December 1st Market Wrap – Tax Reform Stumbles – Corbyn Threatens Banks

Dow Rallies while NIFTY Slips
The Dow Jones index had a bullish performance yesterday, closing at 24,272.35 points – yet another new record. This means it’s rallied by over 1000 points in the space of around a month and a half, thanks to hopes of lower corporate taxes, robust economic growth (around the world, not just the US) and impressive corporate earnings – the key driver.

Markets in Asia went higher today too, following the American lead, Though the NIFTY50 took a battering, shedding over -1%. The index fell below 10,200 weighed down by metal stocks and index heavyweights like Reliance Industries and State Bank of India.

It’s not all bad news though. Yesterday we got new data which showed India’s GDP growth rebounded from a 3-year low in the June quarter thanks to stronger manufacturing performance. Still, the NIFTY seems to be struggling with staying above the 10,400 points mark, consistently falling back, this indicates a bearish trajectory for the time being.

European indices are also lower today, with Italy’s FTSE MIB falling the most, down almost -1%. In individual equities, healthcare stocks including UCB and Novo Nordisk got a boost thanks to an upgrade from Morgan Stanley – the latter being flagged as one of the banks favourites in the pharma space.

Tax Reform Stumbles
A little tax reform momentum was lost yesterday, after the Senate delayed a vote on the Republican tax bill until morning in the US today. Several factors were at play, the first being that Senator Bob Corker (R) seemingly held firm on his commitment that he would not vote for a tax bill that increased the US deficit. He said his vote on the bill would be dependent on some kind of trigger, which would automatically increase taxes if the bill didn’t generate the kind of economic growth the party hopes for.

The Senate parliamentarian said that a fiscal ‘trigger’ is not allowed, which has given more reason for skeptics including Corker to back away from the bill. If a few key Republicans vote against the bill, it may not pass, which would be yet another big stumbling block for Trump as he tries to finally get something passed after his failure on healthcare.

Commodities
Oil prices got a small boost from the OPEC meeting yesterday in Vienna. Arguably the vote for an extension of production cuts was already ‘priced in’ as expectations were high that the group would unanimously agree to continue with cuts, and indeed Russia said it would cut its oil output to the end of 2018. Here is a chart of Brent Crude’s movements since the news broke.

Yesterday Gold prices hit their lowest level in over a week, falling after a new round of promising American economic data filtered into the markets. The good news of lower joblessness and higher GDP did little to sway the markets from expectations of an interest-rate hike later in December. Gold prices have been falling consistently since they peaked in mid-summer.

No Love Lost between Labour and Banks
The leader of Britain’s Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn has hit out at banks and called them speculators and gamblers, who are right to be afraid of a Labour government getting into power.

In a video uploaded to Twitter, the socialist leader said, “Bankers like Morgan Stanley should not run our country but they think they do.” He then took a swipe at the Conservative government for protecting financial institutions interests, while adding that it was these banks which crashed the economy in 2008.

He is right, in that the careless actions of overpaid executives and bankers in both the US and the UK prompted the financial crisis, but failed to mention that it was a Labour leader (not Conservative), that encouraged risk taking in the City of London.

In his Mansion House speech in 2006, Labour’s Chancellor Gordon Brown (who would become Prime Minister the next year), said the British economy would succeed through ‘light touch’ regulation, a ‘competitive tax environment’ and ‘flexibility’. Only 2 years earlier, he had praised Lehman Brothers, the bank which had contributed directly to the crisis and collapsed in 2008. Lehman’s bankruptcy filing was the biggest in history, and its demise contributed to the loss of around $10 trillion from global equity markets.

Ed Balls, another Labour cabinet member, said in 2006, “I believe we are right to avoid prescriptive, heavy-handed regulation in Britain.” It turns out they were both wrong.

The concern among businesses is that a Labour government with a strongly socialist bent under Jeremy Corbyn and his Chancellor John McDonnell would seek to curtail businesses ambitions, increase corporate taxation and generally dissuade foreign investors from wanting to do business in the UK.

The problem with this combative approach towards banks is that, despite its past crimes and misbehavior, the financial services sector is one of the strongest assets the British economy has. A report earlier this year revealed that financial and related professional services workers contribute 1.5 times more to the economy than the average UK employee, while showing that the sector makes up over 10% of the UK economy. It also contributes the most amount of tax already, at 11.5% of the total income for the treasury.

