in the week, it focuses people's attention on the likelihood of a 'yes' vote and triggers calls," he said.

That sentiment would likely lead to clients considering their options over the next two weeks, an analyst at investing platform Trustnet Direct said although there was no panic yet.

Of the nearly $3 billion pulled from mutual funds investing in UK stocks this year, two-thirds were withdrawn from money managers primarily based in Scotland, data from fund tracker Lipper showed. But analysts said factors including some mergers and acquisitions in the industry and poor performance were the main reasons behind the outflows.

"Whilst we have had communications with customers regarding the referendum, nobody has made reference to selling funds as a result," Edward Johnson, commercial manager at investment service provider Willis Owen, said.

Institutional investors, such as pension funds and other professional investors, have poured $9 billion into Scotland-based hedge funds firms, adding to a $10 billion allocation last year, data from Eurekahedge showed.

The latest poll that showed record support for Scottish independence caused some financial market turbulence, pushing the pound to five-month lows this week.

But Scotland-based stocks have recently reversed months of underperformance despite the prospect of a possible split from the United Kingdom, partly because the immediate impact of a "yes" vote is hard to quantify.

Retail investors who did make phone calls on Scotland had questions around issues such as their investments in Royal Bank of Scotland, certain Scottish with-profits funds, or Scottish investment houses, McPhail said.

While some people were nervous, few wanted to sell, he said.

"The only thing we do know is that if there is a 'yes' vote it will cost everybody money," McPhail said, referring to the need to replicate institutions such as regulators, as well as provide training, new investment literature and other operational tweaks.

For Damian Smyth, head of intermediary sales at Alliance Trust Savings, the increase in volume of calls over the last week or so had been marginal.

"It's literally a handful, but the calls we have had are about the implications for, more than anything else, the tax wrappers; and we don't know," he said, referring to the tax treatment of certain investments.

Smyth said callers seemed to be taking comfort from Alliance Trust's plans to set up a separate legal entity south of the border to protect UK investors based outside of Scotland.

"It doesn't appear to be causing investors any real concern at this point." (Reuters)

For more visit: www.businessworld.ie