This post lacks a little bit of the bonhomie and cheer normally expected at this time of year. Sorry about that and Happy New Year!
A rheumy Ermine rises from his den and sticks a head out, to hear wild celebrations of stock market success from otherwise sober fellows like Monevator’s TA. What is all this jubilation I hear? January is normally the time to unitise one’s portfolio at Ermine Towers, but what with a hit of the flu, and the thudding recollection that last year was the Year of the Man-Child of Trump and Boris, meant I couldn’t really hack that until now. I recall last year as a desperate battle to simply try and survive on the markets when all around was going tits-up as Britain decided to do untold damage to the one thing we seemed to be good at, making money out of money. True, none of it seemed to ever leak outside the M25, other than in making house prices go up, but nevertheless, I don’t see Britain as a full-employment haven of manufacturing industry any more, the universal income seems a better way to try and reproduce the 1950s than cursing our nearest neighbours and the horse they rode in on.
So what happened then? I mean yeah, people are talking highs for the FTSE100, but let’s not forget that these highs are measured against a ruler that is 10 inches long rather than a foot. The whole Brexit brigade are celebrating because the sky hasn’t fallen and these highs are symbolic of the market’s view of the protean powerhouse that is Brexit Britain. Clearly the standards of what passes for intelligent discourse at the Telegraph have dropped into the gutter when they allow headlines to escape like
FTSE 100 set to match longest record-setting streak in 33-year history as pound slides on Brexit fears
At least in earlier days you’d try and push the second clause out of the headline and preferably out of the lede too, you don’t want the old buffers reading the yellow press to choke on their tea and marmalade sandwiches with the realisation the FTSE100 is high because the pound is sliding. It’s like celebrating that the operation was successful and cured the pain – because the patient died on the operating table. Fortunately there are cooler heads to set you right on the FTSE100’s stellar run. Looks like bonhomie and good cheer is in short supply elsewhere in the PF scene, bloody Remoaners the lot of y’all, talkin’ bodacious Brexit Britain down.
Have you no vision sirs, and for heck’s sake STFU on those facts, we don’t do facts these days, we do dreams of magical unicorns?
Nevertheless, the stock market rise shows one way to perhaps try and stave off the personal implications of last June’s brain-fart. Although the Ermine instinctively dived into the stock market in those troubled times it seems others are now turning this into real numbers. Basically cash in GBP is doomed, for Gawd’s sake get the hell out of there. Preferably into foreign assets, although the FTSE100 ain’t all bad – it’s roughly 70% foreign assets anyway. That glug-glug sound you hear is the sound of the pound in your pocket draining away down the plughole.We can’t blame the Gnomes of Zurich for this one like in Harold Wilson’s day[ref]There’s a decent argument that the Gnomes were only responding to UK own goals then, the forex market doesn’t seem to be particularly partisan, but it does recognise economic folly and try and route round it[/ref], this one is entirely our own work.
It is permanently destroying the value of my deferred final salary pension, possibly ameliorated by the inflation linking up to a point, it is destroying cash savings, to the extent that while I was holding all my AVC money in a SIPP as cash on the grounds I was going to call on it in the next five years, after that vote I rammed about half into a mixture of gold and index-trackers, on the grounds that I’d rather be shafted by my own fuckwittery than that of other people, or at least I’d like to share their view of the world if I am going to take the shaft for theirs. The movers and shakers among the bodacious Brexit brigade have enough non-cash assets and don’t rely on wage income, so they can survive the fall in the pound. The odious Nigel “I want my life back” Farage was a broker, though not a particularly successful one according to the FT. He still earned more than I have ever done, even as a scummy MEP. There are shitloads of people that are going to want their lives back, Nige, hopefully a load of them will be people who voted for your project though I’m sure they’ll blame some other poor bugger. I look forward to the first disaffected Brexit prole upending a pint of beer all over your noggin when he discovers he’s paying 20% more for it, there still aren’t any jobs and there are still people talking furrin’ on the streets because we need vegetable pickers who know one end of a carrot from another even if they call it a marchewka.
