Beware the return of politics

Investors used to be able to more or less ignore politicians, says John Stepek. Not anymore.

I was in the pub with a financial adviser friend earlier this year, not long after the Brexit vote. Being based in Scotland, he'd already seen his business disrupted by the independence referendum in 2014, and now, post-Brexit, he was worrying about the prospect of a re-run. "I've been in this business for 30 years," he told me. "But I've never spent as much time thinking about politics as I have this year."

I know what he means. There was a time, before the financial crisis, when markets would cheerfully shrug off political leadership. The blissful assumption was that most nations were heading in the same direction. An embrace of shareholder capitalism, free trade, "independent" central banking, and minimal interference in markets was inevitable.

Politicians didn't matter, because they all basically believed in the same thing. Left-wing or right-wing, they would all largely get out of the way of business and it was only a matter of time before even the most obscure emerging markets joined the party.

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Not any more. This year has been the final nail in the coffin for the idea of any sort of global consensus, with voters rebelling against the values of "Davos man", as Charles Gave of Gavekal has put it. This is not a bad thing in itself a revolt was inevitable, given the apparent failure of the establishment to learn very much, if anything, from the crash of 2008. Unfortunately though, the return of politics to markets means that we can't assume that any particular economic or investing argument is "settled".

That's one of the first things we noticed here at MoneyWeek when we pulled out our crystal balls to outline the themes we think will shape 2017. It'd be nice to ignore politicians, but the simple fact is that you can't. Over in the US, we've got a president-elect who makes policy by Twitter this week he dented the share price of both Boeing (by haggling over the new presidential jet) and the entire biotech sector (by suggesting he just like Hillary Clinton thinks drug prices are too high), not to mention his minor diplomatic spat over Taiwan.

But Trump is in some ways the least of our worries. Next year elections are happening across the eurozone and any of them could be the straw that breaks the camel's back. A messy break-up of the euro would put a dent in all but the most apocalypse-primed portfolios.

Now, there are good reasons to believe the euro will survive 2017, and possibly even surprise on the upside. But given its built-in contradictions, it's only a matter of time before it breaks up. That's fitting, since the euro was launched in 1999, when faith in globalisation was at its peak.

It should be no surprise that the ultimate convergence trade is crumbling now that divergence is the order of the day. We look at what this shift means and how to protect your wealth and profit from it throughout this special forecasts issue. I hope you enjoy it as always, send us your views and comments.

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.