After significant falls in Q1, stock markets began to level out at the end of March... just in time for the last two weeks of the ISA season. By the close of Q218, the UK stock market had recovered most of its lost ground, with the FTSE 100 and FTSE All Share rebounding by 8% and performing better than most major stock markets in Q2.
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In a year overshadowed by political uncertainty, it is no surprise that investors sat on the side-lines waiting for the storm clouds to clear. But after three quarters of sluggish activity, sentiment improved and net sales rose to £10.5bn in the fourth quarter, the highest since Q415. However, it was not enough to correct the balance — annual net sales of £38bn were down 16% on the £45bn in 2015 and few platforms were able to improve on their 2015 figures.
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Following the EU referendum, the FTSE 100 and the FTSE All-Share indices rocketed by 6% and 7% in the third quarter of the year, on top of the growth already experienced in late June. Against this backdrop, according to the Fundscape Platform Report, platform assets rose 9% from £432bn to £469bn by end September 2016. Since the start of the year, UK platform industry assets have increased by £67bn, an increase of 17%.
The first half of 2016 was challenging for fund groups and platforms alike. The stock market correction eased up as the second quarter began — in time for last-minute ISA activity — but Brexit scared off many investors who chose to hold off until after the referendum. Only pension flows broadly maintained their momentum.
According to the Fundscape Platform Report, as a result of investors switching and taking shelter in cash and safe products, gross flows for the quarter swelled to £24bn (£22bn in Q116), but net sales fell to £9.57bn (£9.6bn in Q116), the lowest total since Q3 2014 (£8.8bn). Bella Caridade-Ferreira, CEO of Fundscape, said “Investors lost their nerve in the final weeks before the Brexit vote and cashed out. Platforms without decent cash facilities would have felt the pain more keenly.”
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With a stock market correction of 8% during the quarter, it was no surprise that platform assets shrank by 0.7% to £377bn — robust flows and a strong interest in all things pensions cushioned platforms from the worst. Fundscape’s Q3 Platform Report showed that gross flows were slightly lower than the last quarter at £24bn, but net flows rose to a new high of £13bn. On a YTD basis, gross sales were £72bn v £60bn in 2014, while net sales were £35bn v £30bn the previous year.
Stock market turbulence put a brake on platform asset growth in the second quarter. But despite the FTSE 100 falling by 4% during the quarter, platform assets rose by £5bn to £382bn, a rise of 1.3%.
Despite stock market volatility, platforms registered a new high in gross sales as the ISA season and pension freedoms converged to boost platform business. As a result, gross sales for the platform industry totalled £24.6bn, and on a year-to-date basis £47bn against £41bn in 2014. Net sales came to £11.1bn, bringing the year-to-date to £21.6bn against £20.6bn the previous year.
It was a sluggish first quarter for platforms. With polls predicting a hung parliament, investors held off on their investments until the outcome of the general election was clearer. Pensions also played a role in dampening flows. Not only did NS&I’s new rate-busting pensioner bonds divert the silver pound, but preparing the ground for new pension freedoms kept platforms and advisers busy throughout the first quarter.
In the first quarter of the year, platform assets under administration rose by £26.5bn (7.9%) to £370.8bn. Since March 2014 assets have expanded by £67bn, a rise of 22%. Three platforms outperformed the asset growth trend: Aviva, Zurich and Nucleus with YOY growth rates of 90%, 73% and 29% respectively.