How will Brexit affect your pension prospects?

Are you worried about the prospects for your pension now that the UK electorate has voted to leave the European Union? It’s entirely understandable if you are — but what should you do?

Well, funnily enough, I got an email from Hargreaves Lansdown, my SIPP provider, this week, and their first recommendation is to “remain calm and keep focused on your long-term plans” — and that’s absolutely right.

The immediate problem for people approaching retirement is that annuity rates have already fallen, some by around 2%. An annuity is a product that many people buy with some or all of their pension pot, and which pays a regular income — but I see annuities as very poor investments.

Firstly, returns are low. And secondly, you sacrifice your entire cash on day one. So, if you die the next day, there won’t be a penny for you to leave to your children. With gilt yields being low, and expected to remain low, today’s lower annuity rates also seem likely to stay that way for some time.

State pensions could now be under threat, too. Current rules mean that, under the so-called “triple lock” guarantee, they would rise every year by inflation, average earnings, or 2.5%, whichever is highest. But David Cameron has warned that this protection could be lost should Brexit lead to an economic downturn.

Profit from uncertainty

For those investing in shares for their retirement, the outlook is also uncertain — but still pretty rosy, at least in the long term. Most economists believe an exit from the EU will damage the UK’s growth, and lower GDP over the next few years would surely translate into a poorer return from shares than we’d otherwise get.

But on the other hand, most of our top FTSE 100 companies operate worldwide and should still have a very healthy long-term future. And the immediate post-referendum rout, coupled with any sustained weakness in share prices over the coming months, should provide those with a longer-term pensions outlook with some nice buying opportunities.

I recently noted that top fund manager Neil Woodford reckons that the Brexit vote “is not as negative a development as the market’s initial reaction appears to imply“.

Furthermore, he strongly urges us to

look through this period of uncertainty and focus on the long-term opportunity which, in our view, continues to remain attractive“.

So if you have some cash that you can use to boost your pension provisions, now could be a great time for a few top-ups. In particular, I’m thinking about solid dividend-paying shares — getting in while share prices are low can lock in higher dividend yields for life, as the only yield that matters is the yield on your original purchase price. So which shares should you be considering?

Global outlook

The most obvious are truly global companies, which are relatively immune to local and regional politics. I see BP and Royal Dutch Shell, with predicted dividend yields of 6.6% and 6.5% respectively, as key contenders in the EU-safe investment stakes. And its no surprise that shares in both have gained since the vote — it’s not long ago that we were seeing yields in excess of 7%.

The big pharmaceuticals should have great pension potential, too, with GlaxoSmithKline on a forecast yield of 5.3% and AstraZeneca on 4.5% (after both shares have been boosted by the recent flight to safety). Not the biggest yields, but very attractive, and at a time when both companies are set to rebound from their patent-expiry problems of recent years.

But if you want to take a bit more risk and try to benefit from the immediate post-event fallout, Lloyds Banking Group shares are now on a predicted yield of 8%, housebuilder Taylor Wimpey is offering 8.3%, and even the yield at super-conservative insurer Prudential is up to 3.4% — if you think they’re oversold, you now have your chance to profit.

Facing plenty of uncertainty, the worst mistake you can make now is to panic and run away from managing your own investments — instead, you should use the lemon you’ve been handed to make lemonade!

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Alan Oscroft owns shares of Lloyds Banking Group. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended GlaxoSmithKline. The Motley Fool UK has recommended AstraZeneca, BP, Hargreaves Lansdown, and Royal Dutch Shell. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.