Questor: our capital shortfall could disappear in no time but the income problem is tougher

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Some figures here differ slightly from those in the print version of this story. This is because some market prices changed after the print version was finalised

That figure of £26,081 is slightly higher than the £25,848 we expected when we last looked at the portfolio’s performance in late October, thanks to dividend rises from the likes of New Residential Investment Corp. 

As we did then, we have excluded a special dividend from Northern VCT, which would boost the total to £27,795, because we want to focus on the portfolio’s ability to produce income consistently and special dividends by their very nature cannot be relied on from one year to the next.

How well has our income kept pace with inflation, which is now rising at a worrying clip? The “base” level of the consumer prices index was 100 in July 2015 and had risen to 101.2 in October 2016, when the portfolio began. The most recent figure, for last month, was 114.5. To calculate the cumulative rise in the cost of living since the portfolio began we divide 114.5 by 101.2 and get 13.1pc. This makes our current income target £28,275.

We are therefore some way short, although the gap is small if we include that special dividend.

Let’s now look at how we are doing in capital terms. Our portfolio is currently worth £495,998, which represents a small loss relative to the amount invested. If we take inflation into account, however, it would need to be worth £565,500 to have maintained its value.

Now that capital value is, of course, at the mercy of the markets and it would not be at all impossible for the shortfall to disappear if sentiment improved in the new year, particularly as the London market remains unloved by international investors. Sooner or later, they will forgive us for Brexit and return. A sense that we are truly past the worst of the pandemic could also do wonders for share prices.

There is no prospect of so easy a solution to the income shortfall, however. While we do hope and expect many of our stock market holdings to increase dividends over the coming months and years, not least to reverse cuts made in response to the pandemic, this will be a slow, step-by-step process.

We need a decent clutch of above-inflation rises in dividends if we are to make up the lost ground – and such increases will be hard to find if the CPI is as high as it is now.

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