Private investors stay at home

The UK stock market is No 3 in the world, punching way above its weight if you look at the size of the economy
London may be the world's "It" City once again, but it is not a pleasant place to be just now. Uncharacteristically high humidity, coupled with soaring temperatures, has meant that traders from Hong Kong and New York should feel quite at home walking the streets of EC3. Jeans and shirtsleeves feel more appropriate than bowler hats and rolled umbrellas.

The stock market has a heavy summer feel about it too. The love affair with 5,000 continues and even gyrations on Wall Street have failed to upset the enthusiasm of investors in the Square Mile. Perhaps traders find their air-conditioned offices more comfortable than home.

By and large the interim results season has done the market no harm.

If not a universally rosy picture, UK Plc has really not been doing too badly.

The ravages of high sterling have not impacted quite as much as many feared, while the financial sector has gone a long way to justifying the considerable outperformance delivered so far this year.

Still, I am glad not to have BICC in my portfolios.

It is well to remember the old adage that the stock market is a market of stocks. The index is an average and there is no guaranteed method of picking the top performers.

The hot weather and the holiday season provide a good opportunity to reflect upon the overseas content of portfolios.

Holidaymakers in Thailand are enjoying excellent value in terms of what their money will buy while investors in this golden kingdom are having a torrid time.

But do Mr & Mrs Average Investor actually put money in Thailand? Or anywhere else overseas for that matter?

If the APCIMS (Association of Private Client Investment Managers and Stockbrokers) benchmarks are to be believed, they do.

These benchmarks were launched earlier this year accompanied by, if not a fanfare, certainly a loud blast on a horn.

The aim was to provide a form of measurement that would allow private client stockbrokers to demonstrate whether or not they were delivering performance that was comparable to their peers.

Very laudable, but not everyone agrees with the methodology.

The problem is that there is no such thing as an average client. Indeed, the whole point about private client investment management should be that you deliver an individual solution to meet an individual's circumstances.

Still, with performance becoming more of an issue with investors, it is becoming increasingly important for those who are seeking to manage money on an active basis to be able to demonstrate that they add value.

The benchmarks themselves were compiled after consulting with APCIMS members who manage many billions of pounds of private investors' money.

According to them, 30 per cent of a portfolio invested for growth on behalf of a private investor is likely to be committed to overseas markets.

This is a lot. Rather more than our pension fund managers believe appropriate, for example.

For them just 15 per cent will be invested overseas, although there are the constraints that actuaries delight in applying.

Asset/liability mismatching can be costly - as banks have found out to their cost in the past. So investing in sterling securities for UK pensioners makes sense.

The benchmarks do not go as far as breaking down this 30 per cent into geographic areas, but if you treat the various markets in terms of size, you arrive at a potential asset allocation which I suspect few private investors achieve.

The Morgan Stanley Capital International Index, still the standard benchmark for measuring equity market performance, shows that, excluding the UK, around 50 per cent of world markets by value are represented by the North American stock markets.

Japan now accounts for just 16 per cent. It is sobering to remember that not so very many years ago Japan was vying with the US as the largest stock market in the world.

Europe, ex the UK, would account for 20 per cent of this universe. Add the UK to that and you are approaching 30 per cent of the whole, so you can see what an important stock market the UK is - number three in the world, punching way above its weight if you look at the size of our economy.

Of the racier markets, the Pacific Rim accounts for around 8 per cent and Emerging Markets some 5.5 per cent.

Translate that into how you might invest a private client portfolio and you would probably have just 1.5 per cent in emerging markets, around one tenth of that allocated to the US.

Looking at our own clients suggests that the average private investor (whoever he or she may be) does not invest this way at all. First of all, nothing like 30 per cent of portfolios appear to be invested abroad on average.

Then, when you look at where the money directed to foreign parts travels, the US does not seem anything like as popular as its size would suggest.

The Far East, on the other hand, has always received a great deal of attention from British investors.

It seems the public are quite as capable of making wrong decisions as the professionals.

Perhaps we might look at the best choices for investing overseas. But that can wait until the weather is cooler.