I love the Brits.
At one time, the plucky people across the pond controlled most of the developed world. They conquered places, established trade routes, and even repelled potential invaders. All the while, they kept a stiff upper lip and relied on personal responsibility.
The British government created the “Keep Calm and Carry On” motto in 1939. It was to inspire their people during the German bombing campaigns. What other nation would tell its people, “Never mind the bombs, go about your day”?
Now the Brits are giving the European Union the finger as they try to extricate themselves from the economic bloc at huge expense.
It’s like the old joke about divorce: Why is it so expensive? Because it’s worth it.
The Brits might be the best example of the sentiment, but they’re hardly alone.
Divorcing from global arrangements…
People around the world are trying to “divorce” themselves from global arrangements that bleed them of their national identity while handing power and wealth to a dwindling few. The idea of getting electronics or corn for a few cents less hardly seems worth handing over control to people in faraway places who swear they have your best interests at heart.
From Trump’s election to Angela Merkel’s latest setbacks in Germany to the yellow vest protests in France; people around the world are telling their governments that enough is enough. They want local control.
Domestic companies will do better. Global providers will have a harder time. Banks should feel a lot of pain as the flat or inverted yield curve drains profits out of their net interest margin.
It will be difficult for any country to follow the “Buy Domestic” approach. The global supply is so entrenched.
But the bigger trend will be a global slowdown. Populists will save a bit of their culture and give up a bit of their standard of living, even if they don’t recognize it. And global slowdowns are never good for stocks.
Dominoes around the globe…
Bloomberg reported in February that Honda will stop making cars in the British town of Swindon, and they’re not alone. Companies from Airbus to Barclay’s have either fled the U.K. or plan to wind down some operations to avoid complications from Brexit.
When a company moves across the street or across the country, it’s hard. When a company moves across a border, it’s an order of magnitude more difficult.
But this is nothing compared to what could lie ahead for the EU if one or several countries break free of the euro. The common currency is barely of legal drinking age in the U.S., turning 21 this year, so it’s fair still to call it an experiment.
Europeans of all stripes begrudgingly say it’s a good thing, but they do so through gritted teeth. The Greeks are begging for yet another $1 billion round of bailout cash, which they might be given but will never see, because the money goes straight through their hands back to their Northern European creditors.
It’s a Ponzi Scheme, and the Greek people are left holding the bag.
With populism on the rise, expect more tremors in the markets as everyday citizens express their displeasure.
The Italians are voting on nationalizing the nation’s gold, moving ownership from the Italian Central Bank to the national government. Valued at more than $100 billion, the, 2,450 metric tons of gold could pay for a lot of social services, or even whittle away at non-performing loans at Italian banks. Such a move would fly in the face of European Central Banking regulations, but those are stiff collars put on the Italian people by bureaucrats in Brussels.
Maybe the Brits find a way to leave the EU without too much pain. Maybe the yellow vests in France stop burning cars to demand more attention to their needs. Perhaps the Italians won’t flout EU regulations in favor of policies that benefit the locals.
No more globalism…
The more we look around the world, the more likely it seems that some group, somewhere, will put a stake in the ground and say, “No more globalism.”
When that happens, capital markets will react, most likely with falling equities and rising bond prices. This is right in line with Harry’s forecast… populism will rise from the ashes of the financial crisis, and ordinary people will call for the blood of the elites that led them astray.
Falling equities and contracting asset prices will be painful, but most of the pain will land on the same group of elites that populist voters would like to take down a notch or two.
Remember, less than half of all Americans own equities…
As always, the question is, “When?”
Falling markets benefit no one, so most parties from private investors to governments will do what they can to keep them moving higher.
Maybe we get through the summer… maybe the year…
While we can’t know a precise date, it sure seems closer as the populist calls for substantial change grow louder.