Brexit & My Writer’s Block

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I hate to admit it, but I’m stuck.

I have writers block, and not being a professional writer have had no experience to force myself through it.

Time and again I sit down to write something, only to find that the subject has changed, some new development has altered the facts and the effects are so sudden that I have to discard everything that I thought I was going to write and start over.

Its demoralizing.

Take Brexit for instance. Several times I’ve sat down to write something on it, but Brexit is now best explained like a Homeric poem, involving political intrigue, shadowy figures manipulating citizens for their own ends, and battles for leadership. That’s not how this began, but over time a politically mismanaged attempt to lance a populist boil from within the conservative party ranks has metastasized into a full blown crisis. To date Brexit has cost two Prime Minister’s their job, it has left one of the oldest democratic institutions in complete gridlock and has fractured the two leading political parties in Britain.

Currently the Tory party in England is choosing the next head of the party (and next Prime Minister of the country) with high expectations that it will fall to a man who spent the bulk of the Brexit campaign lying about the benefits of a leave vote and who had no intention that his side should actually win.

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This is Boris. Boris is a politician. Here is Boris standing in front of a bus with a promise to put more money in the NHS if Britain votes to leave the EU. Boris was lying about putting this money into the NHS. Lie Boris lie

Meanwhile the core issues surrounding Brexit remain unresolved. So badly has this been handled that the British government has been granted two extensions so they don’t leave the EU without a deal (which would be bad for everybody). However having been granted those extensions Britain remains no closer to resolving the core matters that divide the various camps of various Brexiteers.

I could go on like this for some time, but there are whole books written about Brexit now (I recommend “A Short History of Brexit” by Kevin O’Rourke), covering in far greater detail all of the issues surrounding the attempts to leave the EU, how it has come about as a movement, and why the problems remain intractable and will likely not end well.

What I think we are witnessing is how political issues become political crises, and how it becomes increasingly difficult to predict what happens next. In functioning democracies political disputes resolve in a compromise in which neither group gets precisely what they want but recognize that not reaching a compromise would be worse. Today’s current political climate has become anathema to compromise and various groups would rather risk everything and get nothing than lose some of their standing. Historically this hasn’t been a good sign for countries.

Currently Brexit is scheduled for October 31st. That extension was granted because Theresa May had begun negotiating with Jeremy Corbyn (another populist) and the Labour Party to find votes for her Brexit deal. This negotiation looked to find votes for May’s existing deal with the EU, which would have resolved the issue surrounding the Irish border and kept Britain in the Common Market while also opening the door to a second referendum. Her party balked at this treachery and thus ended her tenure as PM. Boris Johnson, the man currently on track to replace Theresa May has said that he wouldn’t “rule out” proroguing parliament if MPs attempted to block a “No Deal” or “Hard Brexit.” I imagine that the EU wonders why it has invested all the time it has trying to help the UK.

All of this is silly, dangerous and maddening. For investors it means that there continues to be a ticking time bomb on the global stage, and like Donald Trump and his tariffs, anything could happen. And amazingly it continues on unabated, no closer to a compromise and no closer to a solution.

Hopefully this means I’m over my writers block.

“The opinions expressed are those of the author and may not necessarily be those of Aligned Capital Partners Inc (ACPI).  ACPI is regulated by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (www.IROC.ca) and member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (www.CIPF.ca).  This commentary is for general information only and not meant to be personalized investment advice.”

Investing in the Age of Brexit Populism

There is going to be lots of news around Brexit for the next while, and we have many other things to look at. So until more is known and more things are resolved this will be our last piece looking at the In/Out Referendum of June 23rd.

 

So far the best thing that I’ve read about Brexit is an essay by Glenn Greenwald, who has captured much of the essential cognitive dissonance that revolves around the populist uprisings we’ve seen this year, from Bernie Sanders to Jeremy Corbyn and from Donald Trump to UKIP. You can read the essay here, but I think he gives a poignant take down of an isolated political class and an elitist media that fails to capture what drives much of the populism intent on burning down modern institutions. In light of that criticism, what should investors think about the current situation and how does it apply to their investments?

Let’s start with the basics; that leaving the EU is a bad idea but an understandable one. The Eurozone is rife with problems, from bureaucratic nonsense to democratic unaccountability, the whole thing gets under many people’s skin, and not just in the UK. Across Europe millions of people have been displaced from good work, have lost sight of the dignity in their lives and have come to be told repeatedly that the lives they lead are small, petty and must make way for a new way of doing things. The vast project that is the EU has been to reorder societies along new globalized lines, and if you live in Greece, Spain, Portugal or Italy those lines have come with terrible burdens of austerity and high unemployment.

It’s easy to see that the outstanding issues of the 21st century are going unchecked. Wealth inequality and increasing urbanization are colliding with the problems of expensive housing markets, wage stagnation and low inflation rates. The benefits of economic growth are becoming increasingly sparse as the costs of comfortably integrating into society continue to rise.

