As someone who needs glasses, I know firsthand that 20/20 vision and the ability to experience the beauty and clarity of life is amazing. As we embark on the start of a new year, clarity and foresight is exactly what investors are seeking, especially with the daily dose of unprecedented headlines we receive. In hindsight, the guidance our team of economists, strategists, and portfolio managers gave last year proved prescient as ~90% of our ten themes for 2019 were accurate.
Judging by the preponderance of retail sales offers throughout November in my email inbox, the rise and rise of ‘Black Friday’ should completely randomise the precise timing of this year’s Christmas retail spending. Similarly for those who think about financial markets, the three percent rise in pan-European indices during the eleventh month of this year – particularly when mated with the very low levels of volatility seen across the prices of many asset classes during the month – appears to have also pulled forward the traditional ‘Santa rally’.
October historically has always been a big month for investors. In my formative years back in the 1980s during one October, there was a major market crash (and weirdly simultaneously in the U.K. an extreme weather event in southern England), meanwhile those interested in older historical events will recall the events of October 1929 and the infamous capital market events back then. A lot has happened in the month of October that has just passed and whilst it is unlikely the history books will remember the tenth month of 2019 assertively, for investors thinking about prospects over the next year, it may have been critical.
With ‘fast fashion’ being so prevalent in today’s world, perhaps we should not be surprised that Oscar Wilde’s dictum looks a little slow as the world only racked up four successively positive months before a reversal. May 2019 will not go down in the financial market almanacs as anything other than a shabby month, with the regional pan-European share index falling around 5% and more than reversing any gains seen earlier in the quarter. Broadly speaking, this performance pattern in May – supplemented by the compression of sovereign bond yields – was repeated all over the world.
Thinking about everyone’s favourite subject, it was striking to read that a well-known UK consumer confidence index indicator released in the last few days was flat for the third month in a row, with an accompanying write-up that included the comment that ‘despite political carry-on in the Westminster bubble with the clock ticking on Britain’s eventual departure from the EU, consumers are holding firm and remain unshaken by the daily headlines of turmoil and intrigue’. Too right that there is a real and breathing UK economy still out there… and that the ongoing Brexit debate does not need to exclusively define the UK economy and its prospects.
Welcome to March, a time in the past when I have gone all Shakespearean in my written musings and quoted the famous words imagined uttered to Julius Caesar before his assassination. It looks as if the Ides of March (typically regarded as the fifteenth day of the month) will be just after a series of further Brexit related votes which could provide the greater clarity consumers, industrialists, politicians and investors seem to desire. As one economic survey, focused on the view of UK manufacturers, strikingly put it recently: ‘The march of the makers has turned into a painful crawl, where only certainty about the Brexit way forward can ease the sector’s pain’.