Britain’s resilient blue chips – a refuge in the inflationary storm

The UK's blue-chip FTSE 100 index has been the best-performing major stockmarket index so far this year.

The FTSE 100 is only a few percentage points up since its dotcom peak in December 1999, says James Yardley in the i newspaper. London is starting to resemble the similarly “hated” Japanese equity market, says Steven Andrew of fund manager M&G. “Places get this reputation from investors because they don’t make lots of money and they can be a bit dangerous if you own them at the wrong time.”

“For all the criticism aimed at the UK benchmark,” note that “the FTSE 100 has delivered an average annual total return of 7.75% since its inception in 1984,” says Investors’ Chronicle. True, that lags America’s S&P 500, but “it’s easily more than double the average UK inflation rate over the same period”.

What’s more, the London blue-chip index has been the best-performing major stock index so far this year (it has gone nowhere, while other global markets have plunged). “There is a certain irony in that the much-derided composition of the FTSE 100 is the main reason why it has held up reasonably well over the past six months or so.”

The FTSE 100’s weighting towards energy, mining and banking stocks have made it a refuge in the inflationary storm. By contrast, the FTSE 250, down almost 16% in 2022, has struggled owing to its greater weighting towards more cyclical industrial and consumer shares. The FTSE 100 bucks weakness in the UK economy because 80% of its earnings come from overseas. Analysts at Link Group think that sterling’s weakness should provide a £3.5bn-£4.5bn boost to total dividends this year; dollar earnings are inflated when translated into a weaker pound. A strong showing from miners helped push UK payouts to £37bn in the second quarter, the second highest figure on record. Link Group now expects headline payouts to climb by 2.4% in 2022 to £96.3bn.

“On a relative basis… British shares are incredibly well placed because we never had the bubble that America had,” Richard Buxton of the Jupiter UK Alpha fund told Danielle Levy in The Daily Telegraph. “We have some great companies… which are pretty cheaply valued. British shares offer a place to hide in difficult times in financial markets.”

Traders dislike Truss

The UK market could yet be heading for the odd bout of turbulence if Liz Truss is the next prime minister, however. “Truss’s policy platform… poses the greatest risk from an economic perspective… with an unseemly combination of pro-cyclical tax cuts and institutional disruption,” according to Ben Nabarro of Citigroup.

Truss is considering reviewing the Bank of England’s mandate to ensure it is tough enough on inflation, although she says this should not threaten its independence. The more predictable Rishi Sunak is the market’s favourite.

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