I want to be closer to the place where the movers and shakers are. They needed votes, so they told everyone that they wouldn’t hear Polish on the streets any more and the NHS would get £350million more every week. Well, I guess it’ll need it to make up for the loss of staff numbers, eh? Wonder what the Red Cross will be saying about the humanitarian crisis in NHS in a couple of years when all those EU immigrants working in our elderly care homes f*ck right off back to Eastern Europe where they belong.
Brexiteers sold the idea to people who probably can’t afford to take the hit in their wages, and who will see the price of food and fuel rise, will see interest rates rise to more normal levels[ref]I am personally of the opinion this is A Good Thing, interest rates of 4-6% which is the historical long term average for the UK please[/ref] and generally come to enjoy the fruits of their cleverness. Well done you.
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
Let’s hear it from Michael “Experts, schmexperts, WTF do they know”
We are still far too unequal a society, with wealth and power concentrated in too few hands. Our economy is still too dependent on financial services and we don’t invest enough in science and technology. Working class voices are crowded out of our economic debate. We have relied too much on cheap imported labour, which has meant wages for working people have been kept too low and we haven’t taken the right steps to improve productivity.
The Bank of England’s monetary policy has made wealthy owners of property even richer at the same time as our chronic shortage of affordable homes has got worse. University vice-chancellors pay themselves hundreds of thousands of pounds a year but technical education doesn’t get the investment it needs and there aren’t enough good school places. Government squanders billions on vanity projects every year while our tried and trusted NHS needs more funding.
The one thing I was unable to detect in Michael Gove’s blatherings was any hint of exactly how it was the EU who were responsible for much this litany of woe, with the possible exception of being the source of some of that cheap imported labour. Gove is in the UK party of government. You guys are in charge of this mess, not the EU, which at least did a bit to invest in science and technology according to the Royal Society. Of the 13 issues listed in that diatribe the EU is a problem in the labour and an asset in the science and tech; all the other problems are homegrown. So how exactly is most of this going to improve with Brexit, Mikey? Particularly the science and tech, we really aren’t back in the days of Robert Watson-Watt and splendid isolation, science is more collaborative these days. I worked on some of these European research projects in the 1990s, they really were a little bit bigger than one company could resource even 20 years ago. Experts, schmexperts, eh?
Some coherent thinking coming out of the Brexit camp at last
The thousand typewriting monkeys that are the architects of Brexit seem to be coalescing on some sort of narrative after all, although the parrot trotting out Brexit means Brexit still hasn’t been knocked off its perch yet. Back to Michael Gove, in his triumphal summing up on Brexit Central.
Once Article 50 is triggered, we should be very clear about our simple, straightforward, generous approach to leaving. We don’t want or need to be in the single market – outside we can control our own borders, laws and taxes. Inside we’re trapped. We don’t want to be bound by being members of the customs union. Outside we can negotiate new trade deals with emerging economies. Inside we’re trapped. And we don’t need to waste months talking about new tariffs. We don’t have any at the moment with Europe, we don’t want to impose any and attempts to over-complicate the issue are a trap.
If we guarantee the rights of all EU citizens currently here to stay, pledge to continue our role as the principal European defender of NATO’s eastern border, offer to continue co-operation on science funding and agree to respect EU regulations when selling to their market then we could – quickly – reach an amicable agreement.
It’s amazingly simple, really. Tell the Remoaners to STFU, waltz out of the EU cleanly whistling a dancing tune, keep hold of all that cheap imported labour you were bitching about earlier, ‘cos knocking that was feelgood dog-whistling like the NHS bus and you actually quite like them cheap Polish plumbers for your Islington pied a terre, and then tap gently on the EU door and go “psst, how’s about we play a deal again?”. I actually share some of Gove’s sentiment, you do need to go big or go home and walk out of the bloody door first. However some of the potential problems are summed up in the actions of spurned Linda –
Usually when you tell people to piss right off it tends to offend. We humans are not perfectly rational decision makers. Brexit and Trump Q.E.D. We may just end up with a load of broken heart stickers around the place and the keys to the car industry and half the finance industry in the Channel. Nevertheless, if there is to be any coherence to Brexit, then it isn’t going to come from trying to ghost from the dinner party but still drink some party Martinis in the cloakroom. It means going right out the door, closing it properly behind us, taking the hit on Britain’s largest industry, which is probably still resilient enough to do business with some part of the world. And then starting over. Hoping the gravity theory of trade is a load of bollocks and distance and shared culture is entirely irrelevant to trade, because people in this country have had enough of experts.If I may trouble you, Mr Gove, with some tiresome facts
We need magical thinking, apparently, in the Govian world. I’m up for that.
