It’s that time of year when financial commentators like to pontificate on the future for the stock market in the coming year and tip sheets give their hot share tips for the New Year.
As regards economic forecasts and how the stock market will perform I can do no better than quote John Littlewood in his book “The Stock Market”:
“The sequence of bull and bear markets in the 1950s shows a reasonably strong correlation with changes in the direction of Bank rate. This most simple of yardsticks has been underestimated as a guide to the direction of equity markets. It was to prove to be the perfect indicator in 1958 when there were 4 further reductions in Bank rate, in half-point steps, to 4% on 20 November 1958, and the FT Index established a new all-time high of 225.5 on literally the last day of the year, passing its previous peak of 223.9 set 3.5 years earlier in July 1955.
The reason for a correlation between changes in direction of Bank rate and the occurrence of bull or bear markets is simple. Bank rate sets the interest rate for money on deposit and the yield earned on government securities. If it falls from, say, 4% to 3%, yields will settle at lower levels, prices of government securities will rise, and money on deposit will earn less. Conversely, if Bank rate is increased from 5% to 7%, as happened late in 1957, yields rise, the prices of government securities fall sharply and money on deposit earns more.
Two consequences follow for equities. There is always some broad correlation between the yields on equities and government securities, and equity yields will move upwards or downwards in the same direction as government securities. Second, if money on deposit earns more, it will make equities seem less attractive and cash more attractive, or if it earns less it will make equities look more attractive and cash less attractive. Subsequent changes in Bank rate will also tend to move in the same direction, upwards or downwards, and will further enhance the strength or weakness of equities”.
I shouldn’t need to tell readers that we are in a period of rising bank interest rates as the Bank of England tries to clamp down on inflation. That does not bode well for stock market indices although some of this has already been anticipated. The S&P 500 is down 20% over the past year which tends to lead the UK market and the FTSE-Allshare is down 2%.
Another consequence of rising bank interest rates is that high yielding shares will be favoured over those yielding little or nothing. We have already seen this process at work.
With more rises in bank rate forecast (as it should be as it is irrational that it should be lower than the rate of retail price inflation) this process is likely to continue. But readers are warned that all economic forecasts are subject to gross error so the key is to simply follow the trend. In other words, this might not be the time to be putting more money into stock markets.
I am not suggesting that investors should move wholesale out of equities and into gilts and bonds. Equities provide the best long-term hedge against inflation while fixed interest bonds lost value in high inflation periods.
As regards share tips these are subject to even bigger errors than economic forecasts although they can be worth reviewing. As someone who always falls for a good story I know not to plunge into large purchases of new share tips. I might buy a small holding and wait to see the direction of travel while I learn more about a company and its management. In other words, I buy more of the winners while selling the losers in my portfolio. This might not maximise my returns but it ensures the avoidance of big mistakes which can be so damaging to one’s wealth.
For similar reasons I never publish share tips. If I do comment on companies, it is simply to report on news, good or bad, not to try and predict the future.
One of my favourite films was shown on Christmas day television. Namely “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It stars James Stewart as the manager of a small town savings and loan bank which runs into a cash flow crisis as an employee mislays $8,000 on the day a Bank Examiner visits. A run on the bank follows as news spreads around and folks queue to withdraw their savings. Stewart has to tell people that their money is not in the bank but is out on loan to people to buy their houses. Bank runs are still taking place but latterly on cryptocurrency exchanges.
The film reminded me of a seminar I attended during the crisis at Northern Rock which likewise faced a temporary cash flow problem. The panel of speakers from the financial media, including Andrew Neil, were opposed to any Government bail-out. But one member of the audience asked “would they have let Bailey savings and loan go bust? This question stumped the panel as they did not understand the reference which was a pity because the answer from anyone who had remembered the film would have been “NO” because the bank was clearly a positive contributor to the community and was only suffering from temporary problems.
James Stewart aims to commit suicide but is rescued by an angel when shown the negative consequences if he had never lived. It’s an emotionally warming story that is marvellously well acted and directed. One of those films one can watch several times over the years and still weep with joy at the happy ending. The outcome at Northern Rock was much sadder of course as the Bank of England chose not act.
Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson )
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