Q4 Investment Update – Roaring Twenties?

The end of a decade has no real meaning other than the meaning we give it and is just an arbitrary measure of time. It is jolly useful though for investment commentary writers who are struggling for anything to say in the face of the ongoing, relentless upwards march of all asset classes.

It is perhaps worth reflecting on how the 2000s have compared to the 2010s though, as we embark on the 2020s. The decade after the turn of the millennium was brutal to the average private client investor, starting as it did with a three year run of market losses and ending with a global financial crisis followed by another market crash. It was all too much for some individuals who left capital markets never to return. By contrast the following decade has been one of asset growth from pretty much all corners of the investment range.

The last decade saw unprecedented growth in capital, low inflation and low volatility. Central bankers became the only show in town as they used extreme economic measures to keep the money world spinning around its pole. Added to this, global corporates worked out how to disrupt some sectors , make a fortune and keep it tax-free. The perfect combination if you had money at play in investments.

It was also a decade of unprecedented stagnant wages, loss of job security (not the same as the headline unemployment rate), automation replacing traditional jobs, erosion of state protection for the vulnerable and growth in wealth inequality. Rent seeking jobs were rewarded the most (accountants, lawyers and financial services) and we underpaid the most important jobs. The worst combination if you had income but no capital invested.

It will be interesting to see what the 2020s bring with them. Central banks can’t continue to prop up markets with a constant supply of liquidity and the only question now is how to unwind the current position without triggering a recession. It seems unlikely that US tech companies can continue to trade on fairy-tale valuations. Someone, somewhere will start paying the price for climate change (probably starting with the poorest and youngest but progressing quickly to the middle classes). Job markets will need to adapt to the job haemorrhage caused by greater automation and big corporates might have to start paying taxes.

Finally some interesting and new economics ideas are emerging from the likes of Andrew Yang in the US and Kate Raworth in the UK. The 2020s might just need to find a new economic orthodoxy.

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