Here’s how investors should react to the latest political earthquakes in the UK and US

By anybody’s standards, politics today – at home and abroad – is an ugly mess. But that shouldn’t matter to you as an investor, says John Stepek. Here’s how you should navigate the stormy political waters.

Boris Johnson © ISABEL INFANTES/AFP/Getty Images
In the UK, we have a prime minister with no majority who nobody seems to like

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Over in the US, president Donald Trump might be heading for impeachment.

In the UK, we have a prime minister with no majority who also appears within the environs of Westminster at least to be thoroughly disliked.

But, of course, not quite disliked enough for anyone to try to unseat him via an election.

This really is messy, messy politics by any standard.

But how much does it matter for you as an investor?

All politics is local and you probably don't understand what's going on elsewhere

There's one big thing that I've learned from the big political events of the last decade or so politics is intensely local.

You can't hope to understand what's going on unless you've been raised in that culture. And a lot of the time, even then, it's tricky.

You might think that this is an exaggeration. But if so, I'd suggest you read a few takes on Brexit from foreign papers. I promise you that whatever your views on the situation, you'll find at least a few clanging misunderstandings in most of them.

I'd also point you in the direction of the sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone in the early part of this decade. Most people and I very much include myself in that list failed to grasp just how much Greece would put up with to stay in the eurozone. External viewers had too many of our own biases and we also had way too many procedural blindspots we missed the significance of some things and overstated the importance of others.

That's not just a problem with opinion columnists and daily market writers like me. You see the same errors made in analysis pumped out by think tanks and investment banks.

In short, trying to make investment decisions on the basis of political minutiae is not a good idea.

The good news is that, most of the time, you really don't have to. Because most of the time, this stuff doesn't matter half as much as the papers and social media make out.

Honestly, the impeachment thing is not worth your time

First, on the impeachment front I'm not even going to try to untangle what's going on there because I've already noticed that plenty of intelligent non-Americans on Twitter are clearly baffled by it too.

But overall, what's the effect of any of this? The impeachment process could be done in four to six months, judging by past examples. But the US election is in just under a year's time. So we don't know if Trump was going to be around for much longer or not in any case.

And comparisons to past impeachments are essentially pointless. There are interesting comparisons you can make between now and the late 1990s (when Bill Clinton was impeached) or the mid-1970s (when Richard Nixon was impeached). But they're mostly to do with the prevailing economic backdrops of the time, rather than the fact that the presidents of the day were impeached.

Say they get rid of Trump. The biggest effect on the stockmarket would probably be in relation to what it might mean for any trade deal with China. Overall, it probably makes a deal a bit more likely, but I couldn't say that with any great conviction. And who knows what sorts of policies his replacement would come up with?

In short, I wouldn't weep to see the back of Trump, but while the headlines will be dramatic, the threat of impeachment shouldn't change your current investment plan (certainly not as a UK investor) in any way, shape or form.

The biggest concern for UK investors

What about our own mess over in Parliament?

There is a great deal of noise being generated by Brexit, of course there is. And it's hard to be dispassionate when you're bound to have a view. There's also the fact that Labour's conference has revealed just how dramatically the party has reverted to the hard left.

But what does all of this shouting ultimately boil down to? In the end, we either get some form of Brexit ("no deal at the point of leaving and then the negotiating starts" or "a pre-deal before the real negotiating starts"); or we get a general election which acts as a second referendum on Brexit.

Whatever the Brexit outcome is, Britain will not fall off the map. Market reactions are likely to be short term. So I don't feel that you should worry about taking a view on the outcome for Brexit. If there are cheap companies or sectors in the UK that you like the look of (we mention a few in MoneyWeek this week) then go for it.

As an investor, though, I would suggest that you have a plan in place, in case a Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell government does get into power. The more you have saved, the more important this is. I'm not being scaremongering here. I'm not even making particular judgements on the policies being discussed (I think they're a mistake, but you feel free to support what you want).

I am saying that under the current Labour opposition, the idea of private property is clearly not viewed as being inviolable, and that basically means that anything you own is up for grabs. So just take stock of your affairs think about what a wealth tax might do to you, or a transaction tax, or a "right to buy" policy for private tenants. Then consider what you might do to mitigate those risks.

And that's it really. Don't worry about impeachment. Try not to worry about Brexit. Have a plan in place in case of a much more radically anti-investor government.

And maintain your emotional equilibrium by trying to avoid going down grim argumentative rabbit holes about today's latest outrage. Because there'll be another one along tomorrow.

Ain't politics wonderful?


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