North East well placed in growing economy, says leading wealth manager Bill O'Neill

Bill O'Neill of UBS positive on region's prospects as he advises clients to remain "fully invested" on diversified basis

Bill O'Neill, head of UBS's Chief Investment Office Wealth Management Research Team in the UK
Bill O'Neill, head of UBS's Chief Investment Office Wealth Management Research Team in the UK

The head of UBS Wealth Management’s UK Investment Office believes the North East is well positioned to take advantage of the recovering economy.

Bill O’Neill visited Newcastle this week as part of a tour of the UK division’s six regional sites, speaking to clients, prospects and intermediaries about their investments and the year ahead in light of the global economy.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Journal, he said the North East had made significant strides forward in areas such as employment and the housing market.

“It does seem that the rebound here has been stronger than the national average and across the wider regions,” he said.

UBS currently employs 16 people in the Newcastle office, headed up by Aidan Dunstan, who was similarly upbeat about the region’s prospects.

“Talking to clients - many of whom are business owners or managers - there’s been an air of positivity, broadly speaking,” he said.

“We speak to people in sectors ranging from house building to retail, healthcare and IT. The picture that’s emerging is one of increasing employment and expansion plans.”

One area of concern, he added, was the impact of falling oil prices, with some companies connected to the sector putting significant projects on hold.

Mr O’Neill, however, suggested that, on a wider scale, the situation was “benign”, particularly in terms of consumption and interest rates.

Within the global economy, he added, there was a notable level of divergence, but overall, investors could expect to see modest to moderate returns.

“Clients should remain fully invested,” he said. “What we’re seeing is a recovering growth pattern.”

The US, in particular, was showing some promising signs in the equity and corporate bonds markets. Government bonds, by contrast, were unlikely to enjoy another strong year.

Mr O’Neill also warned against biases towards the UK - or indeed any particular sector - suggesting investments should currently be made on a “fully diversified basis”.

With regards to the forthcoming general election, there was pronounced uncertainty, but this would only likely have an impact on the sterling, similar to what happened in the time leading up to the Scottish referendum.

“The election issue is important, but I think from an international perspective, the main thing is that a coherent government is in place close to May 7,” he said.

With a 150-year history and a network of offices in more 50 countries on five continents, UBS has extensive experience in managing the wealth of high net worth individuals.

In the UK, more than 200 client advisers oversee assets under management totalling more than £27.7bn.

Head of regions, Jonathan Brown, said: “Our business has grown stronger during 2014 and Newcastle has played a role in that, enjoying a very strong performance - perhaps even stronger than the London business.

“We’ve doubled our business in five years and want to double it again in four. Lots of that growth is coming from entrepreneurial clients.

“Lots of our clients nowadays have a global outlook and realise the benefits of that. At UBS, we have a genuinely global perspective.”

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