Magickal thinking Mikey boy? That’s not magical thinking. I’ll show you real magical thinking…
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the right sort of magic; the chaos magician RuneSoup’s deconstruction of the West’s current economic predicament is highly cogent narrative of how we got to such a sorry pass from a refreshingly different angle. I note he isn’t a fan of a universal income for some fairly decent reasons which may cause me to change my mind about that, cos unlike you, Mr Gove, I am not so smart as to be right all the time. Sometimes I talk arrant bollocks, and I’ve found it pays to consider the possibility of that happening once in a while. I commend the practice to you, Govey-boy. You just can’t knock RuneSoup’s summing up
What I would dearly like is for everyone to temporarily set aside their declared home on a spectrum of political representation set up in response to the realities of a Victorian industrial economy, take a calming breath, and read some ideas they find dangerous. Make your heads hurt a bit. But above all go decentral rather than central.
Because no one has a model for where we are in 2017. You will be better served by thinking quantitatively -ie with actual data- rather that tribally. It is a fascinating moment in the history of money. There are huge opportunities to be found in solving the problems we going to have to solve. The risk/reward potential has never been higher.
That’s the Brexiteers’ fundamental problem – tribal thinking. It’s the Remainers’ problem too, but they lost the fight so what they think doesn’t really matter. There is no runner-up in a binary choice.
I need to get on the toff Brexiteers’ side rather than the proletarian side, and that means side with Capital, not Labour, and foreign capital at that.
I need assets out of GBP cash and in something else. There is absolutely no point in trying to resist Brexit. It’s big, it’s bad and it’s coming to ruin my wealth. One thing that is deeply in my advantage is that I have earned pretty much all the income I am ever going to earn[ref]that is earn as in sell my time for money, rather than earn as in interest and dividends, ie making money from Capital[/ref], so income now is money made on money, and different rules seem to apply to that. For starters, if I were earning £100k a year beginning of 2016, I’d now be earning £80k equivalent (it’s worse than that because tax thresholds haven’t been lifted 20%). But if I had a share portfolio of £2mill and were getting 5% on that in 2016, then this year I would have 2.6 million and would be earning £130k at 5% on that[ref]This would be a barmy way of running my portfolio/income, use a five year integration period. I had a crap last year of -7% and -1% year before that, though previous years were well into double figures. The 5 year integration is much more even. Nevertheless, the Brexit fall in the pound is a localised and as a filthy capitalist I am of the view that the capital is worth the same but measures different, while the proles income measures the same but is worth less.[/ref], with the able assistance of the proletariat that I’d suckered onto my side. Obviously I would still be eating the 20% fall in real value making about £104,000, but that’s a lot better than Rosie the Riveter on £20k which would now be earning a real pay of £16k. If you’re gonna be a Brexiteer, be a toff Brexiteer with capital behind you, because you are better able to survive, and perhaps profit from the fall in the pound. Unfortunately I don’t have £1 million, so I am on the wrong side of this fight, though probably a lot less on the wrong side of it than many who voted Brexit.
Plus of course if you employ riveters to make your widgets for you then the value of what you pay them falls and you win. The riveters will see their real incomes fall and their children will be stunted, but hopefully they voted for Brexit and think the hardship’s a price well worth paying to get their country back and stop hearing foreign languages in the street which seems to really piss them off. Obviously if they didn’t vote for Brexit then they have my commiserations. Life gives you lemons, though here I think the result will be more Grapes of Wrath than lemonade.
