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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 March 2006, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Isa sales surge as deadline looms

By Julian Knight
BBC News personal finance reporter

A bull
Investors and City fund managers are bullish
With little over a week to go before the end of the tax year, there is growing excitement in the City over Individual Savings Account (Isa) sales.

In February, net sales of equity Isas were 131m, up more than 60% year-on-year, says the Investment Management Association (IMA).

Experts suggest the rise in sales indicates that confidence has returned among many UK private investors.

From 2000 to 2004, Isa sales slumped as global stock markets fell in value.

At one stage, in early 2004, Isa sales were so bad that they had become a virtual irrelevance, particularly when compared to the billions being pumped by investors into buy-to-let property.

Up until recently, investors have been dazzled by property and put off stock market investment by white noise such as oil price rises and the Iraq war
Jason Hollands, F&C spokesman

But following a stock market recovery, starting in spring 2003, it seems that the tide of investor confidence has turned.

"Sales have exceeded expectations this year," Jason Hollands, spokesman at fund management firm F&C, told BBC News.

"The stock market has been rising for three years, but there has been a time-lag before private investors have returned.

"Up until recently, investors have been dazzled by property and put off stock market investment by white noise such as oil price rises and the Iraq war," Mr Hollands added.

Dizzy heights

Despite the upbeat message coming from the City, Isa sales still have a long way to go to reach the dizzying heights of 1999 and 2000.

Back then, hundreds of thousands of private investors rushed to beat the Isa deadline.

"The three-year bear market, between 2000 and 2003, makes it very difficult for consumers to know what to do now," David Elms, chief executive of Independent Financial Advice Promotion (IFAP), said.

"The longer the market holds up, the greater the proportion of people that will dip back into the market.

"The only worry is that investors do not tend to time the market well - they could start diving in just prior to another fall in share prices. Hopefully, though, with so much free information available online, this will help investors in their decision-making," he added.

Advertising has to be clear, fair and not misleading. Firms have the ability to innovatively market products, but not at the expense of consumers
David Whiteley, FSA

But the financial industry, it seems, is keen not to repeat the marketing mistakes of the late 1990s, when firms played up the stellar performance of investment funds.

"In the late 1990s, fund managers boasted about performance, but this was ultimately damaging as it created expectation," Mr Hollands said.

"Marketing is now more responsible and thoughtful, but as an industry we have to be careful not to build up investors' expectations to much," he added.

Tougher regulation

A beefed-up Financial Services Authority (FSA) has helped instigate a subtle shift in Isa marketing.

Recently, the FSA wrote to Isa providers telling them that they expected: "all firms to promote their products and services in a way that treats their customers fairly".

In particular, the FSA has tightened the rules on how fund management firms quote past performance data in adverts.

"Advertising has to be clear, fair and not misleading. Firms have the ability to innovatively market products, but not at the expense of consumers," David Whitely, FSA spokesman, told BBC News.

This year, the deadline for people to invest up to 7,000 into equity Isas falls on 5 April.


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