THE easy convictions, spurious precision and leveraged complexity that characterised the investment curriculum for much of the 90s and noughties are casting a long shadow.
But sceptical investors should not allow that to obscure the merits of a balanced portfolio, nor let fear drown out profitable opportunities in investment markets.
The near global-meltdown in 2008-09 and the euro’s existential crisis are only the most recent embarrassments in deregulated capital markets to have weighed on risk assets. Since 1998, we have had the LTCM affair and its Y2K-liquidity-fuelled aftermath, the dotcom and TMT bubble, the CDO and CDS-fuelled credit bubble, and finance-driven surges in energy and food costs. Some of the institutional checks and balances supposed to safeguard investors – such as mark-to-market accounting for defined benefit pension funds and bank assets – have actually made things worse.
So why bother with anything other than “safe haven” assets? Well, for one thing, it isn’t clear what those assets are. Even cash is at risk from inflation. And if interest expectations ever begin to normalise, then there’s a risk that the bubble in German, US, and UK government bonds could burst.
Investors are right to be concerned about the global economy right now – even if developed stock markets are almost back up where they were in March. Greece is on the verge of leaving the euro, Spain is on the brink of requesting a bailout, and there are rumbling fears of a hard landing in China. It is also debatable whether the UK and the US can avoid a double-dip recession. However, disaster should be avoided.
We hope we’re not looking through rose-tinted glasses, but there is a growing number of compelling investment opportunities available now that many companies can issue bonds at yields below those paid out on their own stock. Moreover, the European Central Bank is acting as a backstop while the labour market liberalisation needed to give the euro credibility is slowly put in place. And, in the US, a stabilizing housing market and a rise in bank lending could boost consumer spending.
Avoiding disaster may be all that’s needed to send stock prices higher, given low expectations. Investors’ wariness has helped restrain valuations, even as stocks have rebounded, so there is an opportunity to add to long-term investments if your circumstances permit.
:: Andrew Miller is regional office head of Barclays Wealth in Newcastle