EDITOR'S LETTERMerryn Somerset Webb
An email from an old friend – a British expat in the US. She is worried about the UK economy. She knows it is all “going to s**t”, that house prices are falling, that no one can get a job and that the pound is in freefall. It’s all bad. And it’s all about Brexit. But look at the numbers so far and that just isn’t the case.
Sterling has fallen. But there hasn’t been a nightmarish run on the pound. Instead it fell 10% or so against the dollar in the immediate aftermath of the vote and has been pretty stable ever since. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: it was overpriced to begin with and its new level is good for exporters and good for our hugely important tourism industry.
Interest rates have not risen sharply (we were warned that this would be an inevitable consequence of the collapse of the pound). Instead the base rate has been cut to 0.25%. You can argue about whether that’s a good policy decision or not (we wouldn’t have done it), but it makes life easier rather than harder for mortgage holders and, at this point, makes little difference to the nation’s already miserable savers.
House prices don’t seem to be in any particular trouble outside London (why would they be, given that interest rates have just halved?). The numbers for the country as a whole to June show brisk price rises before the vote and forward-looking indicators suggest a flattish market over the next year. Not much to worry about there.
Then there is employment. The uncertainty around the vote was expected to hit job numbers hard. So far it hasn’t: the number of people claiming out of work benefits actually fell by 8,600 in July (consensus forecasts had it rising by 9,500).
Finally, it is worth noting that our advice to buy the FTSE 250 in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote wasn’t bad: the index (which more represents the fortunes of domestic companies than the FTSE 100) is up 20% from its post-vote low and is now 6% above its pre-vote high for the year.
It is early days for the post-referendum economy. Unemployment could yet soar, the pound could yet implode, house prices collapse and stockmarkets tank. But on the evidence so far it looks far from a given.
With that in mind, let’s turn to the latest MoneyWeek competition. A few weeks ago I asked readers to send in suggestions as to how we might describe the process of leaving the EU without using the word “Brexit” – we’d like to use something a bit more positive.
The response was huge (and very good!). I have favourites. But in the spirit of referendums we are putting the thing to the vote. A first round among the MoneyWeek staff has produced the five strongest contenders: Brevival, Brenewal, Breedom, Brenaissance and Britonomy. Now it is over to you. Go to my blog post and cast yours.