Private Investor: It's our duty to buy shares, it seems
Saturday 06 October 2007
Strange, so they say, that the stock markets are showing such vigour while everything else seems to be falling apart. Everything else, it has to be said, even including those economic indicators normally taken to be crucial to the market's ratings. And yet, with an American house price slump, European consumer confidence falling off a cliff, Japanese growth stumbling and British banks in their biggest pickle in decades, equities are doing nicely.
Everyone has their theories about this, and I've read quite a few of them. All very wise. My favourite is that it's simply down to the fact that the world's central bankers seem happy to look after us investors by cutting interest rates whenever it looks like we'll lose a few quid. Thus, in the pecking order, we now rank ahead of the unemployed, consumers – even bankers themselves. All we have to do is do the decent thing and carry on buying every time the market takes a dive and then recovers on the back of a Fed rate cut. Well, it's the least we can do, isn't it?
In fact, I haven't been doing much recently, but I have been keeping up my monthly investment in the JP Morgan Indian Investment Trust, and you'll also notice I've been writing about it with some regularity as well.
I've got a couple of points to make about that. The boring one first: the bouyancy of emerging market bourses has, I think, helped stabilise the world as a whole. Oddly they have provided a pool of stability in a world where the supposedly reliable Western markets have been gyrating – though as I say with a pronounced upward spin lately thanks to the Fed, the European Central Bank, and the banks of England, Japan, Canada and anywhere else you care to mention.
The second point is much more fun. My investment in the fund – long term, with a drop feed of a few pounds every month – is showing ever more handsome gains. We're all fond of those meaningless but seductive "psychological barriers" – round numbers in other words – and the Indian Investment Trust has crested triumphantly through one of those. The shares are worth over 400p a pop now; up from about 330p only a month ago, and 270p this time last year. A decade ago, I was buying into them at about 50p. So they're almost a 10 bagger. Not bad, eh? Who said investment trusts were dull?
Even if you don't fancy such a pure play on a single emerging market there are plenty of more broadly based emerging markets funds (and JP Morgan's trust in this area is another good performer). Alternatively you can buy into Tesco.
Tesco may have recorded their weakest UK results in seven years – the bad weather they say is at fault – but their overseas expansion is where the action is now, from new shopper s in Hungary to the more established and highly lucrative American consumer.
Of course this isn't the ideal time to be getting into the States, with loose talk about recession and that real-estate slump harming sentiment, but you have to take the long view sometimes. In any event,they have to do something to offset the likely damage the Competition Commission will do to them.
By the way, on the controversial issue of milk prices, I notice the supermarkets have been blamed for colluding on prices and pushing costs to consumers up; yet not so long ago they were being damned for pushing dairy prices down so much farmers couldn't make money. If the supermarkets are now paying farmers a living wage, then maybe paying a few pennies more for your bottle of milk isn't such a rip-off.
What was most intriguing about the Tesco results is how all the negative spin massaging the forthcoming results – and I thought this was all market-sensitive stuff and top secret – that appeared in the weekend press was followed by a resurgence in sentiment towards the stock. It isn't quite back to its peaks, but at 460p versus an all-time high of 478p, we may not have to wait long to glimpse the summit.
Once again, though, a word of apology about Northern Rock, which a few weeks ago I bought at 655p, offloading it a short time later for 470p. Even with the recent speculation about a buyer, the shares still look expensive to me. One analyst said they were worth perhaps as little as 6p a share. That is right; I was very wrong.
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