Outlook:Is it time to brave a return to the stock market?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The old stock market adage runs: "Sell in May and go away, don't come back until St Leger's Day". Well, with the FTSE 100 Index having lost 10 per cent if its value since the beginning of May, the first part of that advice certainly looks like wise counsel, this year at least. But what of the second part, given that tomorrow is St Leger's Day at Doncaster racecourse?

Well, amid the economic gloom, there are reasons to be positive. Broadly speaking, UK equities look cheap by historical standards – a forward price-earnings ratio of about 10.5 for the market as a whole would normally be considered good value. Yields look attractive too, especially in the context of the paltry returns currently on offer from cash.

There are other reasons to favour equities. Disposable incomes may be squeezed just now and households are focused on paying off debt rather than putting money by, but the savings ratio will creep up as caution remains. Then there's demographics – the push to persuade workers to put more by for old age.

Still, it feels more comfortable expressing such thoughts this week, when there have been more "risk-on" days than last, when "risk-off" was to the fore. And with so much potential for risk-off to make repeated returns in the coming days, weeks and months, investors would have to be brave. The St Leger's advice implies a time horizon lasting to next May, but don't bet on a return to shares proving anything other than hair-raising during that period.


Only the Serious Fraud Office knows what evidence it has been able to gather in the inquiry into Weavering Capital, the hedge fund that collapsed in 2009. Still, its decision to drop the inquiry yesterday looks curious. One set of investors has just won damages in a civil case against Weavering executives heard in the Cayman Islands. And a similar case is listed shortly for the High Court.

That a civil proceeding has succeeded does not guarantee a criminal prosecution would do so too – the standards of proof in such hearings are higher. Nor should the SFO waste public money pursuing a case it expects to fail simply for the sake of being seen to be doing something.

Still, would it not have been better to wait for the Weavering liquidators to present their case in the UK before abandoning the investigation altogether? That hearing is due to begin in less than a month.

The SFO is no longer the supine beast that was once so regularly lampooned for its failure to tackle white-collar crime. But perceptions are important and Weavering may prove to be a missed opportunity to improve its reputation for vigour still further.