My elder brother is an intelligent man: learned, and a specialist in his field. His research is widely published, and considered a high quality source of information. He recently sent me a message, enclosing a link to the following text, which began: “If you want to protect your life savings from the biggest bust in history READ THIS RIGHT NOW! It is critical that every British investor hears this warning before it’s too late and the panic selling begins. That’s why I’m doing everything I can to help investors protect themselves.” It continued with the assurance that the financial world was in dire jeopardy, and that people should contact the promoter of the warning to save their hard-earned cash from what appeared to be certain doom.
My brother was concerned. He has worked hard to amass his savings (though some may cast doubt on whether spending 14 hours a day in a scientific laboratory is hard work, particularly when compared with a day of digging dirt or carrying bricks). I replied to him broadly as follows – with a few redactions and removals. Some things should remain between brothers.
Ah, the good old ‘Dire Warning’ ploy! Who knows what the future holds and, more importantly for some, who cares enough to fork out fifty quid to (not) find out? From a personal perspective, my joining the Financial Services industry was punctuated by Thatcher’s completion of her plan to free the financial markets (the Big Bang): the LSE (not the learning establishment) was un-fettered; greed was good; and Champagne Charlies and Hooray Henriettas ruled the world. A year later there was ‘Black Monday’: the bottom fell out of the stock markets and I had my first lesson in “the value of your investments, and the income from them, can go down as well as up.” Down? DOWN?? No b****r told me that! But my wise old boss told me to invest all I could raise. I was broke then, but could start a monthly saving plan and I did.
Condensing the timescale, we had ‘Black Wednesday’ (UK tumbling out of the ERM – base rates up to 15%); the Japanese ‘Bubble’ and the Kobe earthquake; Asian financial crisis; the Russian bond defaults; the US savings and loans scheme collapse; the ‘Tech Bubble’; 9/11 – a fine day in one respect, as I should tell readers who are not used to my ramblings that my second son was born as the aircraft were flying into the World Trade Centre; and the world financial crisis of 07/08 – not to mention the mini ones. So where are we? The FTSE100 is currently around 7000, and when I started it was about 1600. It has increased more than four-fold and has yielded an average 4% per annum.
Will the sky fall in? I doubt it, but if it does, we’re all in trouble. Frankly, I’m more afraid of Trump, Bojo, JR-Mogg and their ilk. They don’t give a tinker’s cuss about us (as our blessed Father would have said) or the world in which we live, it seems, so long as they get richer, and two of them get fatter.
One thing is sure: if 100 people are frightened by the scary story, that’s five ‘large’ for the financial ‘guru’. 1000 people and it’s fifty grand; ten thousand is half a mill. Fascinatingly, if you read the small print, there is no cover from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme or the Financial Ombudsman Service. Furthermore, “Editors or contributors may have an interest in shares recommended”. Make of that what you will.
My brother thanked me. He hasn’t drawn out his cash, cashed in his investments and stuffed the proceeds under his bed. The banks haven’t failed and the markets are still reasonably buoyant. If you have money invested, and have need for capital in the reasonably near future and are worried about stock markets, then you may well be happier withdrawing it now. You might miss out on some growth or avoid a fall in the markets, who knows? You have probably read my comments in the past about ‘timing the market’: it’s like forecasting the weather, only less accurate!
Anyway, Spring is sprung, and I’m off. I’ll be back in a couple of months.