With interest rates now at their historic low of 0.5% for six years and counting, thousands of savers have piled into the stockmarket in a bid to get a better long-term return from their cash. And during Isa season - when many beginner investors enter the market - it's more important than ever to ensure you invest in the right mix of assets and vehicles in order to generate the best return possible. Especially if you've left it to the last minute.
Today there are more Britons than ever putting their faith in equities. Figures from trade body the Investment Association highlight that, last year, the amount of cash in funds which themselves invest in the likes of shares and bonds, soared to a new high of £834 billion.
Such has been the activity across stockmarkets in 2015, that the UK's benchmark index, the FTSE 100, has already jumped to a new high surpassing the peak it reached way back in 1999.
The dash to the market should not come as a surprise. Ever since the Bank of England slashed interest rates to their 300-year low to help boost the economy in the midst of the financial crisis, inflation – the rising costs of goods and services - has turned into the silent assassin of savings, as banks and building societies axed interest rates on deposit accounts to the bare minimum.
Figures from asset management group BlackRock, show that £1,000 saved six years ago would today have the spending power of just £832.
But, and here's the rub, had the same £1,000 been invested in the UK's stockmarket back in March 2009, it would have since more than doubled to some £2,200 today.
And while the fall in the price of oil may well have sent inflation, as measured by the Consumer Prices Index, to a record low of 0.3% in January, it is not expected to hang around in the doldrums for too long, given the Bank of England has a target of 2% to hit.
But for last-minute Isa savers thinking of hitting the market, there are a number of factors to bear in mind when considering long-term investments.
While getting rich slowly is not an aphorism often rolled out, it makes sense when it comes to stocks and shares. Sensible investing is about patience and sticking with it for the long term – there will be bumps along the way but pressing the eject button when the going gets tough is more often than not the wrong move.
For example, according to Fidelity Personal Investing, if you had invested a one-off £1,000 in the UK 20 years ago but missed the best 10 days in the market since then, you would have ended up with a total of some £2,569. But had you stayed invested and not missed a single day that £1,000 would now be worth £4,747 - a significant difference of £2,178.
Fidelity's investment director Tom Stevenson explains: "It's difficult to predict the best time to be in and out of the market, especially as the best and worst days very often tend to bunch together during periods of heightened volatility. There is a real danger that you increase your underperformance by capturing the worst days in your personal performance while missing out on the best. Time in the market matters more than timing the market."
The key is to stick with it, for five years at the very least, and drip-feed in your cash on a monthly basis and use your Isa allowance, where you can stash away up to £15,000 a year and all gains are free from the clutches of the taxman. In fact by maximising your full Isa allowance every year, Stevenson calculates that you could become an Isa millionaire in just under 28 years, assuming modest annual average growth of 5% per annum.
The vast majority who dive into the stockmarket are doing so for a medium- to long-term objective such as a buying a house or saving for retirement, perhaps via a self-invested personal pension or Sipp so once you have chosen the best investment strategy for reaching your goals, stick to it. Ultimately the longer you stay invested, the greater the probability that your investment will generate a positive return. We look at what funds the experts are tipping for the adventurous investor.
The adventurous investor
Hollands recommends very intrepid investors willing to stomach the ups and downs of international stockmarkets should look East to boost their long-term returns. He points to JPMorgan Emerging Markets Investment Trust. As it is an investment trust, it is a stockmarket-listed fund which means that it can at times, depending on demand, trade at either a discount or premium to its actual worth or net asset value.
But presently Hollands believes investors may be able to "scoop up" some value as it is trading a discount of more than 11%. The portfolio, which among many others has investments in Malaysia, Chile and South Korea, has delivered a 25% return to its investors over the past five years, albeit with in the midst of much volatility.
Japan, like Europe, is in the early days of large-scale QE, and McDermott believes it could be a future winner as a result. For investors up for taking the plunge, he points to the Schroder Tokyo fund, which invests in the likes of Japanese behemoth Toyota, and is up by 48% over five years.
He says: "Japan is one of the cheapest developed markets right now, and it central bank is aggressively expanding its stimulus programme. QE has been good for US and UK equities and Japan now has significant potential to deliver further gains."
For his part, Lowcock cites Fidelity Asia Pacific Opportunities. The portfolio, which only launched in September last year, is already up by 11%. Lowcock says it has "an experienced Asian manager in Anthony Strom".
He says: "Strom's approach is distinctive, he looks for financially strong companies with little debt and attractive growth potential. The portfolio is very concentrated with 25 to 35 holdings, which means only the manager's highest convictions will feature."
Which sector will be the most popular for Isa investors?
The funds currently playing a core role in many Britons' Isa portfolio are UK Equity Income vehicles. These funds invest in UK-listed dividend paying corporations, which not only have strong cashflows but can grow their businesses, profits and indeed dividends over time. They are widely believed to be one of the best long-term investments around – and over the past five years, the average fund has achieved a substantial return of more than 70%.
Today, Britons have a massive £58.9 billion invested in these portfolios – which is perhaps unsurprising as dividends are big business. This year, for example, UK firms will share out more than £86.1 billion with their investors, according to research hub Capita Asset Services. For long-term investors who do not need the income now, reinvesting dividends has the potential to have a huge impact on long-term total returns.
For example, according to Barclays Equity Gilt Study 2014, £100 invested in UK equities in 1899 would be worth £14,915 today. But that is if dividends had not been reinvested - if they had, the return rockets to a massive £2.2 million.