In response to these problems the media has shown little ability to navigate an insightful course. Trump is a fascist, Bernie Sanders is clueless, “Leave” voters are bigots, and any objection to the existing status quo that could upset the prescribed “correct” system is deemed laughably impractical or simply an enemy of free society.

This is a dynamic that can plainly not exist and if there is any hope in restoring or renewing faith in the institutions that govern much of our lives. We must find ways to more tactfully discuss big issues. Trump supporters are not idiots and fascists. Bernie supporters are not ignorant millennials. Leave campaigners are not xenophobic bigots. These are real people and have come to the feeling that they are disenfranchised citizenry who see the dignity of their lives is being undercut by a relentless march of progress. Addressing that will lead to more successful solutions to our collective woes than name calling and mud slinging.

For investors this continued disruption could not happen at a worse time. In some ways it is the needs of an aging population that have set the stage of much of the discontent. As one generation heads towards retirement having benefited from a prolonged period of stability and increasing economic wealth, the generations behind it are finding little left at the table. Fighting for stability means accepting that the current situation is worth fighting for. For retirees stability is paramount as years of retirement still need to be financed, but if you are 50 or younger fighting for a better deal may be worth the chaos.

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For anyone doubts that cities are the most important part of our society and economic wealth, here is the history of cities over the past 5000 years. – From the Guardian

 

Investors should take note then that this is the new normal. Volatility is becoming an increasing fact of life and if wealth inequality, an unstable middle class and expensive urbanisation can not be tamed and conquered our politics will remain a hot bed of populist uprisings. So what can investors do? They need to broaden their scope of acceptable investments. The trend currently is towards more passive investments, like ETFs that mimic indices, but that only has the effect of magnifying the volatility. Investors should be speaking to their advisors about all options, including active managers, guaranteed retirement investments, products that pay income and even products with limited liquidity that don’t trade on the open market. This isn’t the time to limit your investment ideas, its the time to expand them.

Do you need new investment ideas? Give us a call to learn about all the different ways that investments can help you through volatile markets!

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Let’s Undo Brexit! (Here’s How)

Brexit-2If there was ever going to be a moment to gain some clarity about what the Brexit would truly and ultimately mean, Friday was the day. Following the win by the leave camp, markets were sent reeling on the uncertainty stirred up by the referendum, and by the day’s end Britain had gone from being the 5th largest economy to the 6th, $2 trillion in value had been wiped from the markets, Scotland wants another referendum as Northern Ireland is proposing a unified Ireland, and embarrassingly the top google result in the UK following the referendum was “What is the EU?”

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The buyers remorse now swirling around the UK seems to have ignited a renewed “Remain” campaign. Already there is a petition to have another referendum, citing the quite reasonable objections that a 52-48 split does not indicate the kind of definitive turnout to, in good conscience, topple the British economy and break up the UK. In other corners some of the bloom has quickly come off the rose.

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Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader who has been championing the leave vote while Boris Johnson (BoJo for short) has parading across the country with a bus emblazoned with the phrase “we give the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund the NHS instead” has said that was a poor choice of campaign phrase. In other words the NHS will not be getting an additional £350 million per week. JoJo on the other hand has said that there is no urgency in triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, and instead there should be preliminary discussions before actually starting the leaving process.

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Liars! Lying Liars!

In Cornwall, the picturesque seaside county with a crumbling and weak economy, it has suddenly dawned on the residents that they are hugely dependent on cash transfers from Brussels, an idea that had apparently not occurred to them when they overwhelmingly voted in favour of leaving.

It is worth taking some time to consider some underlying facts. The referendum is non-binding, merely advisory to the government. As the impact of a leave vote starts to set in and people begin to reject the emotional tenor of the campaign in favour of some hard truths, the next government will have time to try and potentially weasel out of the deal. The current front-runner for the next Prime Minister is BoJo himself, a man who had said that he sided with Leave (and became its very public face) because he didn’t think Brussels would really negotiate with the UK unless they knew the Britain might seriously leave.

So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Brexit will not happen, at least not like the worst case scenarios have made it out to be. David Cameron has said triggering Article 50 will fall to the next Prime Minister, which is months away. The chief proponents of Brexit don’t seem eager to start the clock on an official leave at all. Despite calls from within the EU to get the ball rolling on leaving, the real appetite to lock down a time table for a permanent withdrawal from the eurozone isn’t there. Instead it seems the winners are happier to let everyone know that they’ve got the gun, and that it’s loaded.

There are months to still screw this up, but the leave camp has had its outburst and now its time to look in the mirror and see the outburst for what it is; and ugly distortion of what the future could be. Nigel Farage and UKIP have had their moment, letting everyone know they are a serious force that needs to be addressed. But the stakes are far higher than I think many believed or thought could come to pass. The GBP fell dramatically, markets convulsed, Scotland and Northern Ireland might leave and starting Monday many financial jobs will start being cut in London. Now is the time to calm markets not with more interest rate cuts but with some measured language that could open the door to another referendum, or at least avoid the worst outcomes of an isolated and petulant Britain.

* this article had initially incorrectly identified Boris Johnson’s nickname as JoJo