2022 Was Not So Bad

In a previous blog post I mentioned the book “The Stock Market” by John Littlewood after reading the first few chapters that covered the years 1945-1960. I have now finished the rest of the book which covers the years 1961 to 1990.

If you think the 1950s were bad for stock market investors, then the 1970s were even worse. Shares lost roughly a third of their value in 1973. In January 1974 the Arab countries announced that oil prices were to be doubled for the second time. Meanwhile the miners went on strike and a “hung” Parliament with no overall control was the result of a general election. Dennis Healey increased both personal and business taxes with the top rate of income tax being set at 83%, or 98% on investment income. The Government tried to impose price controls but that did not stop rising inflation which was over 16% in mid-1974.

To quote Mr Littlewood: “The experience of 1974 is visited on investors perhaps only once in a lifetime, but, when it happens, it leaves behind deep scars that last for many years. Many private investors abandoned the stock market for good”.

The market did recover in the 1970s although in 1979 Russia invaded Afghanistan without warning and there were wars in the Middle East which disturbed markets. There was a long bull market until the crash in October 1987 at the same time as the great storm in southern England. Over two days the UK All Share Index fell by 20%. There were similar falls in other international markets.

The UK was dogged by strikes in the 1970s with businesses often becoming uncompetitive in comparison with other industrialised countries. Nothing much changed until Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979. Thereafter she stood up to the miners, changed strike legislation and embarked on a period of privatisation (or de-nationalisation as it could be otherwise called) plus adopted a sound money policy.

The 1970s show strong parallels with the last two years. Rising inflation worldwide due to lax policies on money supply (called QE recently) and wars affecting the supply of basic commodities such as food and oil/gas.

This is what Mr Littlewood had to say about Mrs Thatcher and her policies: “Margaret Thatcher led from the front on privatisation. For the Labour party and the trade unions, she was plunging a knife into the heart of deeply held beliefs. Many in her own party would have left well alone, and many in the City were unable to comprehend the scale of her ambition or recognise the confidence she was placing in the capitalist system, but her analysis was impeccable.

In State-owned businesses, the discipline of the threat of bankruptcy is absent. The threat of takeover is also removed, and there are none of the sanctions of reporting to shareholders or being judged on performance by fund managers and investment analysts. Capital requests for investment are judged more by the political whims of government expenditure targets than by an objective assessment of the merits of the project. In Britain, the nationalised industries had become sheltered havens for the producers and the unions at the expense of customers. It was not until some years after the completion of privatisation, that the extent of over-manning and over-charging became apparent as, at one and the same time, prices fell in real terms and profits rose”.

This is a very good summary of the ills of the UK in the post-war years some of which can still be seen in some sectors of the economy such as the railways and the NHS.

On a personal note, the Lawson household has been disrupted since xmas by medical problems. Both younger grandsons got infections and daughter-in-law ended up in hospital for a few days – after waiting for a vacant bed for more than 24-hours.

The NHS is a nationalised industry that demonstrates all the ills mentioned above. More money gets ploughed into it with little obvious impact while the service level declines. In my opinion it needs to be privatised (and I am a big personal user of it so have seen it first-hand).

To conclude, Mr Littlewood’s book is a great analysis of the economic and political factors that drove the stock market in the years covered. It explains in detail the market changes such as the impact of  “Big Bang” and how investors were affected.

You will realise after reading the book that the 2020s have been a relatively benign period in comparison with the last century and that all stock markets are in essence highly volatile even if equities are still a better long-term bet than bonds. It should be essential reading for all investment managers and politicians.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson )

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Interest Rate Rise, Strikes and Xmas Reading

I am still hoping for a Santa rally in share prices but they are certainly not happening today. The Bank of England raising interest rates by 0.5% to 3.5% has surely had a negative impact. These are some of the depressing comments made by the Bank:

“Bank staff now expect UK GDP to decline by 0.1% in 2022 Q4, 0.2 percentage points stronger than expected in the November Report. Household consumption remains weak and most housing market indicators have continued to soften. Surveys of investment intentions have also weakened further”; and “The labour market remains tight and there has been evidence of inflationary pressures in domestic prices and wages that could indicate greater persistence and thus justifies a further forceful monetary policy response…..The majority of the Committee judges that, should the economy evolve broadly in line with the November Monetary Policy Report projections, further increases in Bank Rate may be required for a sustainable return of inflation to target”. In other words, more interest rate rises are likely to follow.

