The 11.5% Stealth Tax That’s Made Us All Poorer

What’s the biggest threat to your wealth today?

For many people, the answer is simple: an unassuming Canadian called Mark Carney.

Now, let’s be clear. Mr Carney isn’t going to steal from you. At least not directly, anyway.

But what he is doing is working to ensure that millions of savers and investors – people like you and I – are worse off than any of us thought possible a few years back.

The good news? Thankfully, there’s something all of us can do to help cushion the impact of Mr Carney’s ravages. And even, perhaps, protect ourselves from them altogether.

More on that in a moment. But first, the facts.

New broom

First of all, who is Mark Carney? The answer, of course, is that he’s the new Governor of the Bank of England.

Imported from the Bank of Canada, where by all accounts he did an excellent job, he’s Chancellor George Osborne’s personal pick for the job. And Mr Carney is determined to shake things up at the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street.

For a start, he popped up on Radio 4’s Today programme the other week, being interviewed at length by the BBC’s Evan Davies. I don’t recall Mervyn King – or Eddie George – ever doing that.

More importantly, though, he’s departed from another tradition. Under the new regime of ‘forward guidance’, for the first time ever the Bank – or rather, its Monetary Policy Committee – is making it crystal clear when and why interest rates will rise.

Seven lean years

And that won’t be any time soon.

Unless things go seriously awry in the economy, in three clearly spelled-out ways, Mr Carney and the Monetary Policy Committee have no intention of seeing interest rates rise until unemployment falls below 7%.

When, precisely, will that be? No one knows. But the pundits are saying 2016, meaning that Bank Rate will have been stuck at 0.5% for seven long years.

Mind you, it’s worth pointing out that those same pundits have been wrong before.

Wrong back in March 2009, when they predicted that the fall of Bank Rate to a 319-year historic low of 0.5% would last only a few months.

Wrong over the following two years, when they persistently saw a rise coming twelve months’ hence.

And wrong ever since, as the Quantitative Easing and Funding for Lending programmes have driven market rates ever lower.

Today, I gather, only a single savings account in the entire country is offering an interest rate of 3.5% – the level of interest required to avoid a negative return once basic rate tax has been paid, and inflation taken into account.

Wealth destruction

Now, it’s worth spending a moment or two thinking about the effect of inflation on savings.

According to Hargreaves Lansdown, savers in a typical ‘instant access’ savings account will have seen inflation erode the real purchasing power of their savings by a whopping 11.5% since Bank Rate was slashed to 0.5% in 2009.

Put another way, even at the present rate of inflation, the value of savers’ cash will halve in 25 years.

And you don’t need me to tell you that savings accounts are supposed to be for growing your wealth, not shrinking it.

Is there an alternative?

Well, yes, there is. But first, let me tell you what that alternative isn’t.

Despite all the hype in the press at the moment – because it seems that there is something of a ‘buy-to-let’ boom going on – let me tell you that the alternative isn’t property.

Most of us are already over-exposed to property, thanks to the houses that we live in. And borrowing a huge sum to extend that over-exposure via a buy-to-let mortgage strikes me as madness.

Just as daft, for those with upwards of £200,000 or so in ready cash floating around, is a mortgage-free investment in property paid for in cash.

I like my investments liquid and diversified, thank you, not sitting in a highly illiquid house, potentially months away from being turned into ready cash should I need it.

Blue-chip dividends

Instead, I believe that a portfolio of high-yielding blue-chip shares offers a superior return.

Shares such as pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, for instance, where investors can expect a 4.7% yield. Or mining colossus BHP Billiton, where they can look forward to a yield of 4.1%. Or oil supermajor Royal Dutch Shell, where a yield of 5.5% is on offer.

I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve got the picture.

Compared to savings accounts where savers’ real wealth is currently shrinking, high-yielding blue-chip shares offer an inflation-beating return, and a strong possibility of decent capital gains, too.

(In fact, I’ve drawn this chart below to show how I think shares in general could compare to cash in the bank over time.)


Looking for nuggets

Now, how to find these high-yielding blue-chip shares? Better still, how to find the real cream of these shares – stocks with every prospect of delivering high, sustainable and growing returns for years to come?

As it happens, the team at Motley Fool Share Advisor know a thing or two about pinpointing such potential winners.

You see, every month they hand-pick two share recommendations for Share Advisor members: one of them a growth pick, and the other an income pick.

Some investors don’t need such guidance, of course. Well versed in looking at corporate balance sheets and working out dividend cover and gearing levels, they’re happy to navigate the stock market on their own.

But as Mr Carney’s low interest rate regime stretches into the distance, savers new to the market could find Share Advisor’s guidance making all the difference between wealth destruction and wealth creation.

To see the team’s current recommendations for income-seeking and growth-hungry investors, simply click here to sign up.

I am convinced you could well discover no shortage of shrewd stock-market opportunities to help beat Mark Carney, 0.5% Bank Rate and the 11.5% stealth tax on your savings.

> Malcolm owns shares in GlaxoSmithKline and BHP Billiton.