Refreshed by a gentle festive season, I sit down to pen my words of wisdom with a calm sense of optimism and a feeling that everything in the garden is rosy. Oh, sorry, I must have been thinking of a different year. This one seems to have started with the only thing better than bad news, being no news!
High Street sales over the holidays were, in the main, unexciting, with some big names having had a most unpleasant time. Announcements of various redundancies have punctuated the gloomy retail news, and the ever-present dog’s breakfast that is the Government’s effort to arrange the UK’s exit from the European Union, seems not just to be bringing both the best, and worst, from our politicians, but prolonging the uncertainty regarding our future.
I have said – possibly too often in this column – that the one thing financial markets hate is uncertainty. Irrespective of your opinion on Brexit, the process has been tortuous. Furthermore, the entire subject is so divisive that whatever the outcome, swathes of UK citizens will feel let down and disenfranchised. The Government has been declared to be in contempt of Parliament and the Prime Minister’s favoured deal (at the time of writing) has brought the worst defeat of a government bill in living history. In the main, our representatives have hardly coated themselves in glory.
Whilst understanding that there is nothing like a deadline to sharpen the concentration and urge one towards a decision, surely it was not too much to think that all those involved might have moved us further forward by now, with just a couple of months left until the date we are set to leave. Until that deal (or no deal) is done, financial markets will continue to be volatile, and many businesses will have no idea how to plan for the future. Economically, this is the last thing that we need, and I fear that the situation may continue for some while. Irrespective of the outcome, it could be years before some sense of normality returns. That will depend on the exact nature of the final agreement, or disagreement. I am convinced, however, that things will be alright eventually, whatever happens, but I doubt that many people voted for that particular outcome!
That said, great companies tend to stay great; well-managed funds invariably remain well-run; and just as every cloud has a silver lining, there will be investment opportunities (working on the assumption that you have some funds available for you to take advantage of such opportunities). I see no reason to change any long-term regular saving scheme, as long as there is no event in the reasonably near future for which funds are earmarked. But I wouldn’t like to be in the position of having an imminent retirement (or similar lifetime landmark) and being fully exposed to the stock markets, without having a reasonable capacity for loss, by way of alternative and considerably less volatile funds or savings. In those circumstances, I feel it is probably better to err on the side of caution, and avoid any potential losses, rather than miss out on a possible extra bit of profit.
As a final note, to anyone who was interested in my last couple of articles regarding the Financial Crisis, I watched a film entitled ‘The Big Short’ over the New Year, which is based on the run-up to that event. Not completely true to history, and with some slightly earthy language and imagery, it is pretty financially accurate, and after the first 15 minutes of sensationalism, well worth a watch.
Until the Springtime.