Unitised returns look good and the non-Brexit lift make up for a couple of crap years
Some things have got to get worse before they get better, so I need to examine the role of Capital in my life, because my deferred FS pension is going to take a Brexit hit. A FS pension is deferred pay, so I am still with the wage slaves in the impact of that, although I can press a better case for with inflation rises, up to a point. Now fortunately, as an investor I don’t do bonds and I don’t really do cash nowadays unless is ILSCs. I computed my unitised ISA performance over the last year, which was a 34% increase in unit value. In the past I overthought this massively, but now I seek simplicity. You unitise a portfolio by declaring year dot (2009/10 in my case) at £10/unit, and then you have as many units as your portfolio value divided by 10. The next year you put in an ISA’s worth of cash and buy units at £10, adding (ISA allowance)/(unit price=10) to the number of units you started out with. In January print out the value of your portfolio plus cash. You know how many units you have from last year, so dividing the value of your portfolio by the number of units tells you the new unit price. Hopefully it’s up, and up more than the value of inflation for that year 😉 Monevator tells you how to deal with putting money in and out of a unitized protfolio. I have only put money in, so life is simpler for me. I should also remember that 20% of that 34% increase isn’t real, it’s simply I am measuring with a 10-inch ruler not a 12-inch ruler due to the fall in the £. But I shouldn’t be such a miserable git, my unit price went up by over 1/4 last year regardless. Obviously there is a humdinger of a crash coming at some point, the bull run out of the 2009 crash is long in the tooth now. Which will take this all back down to size, although at least there’s no tremendous need for a reversion to the mean from the illusory Brexit boost. Some things you don’t get to un-cock-up in a hurry.
The trouble with this approach…
is called Donald Trump, because I am investing in only two funds in my ISA in this tax year, VWRL and a Legal and General DevWorld ex UK, although I have plenty of accumulated shares in my HYP and a lot of more racy EM stock from a couple of years ago when I miscalled the bottom 😉 Even my stake in that bad boy Putin‘s operation is up 16%. I don’t think this is particularly because Putin is doing something right, more to do with the brain-fart otherwise known as Brexit lifting the apparent price, along with a fair amount of my other mis-called EM stock. It’s an ill wind…
Both of the funds have over 50% of the US, the US has been overpriced since 2009 and it’s still overpriced. At the risk of tempting fate with the dreaded ‘this time it’s different’ I came to accept American exceptionalism because too many of the massive global and tech companies are US only – there is simply no Amazon, Facebook, Apple anywhere else, and I came to the conclusion that I had to suck it up and drink the Kool-Aid, albeit in index-fund form. I have no ambition to stockpick the USA. But I was wrong to shun the US on valuation and have no doubt given up a lot of money because of that.
Very tough call, our Donald. Here is a dude who disseminates policy by Twitter. The (liberal, losing-case) Atlantic summed up the problem well
The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.
Trump might actually be good for America in the short/medium term, but it’s hard to tell. If he is, then he will run up the debt, as Republican administrations tend to do for all their hard talking, but we can hope he can also increase spending. Structural problems will still abound – the robots will still be coming for Americans’ jobs, and just like the Brexiteers, Trump won’t be able to bring the 1950s back. At least he doesn’t have to bring the days of Empire back. At the moment we have no real way of knowing, no way of detecting the signal in the noise spouted forth by this man-child. It is possible that he is brighter than he appears, and he’s clearly more cunning. Like the Brexiteers, Americans voted for change, and change is what they will get. Whether it is the change they want remains to be seen.
I’m not sure I am comfortable increasing my US exposure beyond the end of this tax year. The PE ratio is shockingly high for someone used to UK values
where I usually want a good reason to pay more than 15-18 times earnings. And yet the US market looks like it is historically on higher earnings multiples. This year I was lucky, I bought from both a old Cash ISA moved into shares as well as this year’s allowance, before the Brexit vote. So it is likely that my fellow countrymen, in a heroic act of economic self-immolation, bought the Ermine portfolio out of overpaying for American exceptionalism. I guess there has to be some compensation for needing to get a visa to get on Eurostar, not having enough care workers when I get old and all that, and this is it. So thank you, Brexiteers. And even more thanks Lady Luck for the fact that I bought into this hopelessly overpriced region before Brexit. That ill wind again.
