James Coney  

Taking a page out of America's book

James Coney

James Coney

Dividend cuts

While the prime minister was resigning, British Steel was collapsing and shareholders were voicing their concerns about executive pay, there was something much more concerning happening for investors – a series of dividend cuts.

Vodafone, Royal Mail, Marks and Spencer – big names whose dividends older savers in particular have relied on. They each have their own particular problems, which are largely structural. But look elsewhere in the FTSE and there will be more to come, as growth and profits get squeezed.

I know, I know, if you look at valuations then the UK looks cheap, but whenever I speak to a chief executive they are all doom and gloom about drops in overseas investments and contraction of sectors, from carp-making to retail.

Meanwhile, the Investment Association (whose robust campaigning has been to its credit recently), is now calling for greater transparency on dividend distribution by boards.

We are a nation of income-seekers, and dividends are our lifeblood. Cuts to dividends can be painful, but at the same time we need to ensure healthy companies. This means ones that are ploughing the appropriate amount into investments and not just splurging dividends to shareholders.

Crippling expenses

In possibly one of the most ‘financial advisery’ things I have ever heard: I saw one last week who had sat down with his two millennial children to set out exactly what he earned, what he had saved, what the house was worth, and, most pertinently, what they could expect to get from him.

His short message was: do not expect much at all. It is certainly one method of making young people get the message about saving and its importance.

But his children had one giant advantage over others: both did not have the crippling debt of a university education or rent from private landlords to pay.

That is the real reason why our millennials will be so slow to take up the savings shackles, and until we get the mess sorted it will cripple the finances of a generation.

James Coney is money editor of The Sunday Times