With major strikes by train staff, NHS staff and postal workers, you can see why there is gloom in the market. Are the strikes justified? My personal view is that NHS nurses deserve some increase to reverse the erosion of their real pay over the last ten years and to make the job more attractive. I visited my renal consultant on Monday and she was not happy to be providing cover for striking nurses in the next few days. But will I need to cross a picket line for my next appointment? It’s almost 50 years since I had to last do that when HM Customs & Excise staff were on strike but it was all very civilised in reality.

As regards train staff I am not convinced that they are justified in disrupting another essential service for a pay rise and for their demands over working practices. They are already highly paid in comparison with other workers and they should not be trying to dictate how management run the operations. There are also suspicions of a political undertone to their actions.

I issued a tweet saying the strikers should be give an ultimatum to work normally or be sacked. Rather surprisingly I got a response from the RMT which said “In your haste to sound draconian you’ve not considered who would staff the railway or train the replacements if you’ve fired them all? Nothing would move for years!!”.

My response was “Well it worked when Ronald Reagan did it for air traffic controllers, did it not?”. This refers to the events in August 1981 in the USA. To quote from Wikipedia: “After PATCO workers’ refusal to return to work [over a pay dispute], the Reagan administration fired the 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored the order, and banned them from federal service for life. In the wake of the strike and mass firings, the FAA was faced with the difficult task of hiring and training enough controllers to replace those that had been fired. Under normal conditions, it took three years to train new controllers. Until replacements could be trained, the vacant positions were temporarily filled with a mix of non-participating controllers, supervisors, staff personnel, some non-rated personnel, military controllers, and controllers transferred temporarily from other facilities”.

The US airlines continued operations with minimal disruptions and the Reagan move had a significant impact on union activities in other organisations effectively resetting labour relationships in the USA. Strikes fell in subsequent years. From 370 major strikes in 1970 the number fell to 11 in 2010, and it had a positive effect in reducing inflation.

Just as Margaret Thatcher handled the coal miners in the UK, Reagan’s firm resolve on facing up to the unions created a new and better culture.

As regards postal workers the picture is not so clear. The average postman salary in the United Kingdom is £47,500 per year but the average for all postal workers is much less. But there is one thing for certain, Royal Mail Group will be badly hit by the strikes and customers will reduce the number of letters they send even more and switch parcels to another provider. Postal workers are cutting their own throats by continuing strikes. Here also the dispute is not just about pay but also working practices.

This is another essential service which should not be disrupted. Legal notices get delayed, dividend cheques go missing and letters re hospital appointments and medication deliveries are held up.

It’s all gloom on the political and economic fronts at present. But I am getting ready for the xmas holidays by stocking up on books to read. In fact I have already started reading “The Stock Market” by John Littlewood which covers how capitalism has worked in the UK in the last 50 years. Not well in summary is the answer as it has been driven by political dogma from one extreme to another. The author points out the difference from the USA where the major political parties have always supported capitalism rather than socialism.

Other books I have ordered are “Fall” – a biography of arch fraudster Robert Maxwell, “The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England”, “Power Failure: The Rise and Fall of General Electric”, and “The World: A Family History” by Simon Montefiore. They should occupy me for a few hours!

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson   )

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More Cheap Labour Required? And Results from Intercede and Telecom Plus

Both the CBI and the CEO of Next have called for a relaxation of immigration rules so as to provide more workers. There are desperate shortages of staff in some sectors of the economy such as retail and hospitality, particularly in low-paid unskilled jobs. With a booming economy it has proved very difficult to recruit staff at wage levels that companies want to pay.

