MoneyWeek roundup: How to invest as Portugal struggles

James McKeigue highlights the week's best pieces from the MoneyWeek team.

This week the eurozone crisis was back with a vengeance. In Thursday's Money Morning John Stepek explained why. "Portugal and Greece have unnerved investors once more", says John. "Portugal's government is on the verge of collapse, and the Greeks seem incapable of the reforms they promised to do in return for a eurozone bailout."

In Portugal the problems are down to growing opposition to austerity. "Portugal has been a good' eurozone member. It has pushed through some tough measures. The trouble is, it hasn't returned to the Promised Land. The recession has been more drawn-out than expected, and unemployment is already set to rise above 18%." Unsurprisingly that has angered voters, leading to the current crisis.

There's always been a big lie' at the heart of the eurozone project, notes John. "If you're going to strap an economy like Portugal's to one like Germany's, then Germany has to be prepared to nurture and fund Portugal's through hard times. And in turn the Portuguese have to be prepared to take a bit of guidance from the Germans." The trouble is, no one told the citizens this when they signed up for the euro.

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But while this type of crisis grabs headlines, UK investors shouldn't worry too much. "Even if the current government fell, it would be replaced by another to all intents and purposes for outsiders just the same as the last." The real problem for Europe is America's threat to slow its quantitative easing programme. "It has effectively pushed up the cost of borrowing for every government in the world That's bad news if you're the central bank in charge of a group of heavily indebted countries, and you can't actively intervene to buy that government debt and keep a lid on their borrowing costs."

In the longer-term, if the Federal Reserve does stop printing money then you'll have fewer investors with cash burning a hole in their pockets. And that means fewer takers for "crazy punts on near-bankrupt southern European nations".

These pressures will eventually lead to European money printing, says John. To find the best way to play it, make you read his piece in full.

Of course, not every strategy needs rising markets to work. Indeed, my colleague Stephen Bland's approach delivers regardless of whether markets rise or fall. And, as he says, volatile times present the perfect way to ensure your wealth keeps growing. Intrigued? He's just written this report.

Loyalty doesn't pay

One of our most popular writers is Bengt Saelensminde, with his free weekly Right Side mail regularly the most-read piece on the site.

"Loyalty is out of fashion", opened Bengt this week. "In the past you trusted the people you did business with, whether as a customer or an employee. In return for that loyalty and trust, you expected to be treated right." Not any more.

"Take the omnipresent loyalty card. It's not there to reward loyalty. It's a tool to gather data on you and your family and coerce you into certain ways of spending." And of course, loyalty to a company is no guarantee of a rewarding career either.

But realising that loyalty doesn't pay can save readers tens of thousands of pounds, says Bengt. And if you think this issue doesn't affect you, remember: "if you can't see the sucker, it's you".

"Research by suggests that the over 55s are penalised most for their loyalty", says Bengt. It "found that, on average, people could save £300 if they didn't just accept their current car insurance quote. That's from just one bill." And if that doesn't sound like much, remember that this goes for many of the other services you buy. So what to do?

Well, a simple place to start is with some filing, says Bengt. "Get all your papers together [and] make a note of the key contract expiry dates for things like insurance, TV services, private healthcare and all your other utilities. Put the dates in your diary with a reminder about a week before, and when your reminder pings up, shop around for the best online quote."

Even if, for whatever reason, you really want to stay with your existing provider, you still may gain something from phoning up and threatening to cancel. OK, so this advice is hardly rocket science, admits Bengt, but it could save you a lot of money in the long run.

The response from the readers showed that Bengt's advice had struck a chord. Heather Hills' agreed: "It is a sad fact that loyalty has all but disappeared from the business world or indeed life in general. Trust has disappeared along with it too and trust was the original basis of sound banking practice."

However, 4caster' cautioned that switching insurance policies could be dangerous: "One can chop and change frequently for some financial products, but I don't change my buildings policy very often. The reason is that if ever a serious structural claim were to arise, such as heave or subsidence, the new insurers could wriggle out of paying, on the grounds that the subsidence probably existed before the policy started."

