Markets are going round Cape Horn

What will happen now that QE is starting to taper?

Having had good passage through the warm gulf stream waters of "quantitative easing" ("QE" to you and me) flowing strongly from the shores of the US and latterly Japan, markets have now reached what, in market confidence terms, may be regarded the investor’s equivalent to the nautical experience of going round Cape Horn. We are passing into the rough seas where the conflicting currents of one ocean system, meet those of another. That is to say - translated into impenetrable dry as dust market speak – where the expected "tapering by the US authorities of Quantitative Easing" meets US economies recovery, putting hitherto bullish equity market sentiment to the test. Will the equity bull market of recent times be wrecked by the withdrawal of cheap money? Can you have a continuing bull market fueled by near no cost credit when interest rates start to rise?

We knew that we had moved into these choppy seas this week when the yield on US 10 Year Treasury bonds went through the previous 2 per cent "resistance level" to close at 2.23 per cent. The ship’s timbers may have creaked a little but the SS Equity Markets sailed on the next day, blown by news of the gathering pace of US economic recovery in housing, employment and consumer confidence, only to be blown off course the following day by the shore winds of analysts’ concerns, as they publicly pondered what it meant? Suddenly, the thing that markets hate most - uncertainty - had arrived.

My own view is that equity markets needed what I call a "linear regression down swing" in prices to remain faithful to its longer term trend. In short markets look a bit overbought in a year  when investors decided it was unwise to "sell and go away in May" because they did not want to be out of the market, and short of stock, when something as big and important as the continued stirrings of the long awaited US economic recovery were being witnessed. Consequently, the market was flooded with bearish conjectures as investment banks’ scrambled to take profits on bull positions and at the same time, get back some stock for their market makers, who must have been "short" after a long bull run that continued un-seasonally into May.

I retain my early, long running bullishness of equities, because the US Federal Reserve will tread carefully in managing a return to normalizing its interest rate. I reasonably conclude that it will tailor sales of the bonds it acquired, to fit the balance sheets of non banking providers of finance and credit with enough leg room with the right kind of bond collateral at the right yields, to facilitate the working of short term cash markets. Generally, most big companies balance sheets are in good shape to withstand higher interest rates. As Franklin Roosevelt once reassuringly said, the only thing to fear is fear itself.

Ben Bernanke. Photograph: Getty Images

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How Labour risks becoming a party without a country

Without establishing the role of Labour in modern Britain, the party is unlikely ever to govern again.

“In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn

All I want for you to do is take my body home”

- Blind Willie Johnson

The Conservative Party is preparing itself for a bloody civil war. Conservative MPs will tell anyone who wants to know (Labour MPs and journalists included) that there are 100 Conservative MPs sitting on letters calling for a leadership contest. When? Whenever they want to. This impending war has many reasons: ancient feuds, bad blood, personal spite and enmity, thwarted ambition, and of course, the European Union.

Fundamentally, at the heart of the Tory war over the European Union is the vexed question of ‘What is Britain’s place in the World?’ That this question remains unanswered a quarter of a century after it first decimated the Conservative Party is not a sign that the Party is incapable of answering the question, but that it has no settled view on what the correct answer should be.

The war persists because the truth is that there is no compromise solution. The two competing answers are binary opposites: internationalist or insular nationalist, co-habitation is an impossibility.

The Tories, in any event, are prepared to keep on asking this question, seemingly to the point of destruction. For the most part, Labour has answered this question: Britain will succeed as an outward looking, internationalist state. The equally important question facing the Labour Party is ‘What is the place of the Labour Party in modern Britain?’ Without answering this question, Labour is unlikely to govern ever again and in contrast to the Tories, Labour has so far refused to acknowledge that such a question is being asked of it by the people it was founded to serve. At its heart, this is a question about England and the rapidly changing nature of the United Kingdom.

In the wake of the 2016 elections, the approach that Labour needs to take with regard to the ‘English question’ is more important than ever before. With Scotland out of reach for at least a generation (assuming it remains within the United Kingdom) and with Labour’s share of the vote falling back in Wales in the face of strong challenges from Plaid Cymru and UKIP, Labour will need to rely upon winning vast swathes of England if we are to form a government in 2020.

In a new book published this week, Labour’s Identity Crisis, Tristram Hunt has brought together Labour MPs, activists and parliamentary candidates from the 2015 general election to explore the challenges facing Labour in England and how the party should address these, not purely as an electoral device, but as a matter of principle.

My contribution to the book was inspired by Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. The track list reads like the score for a musical tragedy based upon the Labour Party from 2010 onwards: In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Ten Years Gone. 

Continued Labour introspection is increasingly tiresome for the political commentariat – even boring – and Labour’s Identity Crisis is a genuinely exciting attempt to swinge through this inertia. As well as exploring our most recent failure, the book attempts to chart the course towards the next Labour victory: political cartography at its most urgent.

This collection of essays represents an overdue effort to answer the question that the Party has sought to sidestep for too long.  In the run up to 2020, as the United Kingdom continues to atomise, the Labour Party must have an ambitious, compelling vision for England, or else risks becoming a party without a country.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.