Is there a way to beat the Budget?

Second guessing the Chancellor's plans is tricky, but it's worth a try
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The Independent Online
At long last we know the date of the Budget. And we have yet another break in tradition. This will be the first Budget to be held on a Wednesday. We expected it next week.

The delay could be significant. Chancellor Brown has said that he wished to flick through the country's finances carefully before deciding what action to take. Checking the books took longer than he expected, so it looks as though we can expect some real measures in July.

Fortunately, there is plenty of time to plan. Wily investors should be taking avoiding action this month. Here are a few tips for beating the Budget.

Personal equity plans: it is hard to see the Chancellor dispensing with this valuable savings vehicle, but you never know.

Most financial planners believe that the worst he could do is to cap the total amount that can be invested, or restrict the income tax breakthrough with advanced corporation tax.

Either way, there seems to be nothing to be lost by taking your full allowance for PEPs out now, rather than waiting, as many do, until the end of the tax year.

A general and single PEP for a husband and a wife can tuck pounds 18,000 out of the taxman's reach, no bad move when you consider that this Government is likely to be less sympathetic towards investors than the last one was.

Capital gains tax: some change here has already been signalled, but it is worth bearing in mind that it is already an onerous tax. However, the Chancellor seems to wish to make a distinction between long-term investors and short-term speculators; we may see the reintroduction of short-term capital gains tax.

Of course, that will mean little if it remains tied to income, given that the Chancellor has pledged not to raise the top rate of tax.

So it may be that a more punitive level of taxation will be introduced to remove some of the profit from those fortunate enough to make a large gain relatively swiftly.

Those with long memories will recall that the original, short-term capital gains tax was levied at the confiscatory income tax rates that applied back in the Sixties.

This introduced a massive distortion into the timing of transactions, but politicians do not usually have such long memories.

Of course, it may be pointless to incur tax charge now, simply to avoid the risk of higher taxes being imposed later, but if you do have a large short-term gain, it may be as well to mop up this year's exemption before the end of the month.

Bonuses: thanks to, among others, the directors of the company operating the National Lottery, I would not be surprised to see some move made against those who are rewarded with high bonus pay-outs as part of their remuneration package.

For the City such a move is probably too late - most bonuses are paid between January and March to reflect the profits made in the previous calendar year - but if you are likely to benefit from an employer's munificence, it may be as well to encourage him to put the payment into this month's pay packet. Again, nothing may happen, but you never can tell.

Inheritance tax: this was a tax that John Major, when he was prime minister, said he would like to see abolished. Not much chance here, I am afraid.

However, it has been described as a voluntary tax by some financial planners, so the Chancellor may seek to close any potential loopholes.

Frankly, unless you are seriously wealthy and with money to burn, there is probably not a lot that can be done, except possibly using annual exemption and gift allowances. And if you possess the kind of wealth that is likely to make the Chancellor's eyes light up with glee, you have probably tucked it away in foreign trusts already.

Now that you are all planned and Gordon Brown-proof, you can start worrying about where the market goes from here. Opinion is divided.

Some consider that new highs both on Wall Street and in London will be posted as the year progresses. Others believe that Nemesis waits just around the corner.

America holds the key, but we may just have a nudge from next month's Budget as well. Talk is rife of a windfall bonanza for builders, travel agents and the like, courtesy of the newly-floated building societies.

The Chancellor may well step in to dampen consumers' enthusiasm next month.

Dampen it too much, and the market may take it amiss, regardless of what is happening in Bill Clinton land.

The writer is chairman of the Greig Middleton Investment Strategy Committee, and can be contacted on 0171-655 4000.

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