The problem has been compounded by a rise in “inactivity” levels, i.e. people who could be employed but are not. Some of them are suffering from long-term sickness but others have simply dropped out of the workforce because they can survive on benefits. The Covid epidemic has encouraged these trends but in essence there are underlying factors such as demographic changes that are a major cause. As the population ages people are less keen to work and are more likely to suffer from medical complaints that the NHS cannot fix quickly due to mismanagement of that service of late.   

Do we need to allow more immigration to help businesses? I suggest not. A tight employment market encourages companies to invest in improving productivity when if they can hire labour easily they do not. Poor productivity is one of the major problems in the UK economy and has been for years.

Even Labour leader Keir Starmer is opposed to unrestricted immigration and has said “Let me tell you: the days when low pay and cheap labour are part of the British way on growth are over”.

The UK needs to look at fixing some of these problems via Government policies on social security benefits including pensions and helping those suffering from illness by improving the NHS while companies need to invest more in productivity improvements. That means more equipment and better training.

Two more sets of results from companies I hold in my portfolio came out this morning. Recession? What recession?

Telecom Plus (TEP) reported revenue up by 51.5% and adjusted profit up by 22.5% with dividends up to match in its interim results. Reading this company’s results helps you understand the impact of the energy crisis on household bills and the impact of government interventions to cap prices.

Not only has the company increased the number of customers signed up to its services because they now have a very competitively priced offering for energy supply, it has also meant that more people have been signing up to sell their services as their household budgets have come under pressure due to the rising cost of living.

The rising cost of energy has also meant customers have reduced their energy consumption by 10% over the summer with a larger reduction expected over the winter months. Customer churn remains at record low levels and bad debt provision seems not to be a problem although that might rise. Forecasts for full year profits and dividends have been increased.

As both a customer of Telecom Plus as well as a long-term shareholder, but not a reseller, I am happy with the progress made.

Intercede (IGP), a company specialising in digital identities, reported revenue up 24% in their interim results and net profits up 124%. Again there is a positive outlook statement and it looks like the strategy to grow by acquisition is paying off. The share price may not have been buoyant of late as small cap technology stocks have fallen out of favour but the company seems to be doing the right things. That’s solely my opinion as a long-term holder of the shares of course.

Both companies demonstrate that there are still profits to be made, even in the tricky energy sector where the government has been interfering.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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The Economy, Politics and Financial Fraud

With not a lot happening in my stock market portfolio today, I have some time to comment on wider issues. With the USA Federal Reserve raising interest rates and the Bank of England doing likewise, there is clearly a commitment to tackle inflation aggressively. This will undoubtedly put a damper on the economy in due course and lead to a recession in the UK as has been widely forecast anyway.

Is raising interest rates wise at this time? I think it is because the era of cheap money (i.e. when it was possible to borrow money at less than the rate of inflation) should never have been permitted.

We still have very low unemployment rates from a historic perspective while the Government is still handing out money in the form of energy support cash which it has to borrow to fund. The Government also remains committed to the “triple-lock” on state pensions to protect the elderly such as me which I find simply unjustifiable when the rest of the population have no such protection from a rising cost of living.  

The concept of a “balanced budget” where taxation matches Government expenditure has been forgotten and the excuse of keeping the economy afloat in the face of the Covid epidemic has been used to justify excessive spending.

Meanwhile the cost of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants is enormous with as many as 1 million illegal immigrants in the UK. Nearly £1.3 billion per year is now being spent housing asylum seekers, with costs likely increasing as dinghy arrivals rocketed over the summer

The rise in small boat crossings in the English Channel is driving the migration figures with at least 40,000 arriving that way in the current year and claiming asylum. A large proportion are young men from Albania who are economic migrants. See this BBC analysis for the data: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-53734793

The Government seems incapable of stopping this “invasion” as the Home Secretary recently called it despite the UK having historically a strong navy. In reality the UK navy has spent billions of pounds on large aircraft carriers (£7.6 billion for two) which are white elephants in modern warfare while it has insufficient border patrol vessels or is unable to use them effectively.

