Despite what you might think, risk markets are in a sweet spot

Here's three reasons not to worry.

The next six months could well be easy going for equity markets, and even the more exotic markets, like emerging market bonds, which suffered when the story first broke about ‘tapering’: a possible reduction in the US Fed’s Quantitative Easing programme. Let’s consider this and the other oft-perceived threats to the markets.

QE. Yes, QE may be tapered, but only probably, not definitely, as Bernanke was at pains to emphasise in the Q & A session following his recent speech at a National Bureau of Economic Research conference. It all depends on the data, and he assured us they are actually also worried that inflation may be too low. I think we’ve seen the bulk of the rally in US Treasury yields for now. For the next few months, I think the stock markets can live with this scenario - if data’s weak, QE will go on longer, if data's strong, then companies are going to be more profitable. Taper-shock is rapidly fading.

China. I definitely do not fall into the camp that believes China is a powder-keg waiting to explode, leading to global financial and economic Armageddon. Banking systems rely on confidence. Confidence in the unlimited supply of funding, confidence that borrowers, public and private, are solvent and able to repay, confidence that collateral values, e.g. house prices, will only ever rise.

Now, institutional over-indebtedness may well have become endemic in China, but certainly not amongst individuals, and the whole pack of cards is, as ever, dependent on the same ‘confidence trick’. Although China’s sensible determination to rebalance its economy away from investment-lead growth and towards consumption is no doubt weighing down on headline GDP, in the Chinese tradition the measures will be introduced gradually and pragmatically, as evidenced this week by senior leaders’ comments. Whilst Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli said that the government would "expand domestic demand", he also assured us they would "try every method to provide funding to support SMEs, exporters, and technology firms". Premier Li Keqiang was quoted as saying that the government would "prevent economic growth from slipping below the lower bound".

With $3.3tn in foreign exchange reserves alone, which it could quietly use to rescue the banks - I suspect we’d never even know a banking crisis had happened.

The Eurozone. Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, even France, surely we face a summer of cataclysmic popular discontent on the streets? Nope. The lesson of the Eurozone crisis is the Germans and the ECB will ride to the rescue-sure, there’ll be a to and fro over austerity measures, wrestling with the balance between creation of moral hazard in the South and ensuring the Euro’s survival, but I believe the nexus of self-interests implies we have reached a state of equilibrium. This is admittedly an inherently unstable equilibrium because of the absence of a fiscal union but, once Merkel has won her election that, and its sister, banking union, will be front and centre and suddenly on the cards. Right now she can’t say so, because of the election, but she knows the Euro won’t survive another five years without them. 

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke speaking at a new conference in June 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

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White supremacists are embracing genetic testing - but they aren't always that keen on the results

Users of far-right site Stormfront are resorting to pseudo science and conspiracy theories when DNA tests show they aren't as "pure" as they hoped.

The field of genomics and genetics have undergone almost exponential growth in recent years. Ventures like the Human Genome Project have enabled t humanity to get a closer look at our building blocks. This has led to an explosion in genetic ancestry testingand as of 6 April 2017 23AndMe, one of the most popular commercial DNA testing websites, has genotyped roughly 2 million customers.

It is perhaps unsurprising that one of the markets for genetic testing can be found among white suprmacists desperate to prove their racial purity. But it turns out that many they may not be getting the results they want. 

Stormfront, the most prominent white nationalist website, has its own definition of those who are allowed to count themselves as white - “non-Jewish people of 100 per cent European ancestry.” But many supremacists who take genetic tests are finding out that rather than bearing "not a drop" of non-white blood, they are - like most of us a conglomerate of various kinds of DNA from all over the world including percentages from places such as sub Saharan Africa and Asia. Few are taking it well.

Dr. Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, of UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics and the research institute Data and Society respectively, presented a research study (currently under peer review for publication) at the American Sociological Association a week ago, analysing discussion of GAT on Stormfront forums. Panofsky, Donovan and a team of researchers narrowed down the relevant threads to about 700, with 153 users who had chosen to publish their results online. While Panofsky emphasised that it is not possible to draw many quantitative inferences, the findings of their study offer a glimpse into the white nationalist movement's response to science that doesn't their self perception. 

“The bulk of the discussion was repair talk”, says Panofsky. “Though sometimes folks who posted a problematic result were told to leave Stormfront or “drink cyanide” or whatever else, 'don’t breed', most of the talk was discussion about how to interpret the results to make the bad news go away”.

Overwhelmingly, there were two main categories of reinterpretation. Many responses dismissed GAT as flimsy science – with statements such as a “person with true white nationalist consciousness can 'see race', even if their tests indicate 'impurity'".

Other commentators employed pseudo-scientific arguments. “They often resemble the critiques that professional geneticists, biological anthropologists and social scientists, make of GAT, but through a white nationalist lens", says Panofsky. 

For instance, some commentators would look at percentages of non-European DNA and put it down to the rape of white women by non-white men in the past, or a result of conquests by Vikings of savage lands (what the rest of us might call colonialism). Panofsky likens this to the responses from “many science opponents like climate deniers or anti-vaxxers, who are actually very informed about the science, even if they interpret and critique it in idiosyncratic and motivated ways".

Some white nationalists even looked at the GAT results and suggested that discussion of 100 per cent racial purity and the "one drop" rule might even be outdated – that it might be better to look for specific genetic markets that are “reliably European”, even though geneticists might call them by a different name.

Of course, in another not totally surprising development, many of the Stormfront commentators also insisted that GAT is part of a Jewish conspiracy, “to confuse whites by sprinkling false diversity into test results".

Many of the experts in the field have admitted to queasiness about the test themselves; both how they come to their results and what they imply. There are several technical issues with GAT, such as its use of contemporary populations to make inferences about those who previously lived in different places around the world, and concerns that the diversity of reference samples used to make inferences is not fully representative of the real world. 

There are other specific complications when it comes to the supramacist enthusiasm for GAT. Some already make a tortous argument that white people are the “true people of color" by dint of greater variation in hair and eye color. By breaking up DNA into percentages (e.g. 30 per cent Danish, 20 per cent German), Panofsky says GAT can provide a further opportunity to “appropriate and colonise the discourse of diversity and multiculturalism for their own purposes". There's is also, says Panofsky, the simple issue that “we can’t rely on genetic information to turn white nationalists away from their views."

“While I think it would be nice if the lesson people would take from GAT is that white nationalism is incoherent and wrong. I think white nationalists themselves often take the exact opposite conclusion."