During my time at CYBG, I’ve spoken to a plethora of business customers to understand their motivations for setting up an enterprise, what key challenges they faced and the top tips they’d give to anyone looking to kick-start their own business.
Below is a selection of the stories I’ve gathered, which reveal how they ensured success, even in difficult trading and market conditions, growing revenues and their customer books. Throughout a recent period of uncertainty for the UK economy, these achievements are all the more impressive.
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For the latest edition of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank’s Business Insights, we gathered insights from across the Bank into cyber-security for SMEs, how the agricultural sector is dealing with pressures from Brexit and much more. It was a pleasure for me to work closely with customers for this edition, including Collison Cut Flowers, which produces over 32 million stems of cut flowers annually for the UK’s largest supermarkets.
Click the front cover above to read the full publication, including a customer case study video.
In the wake of the financial crisis over 10 years ago, the world’s largest economies were left in a precarious situation. Low growth, hampered investor sentiment, lower spending and high unemployment all combined to create an economic malaise which forced central banks to act, in an effort to stimulate the ailing economies which they served.
One way they did this was through quantitative easing, where they bought large amounts of assets from commercial banks and institutions (including government bonds) while raising the supply of money in the economy.
The overall goal was to encourage lending, borrowing and consumer spending and to improve business sentiment, but there was another side effect they were hoping for — an increase in asset prices (including stocks). This side effect was realized, though not only through QE, but also because banks slashed interest rates to historic lows, which meant that bonds became less attractive for investors (due to lower returns). Because of this, investors sought riskier assets like stocks to generate higher returns. With more money being pumped into the stock market, the price of those securities increased. Central banks also hoped that by improving returns from stocks, they could also create a ‘wealth effect’, that would lead to higher spending too.
But that was the past and now all of this is changing.
The Fed in the US and the ECB in Europe are reversing their ‘easy money’ policies, because they think that the US and Eurozone economies are strong enough to stand on their own. It has taken 10 years, but economic markers are now being dubbed healthy enough to begin a long period of ‘unwinding’. The ECB confirmed in a statement on June 14th it would end QE bond purchases by December, while the Fed has already started unwinding its massive balance sheet after ending QE and is raising interest rates as both banks move to ‘normalise’ monetary policy.
What does this mean for investors?
Could things get bad for stock prices now that central banks are removing some support for the economy? Did QE really make that much of a difference to stock market valuations and is broader policy normalisation definitely going to hurt your portfolio? Opinions differ wildly on the matter, which makes things all the more confusing!
Writer Thomas H. Kee Jr. at investment publication MarketWatch said: “We believe that bonds, stocks and real estate will experience significant repricing in the years ahead, with the stock market at greatest risk. A 40% correction in the S&P 500 is possible.” Given the fact that many stocks in that index (particularly big names in the tech sector) look overpriced relative to their peers in other markets around the world, the earlier part of the argument seems like a fair assertion.
Then we have the counter-arguments. A report from Deutsche Bank in late 2017 said that QE may have impacted stock market movements by artificially boosting corporate profitability and by raising investors’ animal spirits, but the overall message was that strong earnings potential for US corporations indicated that corporate America is strong enough to withstand the withdrawal of QE and higher interest rates, and that fears that a withdrawal of stimulus could trigger an equity market meltdown appeared overblown.
Invstr CEO and former Deutsche Bank Director Kerim Derhalli is not so optimistic. He explained: “QE worked by boosting liquidity in the economy as the central banks bought bonds and gave the sellers of those bonds dollars or other cash in return. Many people agree that the liquidity that was generated contributed to the phenomenal rise in financial asset prices. As the Fed continues to unwind its $4.3trn balance sheet, the opposite will be true. The Fed will sell bonds on its balance sheet and drain US dollars out of the economy. This will reduce the liquidity available to purchase equities.”
He added: “Four other factors also bear watching: 1) Interest rates will rise making equities relatively less attractive than bonds. 2) Companies, especially emerging market companies who have added $40trn of debt since the debt crisis (!) will find it much harder to re-finance their bonds and loans in the capital markets. They will be competing for US dollar liquidity with the Federal Reserve. That will lead to more corporate insolvency and create pressure in the equity markets. 3) The US government has massively increased its budget deficit following President Trump’s tax cuts. That means that companies will be competing against both the Fed and the Treasury for liquidity. 4) The consequence of greater competition for dollar liquidity will mean a sharp rise in the value of the US dollar. This will have negative implications for US exporters and commodity producers creating further negative feedback for equity markets.”