Other parts of the UK economy are in a parlous state with the transport network being horribly congested while as much as £45 billion is being spent on Phase 1 of HS2 alone – another expensive white elephant. At the same time terrorist organisations aiming to achieve their objectives by undemocratic means such as “Just Stop Oil” are allowed to disrupt the transport network and divert police operations at enormous cost.

The NHS is at breaking point with costs rising but simply having enough staff, hospital beds and ambulances seems to be incapable of being provided.

The level of fraud and crime in general is rising and it’s worth reading the recent report of the Parliament Justice Committee on fraud in the UK. Here are some brief extracts:

“Justice response inadequate to meet scale of fraud epidemic. Prioritising traditional forms of crime has left the justice system ill-equipped to deal with continuing rise in fraud, the Justice Committee has found.  

The Committee finds that the level of focus from policing is inadequate to deal with the scale, complexity and evolving nature of fraud. Only 2% of police funding is dedicated to combatting fraud despite it accounting for 40% of reported crime. Lines of accountability are confused with responsibility split between local and national forces. Action Fraud has proven itself unfit for purpose and while a replacement reporting system is expected in 2024, victims should not have to wait this long to see improvements in the service they receive.  

In addition to a lack of investigation of fraud crimes, there is also a lack of prosecution. The ONS estimates that there are an estimated 4.6 million fraud offences each year, but in the year ending September 2021 just 7,609 defendants were prosecuted for fraud and forgery as the principal offence by the CPS.  

Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill MP said:

Fraud currently accounts for 40% of crime and the figure is growing. People are losing their life savings and suffering lasting emotional and psychological harm. But the level of concern from law enforcement falls short of what is required.

We need the criminal justice system to have the resources and focus to be able to adapt to new technologies and emerging trends. The current sense of inertia cannot continue, we need meaningful action now.”

There is currently an epidemic of fraud in England and Wales. The number of cases has grown steadily over the past decade and accelerated rapidly to unprecedented levels during the pandemic. This trend has shown no sign of abating as the country returns to normal life. Around 875,000 cases are reported each year, however the Office for National Statistics has estimated that the real number could be as high as 4.6 million. 40% of recorded crime is now fraud and is calculated to cost society £4.7 billion a year”.   

It’s altogether a quite depressing picture of the UK economy, and of our legal and democratic systems that seem unable to respond to these problems in any reasonable timescale. Meanwhile UK politicians seem happy to focus on trivia such as woke issues.

Even the weather has turned bleak and life is thoroughly downbeat.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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Financial Stability with Sunak?

It looks like Rishi Sunak has a good chance of becoming Prime Minister after Boris Johnson withdrew his challenge with a judicious and well phrased statement. I welcome Sunak who I always thought was the best candidate and his financial background should at least mean that he understands how to manage the economy and stabilise markets – the same cannot be said for Penny Mordaunt.

Liz Truss and her Chancellor did not seem to comprehend that the UK cannot plough ahead with massive tax cuts and increases in Government borrowing without considering the international reaction from the IMF and those who would need to finance the borrowing.

Neither they nor the advisors in the Treasury and the Bank of England seem to have learned from history. Back in 1974 after a boom generated by Barber the Conservatives lost an election to Labour but by 1976 Harold Wilson had resigned and James Callaghan faced a run on the pound, The UK Government had to go to the IMF for a massive loan obtained with promises of budget cuts.

The moral is that the UK cannot make financial decisions about the economy and Government debt without taking into account the reaction of lenders. The Prime Minister and Chancellor might have thought they were masters of their own destiny but they were grossly mistaken about the real world we now live in.

Barber’s tax-cutting boom also generated high inflation so you can understand why the international financial community ran scared in the face of another similar result. That raised the spectre of falling gilt prices and higher gilt yields thus destabilising both gilt and equity markets. Pension funds were badly affected because of the LDI investment strategies used by pension funds which caused them to dump property funds.

