Bears have enjoyed a mixed press. The brown bears that you are warned not to feed in Yosemite are an entirely different animal, as it were, from the likes of Winnie the Pooh (who has overtaken Mickey Mouse as the world's most successful merchandising character) or darkest Peru's own Paddington. In the City of London and on Wall Street, the bears who have now been in control of the market for more than two years are markedly grizzly. But should we run from them or embrace the bears and claim them for our own?
The market conditions at the moment are more treacherous than a 50-year-old rope bridge. The bursting of the TMT bubble was followed by 11 September, which was followed by Enron, Global Crossing and then WorldCom. The essential trust that investors need to have in the numbers released by listed companies has been fractured. Nerves have made the current market a real bear pit. Every rumour of bad news brings a sell- off, every rumour of good news leads to a sell-off as investors lock in some profit or try to minimise their losses.
Traders have not seen anything like this since the 1970s, and as hardly a trader active in the market was around then, there is no experience of these conditions. After two years of relentless bearishness, investors are praying for some relief.
But we can't be sure we've found the bottom yet. Sure, on yield to valuation terms, we are close to a 30-year low. And sure there appears to be no earthly economic reason why prices should be slipping. But, Keith Skeoch of Standard Life Investments apart, no one is calling the bottom of the market.
What we need for the Damascene conversion of the markets to bullishness is a restoration of faith in the numbers – but that will take some time to arrive while SEC investigations and investment bank lay-offs continue. Alternatively, we need a market shock to lance the boil of bad news.
The truth is that before we can have a bull market, we need to embrace the bear and find out whether it is cuddly and reassuring or grizzly and ready to maul us.
Stop moaning, do something
The next few days bring us a series of tricky annual general meetings for boards of directors – none more so than Cable & Wireless's yearly dust-up with its increasingly grumpy shareholders, which takes place on Friday.
Two years ago, investors wanted C&W to give them some of its cash pile; a year ago, investors wanted C&W to give them some of its cash pile, and though the company did cave in a little, this was not enough. So we are back to investors wanting C&W to give up some of its cash.
You could argue that C&W was wise not to give the money away, because it is now sitting on the best balance sheet in the TMT sector. But sitting on it is what it has been doing for the past year or so while the business that Graham Wallace thinks is the future of the group, C&W Global, loses more and more money.
The issue with C&W is trust. Investors do not feel the company is a good custodian of the cash; they worry that it will waste it.
If that is the judgement then they should stop pussyfooting around. Why continue to invest in a company run by people you do not believe are doing a good job? Get rid of Graham Wallace if that is what is required. And then see whether his successor can take advantage of the opportunities that are most certainly available in the telecoms market.
Now for the Entitlement euro
Banks, retailers and publicans should be celebrating the prospect of the introduction of ID cards – sorry, Entitlement cards. I have little truck with the civil liberties arguments about ID cards: I can't see why honest people should not be prepared to prove who they are. But I am concerned about the way that this Labour Government (particularly Gordon Brown's Treasury) mangles the English language to sell unpopular policies to an increasingly jaded electorate.
I wouldn't be surprised if Tony Blair isn't already looking for a new "branding" for the euro. Any suggestions that give a flavour of better food in France, better weather in Italy or better trains in Germany, will be gratefully received. To start the ball rolling, how about the "Continental". Or maybe the "Gîte".Reuse content