It is possible as a Remainer I may one day have to offer thanks to the Brexiteers
One word. Euro. It’s big, it’s bad, it was misbegotten from the off, and fudged by Germany when it was the Greece of the day. I went to Germany in 2004 and was surprised to see how down at heel it looked, Gerhard Schroder’s Germany went through the mill with the Euro then. Was a bit of a reversal of the time long ago when my German grandmother came to London in the mid 1960s and wondered at all the bomb-sites still left and all old bangers on the road, whereas Nürnberg was well into reconstruction with the results of the Marshall Plan and Konrad Adenauer’s Wirtschaftswunder. She obviously knew to STFU on the tactless observation “but I thought this was the place that won the war” but it did cross her mind as downright odd. So the other way when I went to Germany in the mid 2000s and saw the results of reunification and the place reaping the ‘benefit’ of the Harz reforms. Anyway, back to the demon-child of European federalism, the Euro.
One day this sucker could go down. Perhaps eventually Britain may join EEC-Nord[ref]I am not actually sure that Britain is capable of Northern European economic rigour, so perhaps not[/ref] in a common market, where in the same way as Germans still don’t really like using credit cards because of the old collective memories of the Weimar inflation EEC-Nord will stick to economics and customs rather than trying to create a United States of Europe. That will only last a couple of generations, in the same way as Clinton repealed Glass-Steagall nearly 70 years after it was enacted in the Great Depression, but it will see me out.
The euphoria of the 1990s following the reunification of Germany, and the triumphalism of the fall of the Soviet Union went to people’s heads, and as the European Economic Community metamorphosed in the EU we[ref]In fairness that ‘we’ shouldn’t really include Brits, who were always Das Inselreich[/ref] told ourselves a story that there was more common cause among Europeans than there really is. The response to the Euro crisis, and the response to the refugee crisis show that this assumption of common cause does not hold across Europe – under pressure it dissolves into its nation-states in a way that states of the US just don’t do.
Perhaps Mrs Thatcher was the agent of destruction here as well – the pre-1995 EEC had about a dozen members of broadly similar economic capacity and she promoted the expansion to the poorer states of the East specifically because she wanted to put a brake on greater integration. She didn’t like the idea of France and Germany ganging up on poor li’l ole Britain.
“We must never forget that east of the Iron Curtain peoples who once enjoyed a full share of European culture and identity have been cut off from their roots,” she declared in 1988. “We shall always look on Warsaw, Prague and Budapest as great European cities.”
I guess she forgot to add watch out for blowback because there was some risk of these good people being somewhat dynamic than the lumpenproletariat who weren’t prepared to get on their bikes meaning there would be hell to pay in 20 years’ time. Or more likely she had a great crystal ball and a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War next to her copy of The Iliad open on the bit with the wooden horse and was biding her time. In 1975 it appears she was vaguely pro-EU but 40 years is a long time in politics.