Liz Truss does not seem to have realised that the UK is a small player in international financial markets. The UK cannot act regardless of the opinion of others however attractive it might be to play to the home crowd by pushing for a “growth” policy.

Perhaps she was badly advised by those too young to remember past events in history. But Rishi Sunak had a different plan which we will no doubt now fall back on.

Some people have called for a general election at this point in time but the last thing we need is several months of political knock-about theatre. That would not inspire international confidence. Sunak should help to stablise markets even if he has some tough problems to cope with such as the ongoing energy crisis, war in Ukraine and high inflation. But my view is that a Sunak premiership should be good for the UK stock market.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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Queen Elizabeth, Energy Caps, Verici DX, Equals and Paypoint

The sad death of Queen Elizabeth reminds me of my own mother’s death at the age of 100. They looked similar in later life. Both managed to die in their own home which is the best place from which to leave. Will Charles III make a good king? We will have to wait and see but his name is not propitious bearing in mind the track record of the previous two. As I am not a monarchist I will say no more.

It was interesting to see an open coal fire in use in the photographs of Liz Truss with the Queen. Balmoral does not have central heating apparently while Buckingham Palace does have a CHP plant. But the bill to run the later was about half a million pounds per annum before the projected price increases. So King Charles might welcome Truss’s announcement to cap the maximum price of gas and electricity.

This is a cap on prices, not on overall cost so people with big houses with large gas consumption will still pay more. But at least it will replace the OFGEM price cap which was an irrational policy that would not encourage people to reduce energy consumption. Fracking is also being permitted to boost local gas production.

Truss did not give in to calls for this largess to be funded through a windfall tax. She said this would undermine the national interest by discouraging the very investment we need to secure home-grown energy supplies. You can’t tax your way to growth she said. So it will be funded by more Government debt in essence.

Is this wise? I believe it is the lesser of evils as it will help to bring inflation under control which is essential to keep the economy healthy and avoid a severe recession. These decisions by Truss and her new cabinet are positive in my view and should help the stock market.

But she is still committed to net zero by 2050 which is simply an unrealistic and unachievable objective.

I attended a couple of interesting results webinars this week. The first was from Verici DX (VRCI) who provide pre and post diagnostic technology for kidney transplants to avoid rejection. This is a subject in which I have a strong interest as a transplant patient and I do hold the shares which were acquired free as a scrip dividend when they spun off from EKF. The company is making progress but revenue is some way off and profits impossible to forecast so I would not purchase the shares at this time.

I did attend a two-hour seminar at Guys Hospital recently for pre-transplant patients as I need another. It was apparent that transplant procedures have not changed much in the last 25 years. Back then there was hope of xeno-transplantation but that faded away. More recently a bioartificial kidney has been developed (see  https://pharm.ucsf.edu/kidney ) but that could be years away from clinical use.

The other webinar I attended was that of Equals Group (EQLS) which I have held in the past. Financial figures are improving and a focus on the SME sector has clearly helped. It’s a complex payment business though and the webinar only helped in some degree to understand it. It might be another UK technology business vulnerable to being acquired by a trade buyer who understands the technology and regulatory environment. The company has been tipped recently by Simon Thompson in Investors Chronicle.

One company I do hold which is also looking cheap in the payments world is Paypoint (PAY) – probably because it operates in the retail sector and has been around a long time. There is a good write-up on the company in the latest Techinvest newsletter. But like Equals it is a complex business providing a number of different services. Both Equals and Paypoint could do with better communications on their business activities.

All of Verici DX, Equals and Paypoint have one advantage – they are not affected by the price of energy except very indirectly!

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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Brompton Bikes – The UK Productivity Explanation

One of the big UK economic problems is the lack of productivity in the workforce. We compare badly with most of our competitors. Last night (5/9/2022) I watched an interesting BBC programme which covered production at Brompton Bicycle Ltd.

