Calm descends on the markets – but for how long?

Markets rallied and the pound bounced as investors get used to the idea of Brexit. But don’t get too comfortable. There are still plenty of threats to the UK economy.


Are markets getting used to the idea of Brexit?

And relax.

Wall Street's fear gauge (the volatility index) returned to more normal levels yesterday.

Global stockmarkets rallied somewhat.

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Even the pound enjoyed a bit of a bounce.

Is the market starting to adjust to the idea of Brexit?

Brexit: what a great scapegoat

But if the markets aren't thinking of starting to calm down, they really should be. Brexit isn't the end of the world. And it isn't a 2008-style crisis either.

It's causing a lot of political upheaval. That was inevitable, and probably necessary. It's not a bad thing for our politicians and our society to have to grapple with what democracy actually means and what its limits turn out to be.

We have a large group of people hoping to overturn a referendum result because they don't like it, and because they assume that they know better than those who didn't take their view. And we have the entire middle management of a political party trying to get rid of a leader that the rank and file apparently like, or certainly voted for.

It's fascinating stuff. But none of it is threatening to financial markets or business in the way that the collapse of Lehman Brothers was.

Yes, there might be some delays in investment decisions, but only at the margins. And we're also going to get a lot of things that would have happened anyway being blamed on Brexit. As Jim Armitage noted in last night's Evening Standard, "I can't help thinking many of the "Brexit job losses" from City banks are convenient window dressing for redundos that were happening anyway".

It's a fair point. Life in the finance sector is tough and a lot of it is to do with the difficulty of turning a profit when interest rates are near zero, and very little to do with the confidence-rattling impact of Brexit.

Here's something else that's got very little to do with Brexit: Britain definitely has an overpriced housing market. That was true before Brexit, and it's true post-Brexit. But I'm not convinced that Brexit itself will have much impact one way or the other.

On the one hand, you have stories of the odd sale being cancelled. And earlier in the week, everyone's favourite estate agent, London-focused Foxtons, warned on profits. "The run-up to the EU referendum has led to significant uncertainty across London residential markets and the decision to leave Europe is expected to prolong that uncertainty the upturn we were expecting during the second half is now unlikely to materialise."

The thing is, the London market was already slowing down, due to buy to let and stamp duty changes. So is this really Brexit shock or just a convenient excuse like "the wrong sort of weather" lines you often get out of retailers? I suspect the latter.

But on the upside for agents, again in the Evening Standard last night, I read that, according to luxury estate agent John Taylor, "a flood of foreign money is set to pour into London's housing market".

The company said that it had seen higher offers (in terms of value) over the post-referendum weekend than in the entire year to date. It seems that foreign investors have learned from the last time that the UK went on sale. According to managing director David Adams, the pound dropping hard "appeared a major incentive as the speed of transaction became more important than the price".

That does seem to make sense. To your average foreign property investor on the other side of the globe, Britain's decision to consider revising the precise nature of the bureaucratic framework that governs its relationship with other parts of Europe may not seem quite as cataclysmic as our own press would have us believe.

And, you know, when you put it that way, you do have to wonder just how we managed to get ourselves into a relationship where it's so hideously difficult to sit down and have a conversation about elements we might not be happy with, without someone immediately shifting into crockery-throwing mode.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the UK, where things aren't quite as madly overpriced as in London, there's not much sign of trouble in the property sector. Housebuilder Redrow reckons its pre-tax profits for the first half of this year will beat expectations. Customers are queueing for its homes in the northwest of England, apparently. Not much sign of delayed transactions there.

The biggest threat to the UK economy

Sterling might fall further (on a trade-weighted basis, we're only back to 2013 levels, after all), but it'd take quite a plunge for the Bank of England to feel the need to step in and actively raise rates. Truth is, I reckon Mark Carney would be happy with a weaker currency, though he'd probably not admit it.

And so far, if anything, Brexit has made the market expect rates to go even lower than they are already. If anything happens to upset that expectation say Carney doesn't lower rates from 0.25% to near 0% in the next couple of months then sterling might even start to rally.

If anything, the real danger comes from any concerns that the eurozone could splinter as a result of this. But again, that's a problem that existed before Brexit. It's not as if Britain voting to leave is the reason the Italian banking sector is bust, for example. Though don't be surprised if Brexit cops the blame for it.

Our roundtable experts, including Charlie Morris and Tim Price, take a look at some of the best opportunities following the Brexit-inspired crash in the latest issue of MoneyWeek magazine, out on Friday.

Subscribe now and you can get our free Brexit survival pack right away.

John Stepek

John is the executive editor of MoneyWeek and writes our daily investment email, Money Morning. John graduated from Strathclyde University with a degree in psychology in 1996 and has always been fascinated by the gap between the way the market works in theory and the way it works in practice, and by how our deep-rooted instincts work against our best interests as investors.

He started out in journalism by writing articles about the specific business challenges facing family firms. In 2003, he took a job on the finance desk of Teletext, where he spent two years covering the markets and breaking financial news. John joined MoneyWeek in 2005.

His work has been published in Families in Business, Shares magazine, Spear's Magazine, The Sunday Times, and The Spectator among others. He has also appeared as an expert commentator on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BBC Radio Scotland, Newsnight, Daily Politics and Bloomberg. His first book, on contrarian investing, The Sceptical Investor, was released in March 2019. You can follow John on Twitter at @john_stepek.