A fiscally neutral Autumn Statement The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, delivered a fiscally neutral Autumn Statement in December. Government borrowing has been reduced to £111bn in 2013 and he forecast that it will drop progressively to only £23bn by the tax year 2017-18. Net Government debt has been reduced to 6.8% of GDP in 2013 and could fall to zero by the 2018-19 tax year, meeting their ambition to return the economy to a surplus. The Chancellor confirmed that the UK was “growing faster than any other developed economy”, with the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasting GDP growth of 1.4% in 2013, 2.4% in 2014 and then 2.7% in 2018. Overall welfare spending will be capped and Job Centre Plus will compel those on Jobseeker’s Allowance aged between 18-21 years to train in basic English and maths. University places will be increased by 30,000 in 2014 and the student numbers cap will be abolished the following year. £150 million will be made available for updating and building school kitchens, while all primary school children in Reception, Year 1, and Year 2, will receive free school meals. The Chancellor extended Business Rate relief for small firms out to 2015 and limited any future increases to 2%. Employers’ National Insurance contributions will be abolished for those employees under the age of 21, from April 2015. Married couples and those in a civil partnership, where neither is a higher rate tax payer, will be able to transfer £1,000 of income to their partner to reduce their joint income tax by approximately £200. Green Levies will be rolled-back, contributing to a reduction of £50 in the average consumer’s energy bill. The planned fuel duty escalator rise for 2014 will be cancelled and the paper- based road excise duty ‘tax disc’ will replaced with an electronic version, although the tax will still be payable. The state pension will not be affected by any cap on the overall welfare system, as the existing ‘triple-lock’ will guarantee year-on-year rises. Next April’s rise for those on the maximum basic pension will be £2.95 per person per week.
Those currently younger than 40 will have to wait longer to take their state pension, with the retirement age being raised to 68 in the 2030’s and to 69 in the 2040’s. £9bn is hoped to be raised by closing down aggressive tax-avoidance schemes over the next 5 years and Capital Gains Tax will now be payable on the sale of UK residential property belonging to non-resident owners, as from April 2015. The bank levy will be increased to 0.156%, raising £2.7bn for the Treasury in 2014. Markets (December) (Data supplied by the Outsourced Marketing Department) The US Fed’s announcement in mid-December, that it is to finally ‘taper’ its quantitative easing programme by $10 billion a month, paradoxically had a very bullish effect on the global equity risk markets. With all eyes on the Dow Jones Index; it rose 3.05% to 16,576.66, an all-time high. To put this in perspective the index has now risen by 26% in the year. Meanwhile, the Nasdaq soared in 2013, gaining a massive 40% over the year and closing up 2.87% in the month at 4,176.59. Taking its lead from the prospects of a strengthening US economy, here in the UK the FTSE100 gained 1.48% to close at 6,749.1. That represents an annual gain of 14.43%, whilst the wider FTSE250 closed at 15,935.35 for a rise of 3.03% in the month and 28.77% for the year. Elsewhere in Europe, the Euro Stoxx50 improved by just 0.54% in December to close out the year at 3,109.0 but recorded an annual gain of 17.95%. The Japanese market, however, won the gold medal, seeing a massive improvement of 56.72% over the year to finish December at 16,291.31 With all the attention on the equity markets, the foreign exchange markets had a quiet month. Sterling continued to improve again against the US greenback, finishing the year at $1.66, up 1.84% in 2013. Against the Euro it closed December at €1.21, flat on the month, but down 1.63% from a year earlier. The Euro itself improved against the US Dollar, ending the year at $1.37. Gold bullion had a bad year, losing 27.19%, and closed out 2013 at $1,220.22 an ounce. Oil, having had a volatile year, dipping to as low as $99.95 during 2013, finished at $111.21 a barrel as measured by the Brent Crude benchmark, flat on the year. Download full report here