Brompton are now the largest UK manufacturer of cycles and specialise in folding bikes. Their products range in price from £1,000 to £3,700 while you can buy an imported folding bike from Halfords for £375. Brompton are clearly focussed on the “premium” market sector.

Their main factory is in west London and the view of the shop floor showed lots of people building bikes manually with not a robot in sight – they claim “All Brompton bike frames are built by hand”. Even painting the frames was shown as being done via a manual spray gun while the frame is built by using brazing rather than welding – this requires a lot of manual skill and time.  

As a former production engineer this strikes me as a horribly labour intensive and inefficient process. They can apparently recruit relatively unskilled people in west London to do the work who then require lengthy training. You can see why productivity is in essence so low.

Brompton may have built a business on good technical innovation and clever marketing but they are likely to remain a niche producer in world markets. Their business model is probably only viable because of the availability of cheap labour in London.

While this kind of business can succeed in the UK, productivity and wages will remain low.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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Book Review: The Price of Time

The Price of Time is a recently published book by Edward Chancellor. Its subtitle is “The Real Story of Interest” which makes it very topical as bank interest rates are being raised in both the USA and UK in an attempt to damp down inflation. After an era when interest rates have been at their lowest levels in the last 5,000 years, and have even gone negative in some countries, a historic review of the impact of interest rates through booms and busts is certainly worth reading. But this is a difficult book in some ways.

It’s too long at 400 pages for one thing for all but the most avid reader of economic history. Why do publishers (in this case Allen Lane part of Penguin) insist on their authors padding out their manuscripts to such length? This book would have been much better at 200 pages than 400. It attempts to cover too much ground and in too much detail while not getting the key messages across.

It covers some ancient history but really gets going in a good explanation of how Scotsman John Law rescued the French economy in the 1700s by lowering interest rates and issuing paper money – similar to the modern Quantitative Easing. But thereafter that economic experiment ended in tears. The book covers the economic booms and busts in the Victorian era forward through the depression in the 1930s to the banking crisis in 2008, and the reaction of Governments.

The book attempts to answer the question of whether there is a natural rate of interest, i.e. one that would apply if the Government did not intervene as they have persistently done throughout history – from the imposition of usury laws, through debt forgiveness to modern central bank base rates.

Why is interest paid? Because an investor holding cash needs some return for the uncertainty of being repaid when money is lent. If the risk is higher then the interest paid has to be higher to attract lenders. In times of economic uncertainty such as wars, interest rates are raised.

Historically when there was a surplus of cash in the economy, interest rates would fall as there might be more lenders than borrowers. High interest rates are likely to reduce economic activity as borrowers are put off from investing in new developments such as buildings or machinery. Low interest rates should encourage economic activity and the circulation of money as opposed to the hoarding of assets.

Governments have taken a stance in recent years that lowering interest rates must be good to maintain a healthy economy but the result has been asset inflation. From stock market booms to house price inflation, if you can borrow money at very low rates it encourages speculation and the borrowing of money to buy assets.

Lenders also need a return to cover the future value of the money lent. If inflation is high, then interest will be high. Recently the Bank of England has had an inflation target of 2% while interest rates have been less for many borrowers. That made little sense. Inflation has now got out of hand but real interest rates are still effectively negative. That is essentially irrational.

The book covers the history of Government and central bank interventions in interest rates and the economy, often with unintended consequences. In that regard, it is a good education on what should or should not be done. One message is clear – artificially low interest rates are as bad for the economy as high interest rates.

The book is very well researched with numerous apposite quotations. I would recommend it to anyone interested in economic history and the trends that have made the modern world. But it could do with being shorter and having a more defined structure.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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Am I Living in an Alternative Universe?

My share portfolio jumped up by 1.3% yesterday. But the national media news was full of gloom on energy prices and the drought. The NHS is collapsing and the war in Ukraine continues. Bad news has always sold newspapers and the same goes for clicks on social media channels. I have the feeling I am living in some alternative universe where economics and the stock market are completely uncoupled.