Stock markets in the US in particular saw a large correction back in February this year, but relative stability has remained since then. Even with the knowledge that the era of QE and ultra low interest rates is beginning to come to an end, the S&P500 index is still up over 14% since June last year, with a slew of strong corporate earnings for bluechip companies through 2018 thus far too. It seems for most of the year, investors were betting that Jerome Powell and his fellow central bankers across the world would not make any significant missteps and that stock prices could remain high in the face of gradual policy normalisation.
Overall though, as billionaire investor Howard Marks put it to The Irish Times late last year: “We are in uncharted territory with all these central bank policies. We can’t say what will happen.” He added, “Anyone who says ‘I am completely confident in my understanding of the situation’ is really not that smart.”
A smart move for investors would be to keep an eye on this narrative as it develops. Whether the outcome of the withdrawal of stimulus measures is a huge correction in the markets, or whether it’s relatively minor in comparison, the end of the ‘easy money’ era is definitely going to have some impact on global stock indices.
This week Britain is playing host to the leaders of The Commonwealth nations. As the event takes place, the UK will still hold the crown as the largest economy out of the 53 countries included in the lineup, but by the time of the next meeting in Malaysia in 2020, it’s almost guaranteed that India’s economy will have surpassed Britain’s in size. It will be a change that symbolises the tectonic shifts in the world economy, as Asia’s booming nations continue to challenge the economic dominance of the West.
Currently India stands at number 6 on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) world GDP rankings, with a GDP of over $2.26 trillion behind Britain’s $2.61 trillion, but bullish forecasts from both the World Bank (WB) and IMF suggest India will cruise comfortably into 5th place behind Germany in the next 2 years. The WB forecasts 7.3% growth this year for India’s booming economy, up from 6.7% last year, while IMF pegs it at a slightly more upbeat 7.4%. This will make India the world’s fastest growing economy in 2018, surpassing China.
But it’s not only India’s current shorter-term (1-2 year) growth prospects that should be cause for excitement, not least for investors in Indian equity markets. The longer-term equation looks equally lucrative. The Indian economy has plenty of room for future growth. Putting aside any external tailwinds from problems elsewhere in the world which could affect global trade and investment, India has the recipe for success including:
– A young population (more than 65% below the age of 35) with more and more people entering the workforce, growing the pool of labor available for companies.
– A massive rural population that currently has low access to digital services and infrastructure, but with a government that is pushing to create a digital revolution in India, ecommerce companies like Amazon and Flipkart will be able to grow quickly as people who once never had access to internet start buying goods online.
– A stable government that has launched a flagship health insurance scheme to cover over 100 million families, while also pledging to invest large sums in the agricultural sector (the most important sector of the Indian economy accounting for 18% of India’s GDP which employs 50% of the nations workforce).
The IMF said today that India needs to address weaker aspects of its labour market and reform issues in its financial sector. With these issues solved, more jobs will be created and banks will feel more comfortable lending, both adding yet another stimulus to an already rapidly expanding economy.
Britain will now be looking to secure an even closer partnership with India, (which was referred to the ‘crown jewel’ of its empire in the colonial period), especially given the need it has to establish new trading relationships post-Brexit. It is likely that trade will be a key factor of discussion as representatives from both nations, and all other members of the Commonwealth community representing over a quarter of the world’s population, meet in London this week.
Markets are still poised for the possibility of military conflict erupting in Syria between the US and her allies (Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and possibly Turkey) and Russia, with the backing of Iran and the Syrian regime. While NATO members are preparing a response to the alleged chemical weapons attacks in Ghouta, Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis warned any strike should be carefully planned to avoid a major conflict between the superpowers.
Even if a war is avoided, the events of the last 2 weeks (including US sanctions on Russian businesses and oligarchs) have severely damaged US/Russia relations. Reports say Russian lawmakers have drafted legislation which proposes to ban American imports including software and medicines, as well as stopping cooperation on atomic power and more.
The American sanctions put in place a week ago, caused the Russian RTS index to fall -11.4% on Monday, it’s biggest one-day decline since December 2014. The Russian Ruble also suffered a dramatic fall against both the Euro and Dollar as foreign investors pulled out of Ruble-denominated Russian government debt.
At the moment, peace reigns and stock markets are in positive territory. European indices are on track to make weekly gains despite geopolitical worries. The FTSEurofirst 300, which tracks the 300 largest companies ranked by market capitalisation in the FTSE Developed Europe Index, is up for the week despite geopolitical turbulence (see the chart below).
Keep in mind that in the long term, a US strike in Syria may not have too much of an impact on indices, and may only cause a short term bearish movement. It all depends on whether the situation deteriorates further. Right now NATO countries seem to be waiting on Trump’s administration to act, but what they will do is no clearer now than it was earlier in the week.