Towards FTSE 12,000?

In 2008, right after Lehman Brothers went bust, Phil Anderson wrote a cover story for MoneyWeek.

Looking back at that issue (number 405, if you want to look it up), our news section was reporting that the world’s central banks had slashed interest rates by 0.5%, in a co-ordinated move to stem the panic, while the personal finance page was all about the demise of Icelandic internet bank Icesave. A bit of a scary time for investors, all told.

But Phil took the long view. He acknowledged that we were in a grim situation, and that property prices would fall for a few years yet. But he also reckoned the upturn would arrive in 2011, and that US stocks could start rising again as early as 2009, but certainly by 2010.

I’ll admit, I was sceptical. Glued to the office Bloomberg terminal, which was spurting out news of the latest profit warning or bankrupt bank, it was easy to worry that we might not have an economy left by 2011, let alone one witnessing the ‘green shoots’ of recovery. But Phil was right.

Whatever gross distortions of capitalism and monetary policy it took to get us here, the stock markets – and increasingly the property markets – on both sides of the Atlantic have enjoyed a stupendous recovery from the dark days of the bust.

In fact, now various voices are warning that everything looks a bit toppy and we’re due another big crash. So this week we got Phil and his colleague, Akhil Patel, to update us on their views. Their take? This bull market isn’t over yet, not by a long chalk.

I’ll let you read the story yourself. But their point is that these property-driven market cycles happen regularly, and as humans don’t really change much, they follow a predictable pattern.

I’ll admit I find the idea of the FTSE 100 at 12,000 or more (even if it’s ten years from now) a punchy forecast. But it’s also hard to believe we’ll see a repeat of 2008 soon. So I’ll suspend my scepticism this time – at least a little.

Markets aren’t the only things that move in cycles. So do financial products. The government’s new plan for collective defined contribution (CDC) pensions is a good example.

A CDC is a traditional defined contribution scheme with a twist: you pool your money with your co-workers in one big fund, and the people who run it try to ‘smooth’ the returns so you get a more predictable income when you retire.

What does that remind you of? That’s right – it’s a ‘with-profits’ fund. The goal behind CDCs is admirable – pensions should cost less and be more transparent – and the government’s other reforms have been good. But it’s hard to see CDCs working.

One of the most predictable phenomena in finance – whether it be Bank of England inflation forecasts or actuarial tables – is over-optimism. If I was retiring in five years’ time, I might join a CDC – but only because I’d expect to profit at the expense of a future pensioner taking a big pay-out cut 20 years from now.