Twelve years on from the peak in US house prices, 11 years on from the start of the credit crunch that gave us our great financial crisis, and ten years on from the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the world still feels pretty unstable. The “solutions” to the crisis – mostly super-low interest rates and endless rounds of money printing (quantitative easing or QE) – might have headed off full financial collapse and depression, but they have had some nasty side-effects as well. Some of the problems that gave us our crisis are still with us – pretty much intact. Global debt levels are higher, not lower, than in 2008 for example, and our banks are still too big to fail: the top five control just as much of the global financial system as they did in 2008.
But QE and low rates have also produced some new problems of their own – think fast-rising wealth inequality and long-term political upheaval. What will the long-term legacy of the crisis be? And is there another crisis on the way? For some of the answers to these questions turn to John’s cover story. Spoiler alert: the answer to the second question is “yes”. Historian Ray Perman reminded me this week (when we were having a nice chat about the crisis on the BBC) of James Grant’s clever observation that, while learning in science is linear (we hang on to and then build on knowledge), in financial markets it is cyclical (everything always has to be learnt again). We can’t tell you exactly when the next crisis will be or what will cause it (although we can’t help noticing the vast debt that has built up in China since 2009). But we can tell you for certain that there will be one. John has some ideas on how to make sure your portfolio is as ready as it can be.
For those with more risk tolerance than most, we look at what’s on offer at the Frieze Art Show and up for auction at Christie’s – Francis Bacon painting for £20m, anyone? For those who can’t bring themselves to buy anything remotely overpriced right now, we look at the stockmarket bargains (or value traps… time will tell) to be found in parts of Zimbabwe. And finally for those who think Africa’s value stocks don’t fit their risk profile, on page 6 we look at one of the very few inexpensive developed markets in the world – the UK.
With the UK in mind, I suspect many readers are worried about Brexit. Time’s getting short and our leaders seem more than mildly incompetent (for which, by the way, we blame their failure to understand the fall-out from the financial crisis in time). The good news here is that should they choose to make Brexit relatively easy, there is still a way to do so. It is (as we keep saying!) EEA/EFTA, the best possible compromise Brexit. It might not make anyone 100% happy. But that of course is the nature of a good compromise.