Either way, that assumption of common European cause is plainly not true. Even once the pesky Brits have been ejected, it still won’t be true. It’s not like the love really shows ‘twixt Merkel’s Germany and Greece, when it comes to kein Finanzunion. The EU can perfectly well survive Brexit without missing a beat. But I don’t think it can survive the economic and philosophical tensions at the heart of the misbegotten Euro project. Until Germany is prepared to shovel money into Greece without question in the same way as the State of New York[ref]among all the other net contributors – more here[/ref] shovels money into Detroit, Michigan via the Federal government then the Euro will always be a source of danger. There just isn’t the same sort of carping about the defacto financial union of the US as there is about the Euro. And that’s why it’s a convincing United States of America, and that is why the EU is such an unconvincing United States of Europe. A common language would also help, as indeed would a common (and effective) military and defence policy. Even without Britain carping from the touchline this just ain’t going to happen, and while a common language isn’t necessary, as many EU nations show, the defence of the realm is one of the basic requirements of a nation state. Schengen is a lovely idea in theory, but the rubber of the ideal meets the road when you send your young men out to die to hold the borders…
I’m still of the opinion that Brexit is a clusterfuck of the first order that will do untold damage to most UK citizens’ medium and short-term wealth. However, if there is any silver lining, then it is gaining distance between the human and fiscal misery and blood and guts raining down if and when the Euro blows. That will be something that I may well live to thank the Brexiteers for. They will have got the right answer for the wrong reasons. I am also pleased to find some coherence in the outpourings of the thousand monkeys in that we have to properly go out into the cold and then see where we can go from there, rather than the trite have-cake-and-eat-it witterings of the man-child BoJo “what happened there”. Theresa May needs to shut up with Brexit means Brexit and say we will leave the EU and do whatever needs to be done to control immigration. It is what the proles voted for, although the toffs and BoJos of this world didn’t really give a toss about immigration because cheap labour ain’t such a bad thing if you have Capital. But they have the tiger by the tail and need to keep quiet about that. There’ll be reason enough for the masses rioting on the streets in the coming decade without giving them the extra excuse of we was robbed as far as hearing people not speaking English.
If we want our country back then we have to accept the economic devastation that goes with that; most trade is done with one’s neighbours. And this is a fight that will be lost less by Capital rather than Labour. The next ten years won’t be a good time if you’re earning minimum wage, and don’t even think about having children if so, it’s not going to be a good time if you are poor and elderly, it’s going to be rough if you owe too much money, though you may be saved from buying too much house by the inflation. But we’ll have our country back, what’s left of the former glory to scavenge in the twisted wreckage. And in ten years’ time we may hear that massive explosion go up next door, and be grateful for “Fog of Brexit in Channel, Continent cut off“. Once upon a time a more gallant Britain put a lot of blood and guts into alleviating a European tragedy, but we are all individuals and there has been no such thing as society since ’87, so we’ll probably shrug and say “nothing to do with us”.
Decline is like that. The Empire isn’t coming back and neither are the 1950s. There aren’t any good options here. The proletariat of the West is losing the economic fight because they are becoming less and less relevant to production/ productivity, and the enfeebled body politic seems to search and find no answer because it has caretakers, not leaders[ref]Exhibit A is the tosser David Cameron. Not only did he not have the balls to refuse the referendum and say this was for Parliament to decide in the first place, but then when he didn’t get the answer he wanted he scarpered at the earliest opportunity. Imagine the shit we’d have been in if Churchill had bottled it in the Blitz.[/ref] at the switch. In the words of Oswald Spengler
There wakes at last a deep yearning for all old and worthy tradition that still lingers alive. Men are tired to disgust of money-economy. They hope for salvation from somewhere or other, for some true ideal of honour and chivalry, of inward nobility, of unselfishness and duty. And now dawns the time when the form-filled powers of the blood, which the rationalism of the Megalopolis has suppressed, reawaken in the depths.
We want our country back rises the rallying cry. You got it, buster. Enjoy the ride.
No doubt Brexiteers will moan that I am talking Great Britain down. Sod y’all. It’s my blog and my vision of the future. I’m not saying it’s right, it’s what I think is most likely. I went to Oxford for a conference a week or so ago, and I saw levels of rough sleeping that remind me of Thatcher’s London in 1981.
At least in London you have the urban heat island effect on your side as a rough sleeper – Oxford was bloody cold even in a camper van with electric hookup and a heater. The rough sleeping is a lot worse than when I went there two years ago, and that’s despite the Brexiteers’ triumphalism that the economy is going so swimmingly. We haven’t started to leave the EU, never mind finished it yet, there is time enough for some though not all of Project Fear to show up in the next five to ten years. If we’re gonna run on magical thinking, then let’s at least have the right sort of magical practitioners, and Govey-boy and your Brexit Central ain’t the right sort at all.