Bengt's got plenty more advice on there, so make sure you read the piece in full.

Forget about miners

One of the worst investments of the year must be the mining sector, says Tom Bulford in this week's Penny Sleuth. "After a new low last week, the UK mining sector is 27% below its 2013 peak, and exactly half the level reached in 2008. Suddenly all those theories of the commodity super-cycle are looking threadbare."

So where did it all go wrong? Well, for starters, says Tom, mining has always been a cyclical business when the mood is positive investors pump money into the sector, fund managers are flush with cash and can barely invest it quick enough. Today fund managers are facing redemptions, they are forced to sell shares even in those companies that they like, and they certainly do not have the funds to invest in new ventures." This cash crunch then hits junior miners, preventing them from developing projects.

Another factor, says Tom, is China. It is the biggest consumer of most commodities, meaning that in the last few years natural resources have been a play on its economic growth. And, unfortunately for anyone invested in the sector, China's economy looks like it's in trouble. "Growth is slowing, and only last week rumours were circulating that the Bank of China was defaulting on its loans." It's never good for business when your biggest customer has money problems. Even more worrying for commodity bulls is that this isn't just about a slip up in growth. "China is facing a difficult transition from being a cheap manufacturing base to an economy with a bigger farming and service sector." In the longer-term this transition doesn't bode well for commodities, says Tom.

Bill Gates' next big investment

As you can probably tell, Tom's not feeling too bullish on miners right now. But he's not all doom and gloom. In fact, he's excited about an emerging tech sector, with much more exciting investment prospects. Tom isn't the only one optimistic about this area. Bill Gates a man who practically invented the computer age and made $60bn in the process has just invested hundreds of billions of dollars into this fast-growing industry. This is why Tom and Bill Gates are so excited.

Four reasons to keep faith with emerging markets

Unlike miners, emerging markets have had an excellent 2013. And if you've been reading The New World, a free weekly email dedicated to hunting out the most exciting investment stories in Latin America and South East Asia, you'll probably have benefited from the trend. However, fears of the Fed tightening its monetary policy have hit emerging markets hard recently. So in this week's New World, my co-writer Lars Henriksson explains why investors shouldn't panic.

"One thing that should put us at ease", says Lars, "is that over the last decade emerging market funds have recorded two big sell-offs (in 2008 and 2010) and both were followed by strong inflows the following years."

There are four main factors that make Lars confident about emerging market prospects.

1) The latest BoA Merrill Lynch Global Fund Manager Survey shows that fund managers have slashed exposure to emerging market equities to the lowest since December 2008. This level of bearishness tends to result in a bounce.

2) The bond sell off means capital is leaving emerging markets. This gives central bankers scope to "to cut/hold interest rates, underpinned by weaker commodity prices which are major components in calculating inflation in Asia".

3) A switch from bonds to equities is likely if US economic growth continues to surprise on the upside and this should push up Southeast Asian shares.

4) In the longer-term firms in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), will benefit from the landmark free trade agreement that will encourage greater integration, specialisation and competitiveness.

To be fair to Lars they're four compelling reasons. It is perhaps little surprising that he's convinced that, despite the recent sell-off, there are big, big gains to be made.

Lars goes into more detail on just why he thinks ASEAN shares will do well.

As for my patch, Latin America, it's also been affected by the emerging market sell off. In some cases investors are probably right to be worried, but for one select group of countries I think the panic represents a buying opportunity. I covered this in depth in the latest MoneyWeek cover story. If you're not already a subscriber, take a three-week free trial.

And finally, before I go, I'd like to flag our latest video tutorial. In recent weeks deputy editor Tim Bennett has been explaining the different ways investors can value a company. This week he introduces the king of these techniques - discounted cash flow (DCF). It's well worth a few minutes of your time.


To hear about other bits and pieces on the internet that have amused us or made us think, sign up for our Twitter feeds we've listed them below.

Have a great weekend!

MoneyWeek The MoneyWeek team Merryn Somerset Webb John Stepek Tim Bennett James McKeigue Matthew Partridge David Stevenson

James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.


After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the London bureau. 


James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report. 


He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.