Morgan Stanley said this week that a radical left-wing government under Corbyn is a more serious threat to British markets than Brexit, and that a ‘double whammy’ of Brexit and a Labour leadership could prove ‘toxic’ to UK stock markets.

Patrick Jones

Why should I diversify my investment portfolio?

Shortly before the financial crisis rocked the world economy in 2007/8, optimism amongst US policymakers was high and widespread.

On June 2nd 2005, only 3 years before many of the worlds largest financial institutions were on the brink of insolvency, Christopher Cox stood in a room full of reporters. Cox was the new Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission or the SEC, under the Bush administration. The role of the organisation was to protect investors from foul play in financial markets, ensuring a level playing field between customers and asset management firms.

After his public introduction from President Bush, Cox took to the podium to set out the responsibilities of his new role and the state of the economy. He praised the financial sectors contribution to US economic growth, saying “In this amazing world of instant global communications, the free and efficient movement of capital is helping to create the greatest prosperity in human history.”

Statement on the Economy.  Rose Garden
Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, President George W. Bush, Secretary of the Treasury Henry ‘Hank’ Paulson & SEC Chairman Christopher Cox in the White House Rose Garden. September 19, 2008.

Little did he know what was around the corner, but of course, no one really knew what was coming. Even the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke said in January 2008, “The Federal Reserve is not currently forecasting a recession.” It turned out that the SEC and other bodies that were supposed to protect the interests of investors, had stood by while banks were taking greater and greater risks and engaging in dangerous behaviour. Banks were taking enormous risks in the derivatives market, trading highly complex financial instruments like CDOs (collateralised debt obligations) and MBS (mortgage backed securities). Banks were also highly leveraged, which meant they were borrowing huge sums in order to take part in this kind of activity. There was a get-rich-quick culture pervading the financial sector. In this era of widespread irresponsibility on the part of some of the most famous investment management firms in the world, selling more toxic products to unsuspecting investors meant bigger bonuses. As such, it led to the eventual meltdown.

The damage was more serious that anyone could have imagined. In those years, investors lost life savings, while millions of ordinary citizens became homeless and unemployed, in a financial slump that left no country on the planet unaffected.

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Headline montage from media during the peak of the crisis

Why am I talking about the crisis? Well, it’s merely an example to highlight potential risks and why you should hedge against them as much as possible. Risk is a major factor to consider when choosing what to invest in. Financial markets are entities which are linked to human sentiment. Even if the crowd and the talking heads think they are ‘right’ about the way a price, or a company, or interest rates are heading, markets are still, (in the words of billionaire investor George Soros) “inherently unstable”. Due to this instability, it makes sense to hedge your bets and spread your risk across different sectors, asset classes and types of markets when investing.

Financial markets are all interconnected. Even the largest blue chip stocks which we hear about every day are not immune to external forces which can weaken their fundamentals. Geopolitical circumstances out of your control can cause huge sell offs in a single day, putting your portfolio at risk. Perhaps a war breaks out in Asia and suddenly every stock index from Tokyo to Shanghai loses a ton of its value, for example. Even shiny new instruments like cryptocurrencies which are currently all the rage have been known to lose hundreds of dollars off their value in a single trading day. Yes, it would be nice if markets were predictable and human behaviour was also less impulsive, but this sadly is not the case.

How do I diversify?

Diversification is a form of risk management, but it is also a tool you can use to make money as well.

The idea behind diversifying a portfolio is that investors will be less affected by an event that has a strong impact on a particular industry, company or type of investment. Not putting all of your eggs in one basket is another way of thinking about it.

By ensuring you invest in a multitude of sectors and asset classes, you can be more shielded from external shocks to the market (like geopolitical circumstances, economic downturns and the like).

By keeping investments split into different asset classes, (by choosing varying position sizes in different sectors) investors can become fairly well hedged incase of any destabilising news which will cause prices to fall.

Even if the flavour of the month is a bluechip giant in the S&P500 and every analyst seems to be singing it’s praises, going all in on the stock or similar companies within the same sector can be a foolish decision. Trends come and go frequently. Sectors lose steam, indexes that were once riding all time highs lose their edge. We saw recently how a political crisis in Brazil which engulfed the country’s leader Michel Temer, ignited a huge selloff in Brazilian stock markets. The key Bovespa index saw it’s biggest fall in almost 9 years on the same day corruption charges surfaced.

It is not possible to do away with all risk, but by hedging your positions and keeping your risk spread across different kinds of instruments, you can keep protect yourself against large-scale losses and maintain your well earned gains.