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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.