The same thing happened after the gloomy prognostications of the Governor of the Bank of England. It’s rather like the “Backwards” episode of Red Dwarf where everything was in reverse and time ran backwards.

All this bad news is surely going to have an impact sooner or later. Come winter many people won’t be able to heat their homes and the coming recession will mean many people will become unemployed. This might put a damper on inflation but the stock market cannot stay immune from these economic trends for ever.

It reminds me of the infamous comment by Chuck Prince just before the financial crash of 2008 – “When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance”.

I may be sceptical about future prospects for shares, particularly those in certain sectors, but I won’t be selling shares just yet. I will continue to follow market trends as always until I think valuations are completely irrational on individual stocks.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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Bad News from the Bank of England and Tips to Avoid the Worse

I watched Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, present the bad news yesterday about the economy. Inflation is likely to rise to 13% and he is forecasting the economy will soon be in recession, with household incomes falling over the next year. With inflation being driven by the war in Ukraine affecting energy prices the Monetary Policy Committee has decided to increase Bank Rate by 0.5 percentage points to 1.75% to try and get back to the target of 2% inflation.

With mortgage rates rising and the cost of living rising while there will be downward pressure on wages relative to costs most people are going to be poorer over the next year. There may not be a recovery until 2024.

What was the impact of this gloom on the stock market? Very little in essence. The main UK market indices actually rose yesterday as did my personal portfolio. Perhaps because the bank interest rate rise had been widely forecast and it’s still at a historically low rate. Sales of consumer durables, furniture and carpets – big ticket items for which purchases can often be postponed – will surely fall but the share price of companies selling those products have already fallen over the past few weeks.

The UK stock market is of course dominated by companies with revenue and profits mainly arising overseas while banks will tend to benefit from higher base rates and energy companies are making hay from the high prices of oil and gas.

The conclusion for investors is if you have spare cash on deposit don’t leave it there because its value will shrink. Give it away or spend it on home improvements as we will be doing – particularly to cut your energy consumption. If you do want to put some into the stock market, go for companies who have indexed linked revenue (such as some property companies and alternative energy investment companies) or who have pricing power (i.e. can raise their prices without losing volume). Avoid investing in fixed interest securities such as Government bonds who are benefiting from the erosion of their debts.

Here’s a tip for business owners I learned from past recessions. If you are faced with a loss of revenue in a recession, you should be raising prices not lowering them, i.e. don’t react like your competitors might do to try and win more business. With less revenue and the same overheads you need to raise prices not lower them so avoid following the herd.

As regards giving money away, it is worth bearing in mind the potential Inheritance Tax liability. There was a very useful article in Investor’s Chronicle headlined “What does HMRC mean by gifts from surplus income?” a couple of weeks ago. Gifts from surplus income are exempt from IHT and the IC article explained the rules that apply.

It’s worth doing it regularly but you need to keep a record of all income and expenditure and tot it up at the end of each tax year to ensure you keep within the limit if you are giving money to offspring. I have been recording all personal income and expenses for the last 50 years, now in a spreadsheet, so I have the data readily to hand. This might seem rather manic to some people but even John D. Rockefeller, probably the richest person of all time and certainly in the 1920s, used to record all his personal expenditure, even tips to taxi drivers, in a notebook according to a biography I read.

Gifts to spouses or charities are exempt from IHT of course.

Let us hope the Bank of England is no more accurate in its economic forecasts than it usually is but it’s certainly been looking incompetent at controlling inflation of late. My view is that printing money to keep the economy afloat and protect the NHS during the pandemic was the cause of the inflation compounded by the impact of the imported energy costs.

The lack of a UK energy policy to keep the lights on and gas flowing has been a big cause of our difficulties. Lack of investment in nuclear energy plus restrictions on fracking and new gas exploration due to a rush to achieve net zero carbon have been very damaging.

For more details on the gloomy bank forecasts see: https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/monetary-policy-report/2022/august-2022

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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