Brexit, sterling and the case for London stocks

the UK stock market

I started to learn about the UK stock market in 1986, a scarily long time ago, when I took over management of a failing global fund.  I realized pretty quickly, though, that despite similarity with the US in language and accounting standards, London stocks trade on complex signals that are far different in kind from those I was familiar with in New York.  I ultimately decided that the large effort required to become proficient would pay too small a reward to justify making it.  So I remain more or less an innocent (read:  the dumb money) in that market to this day.

12% cheaper

Nevertheless, the large drop (about 12%) in the value of the pound against the dollar suggests to me that there will ultimately be a big post-Leave-vote equity investing opportunity in the UK.  If the government follows through on its plans to cut the corporate tax rate from the current 20% to 15% (something the EU would have opposed) and lowers interest rates as well, the potential would be substantially larger.

Two reasons:

Mexico

–Weak currencies most often mean strong stock markets.  The most striking example I can think of is Mexico in the 1980s.  Over that period, the peso lost 98% of its value against the US$.  Still, Mexican stocks were, in US$ terms, just about the best-performing in the world–outdoing the US stock market by a mile.

Three causes:  supportive economic policies by the Mexican government; currency decline gave Mexican exporters a powerful price advantage; and the currency collapse created substantial inflation, which prompted local investors to strongly prefer equities as a way of preserving the real value of their savings.

Yes, Mexico is an extreme, but stocks in the UK are now 12% cheaper in US dollars than they were a couple of weeks ago.  And the government appears to be preparing to implement significant economic stimulus.  So earnings prospects for many firms are substantially better.

currency markets lead the way

–currency fall typically comes in advance of stock market rise.  The lag may be months.  This is partly because the currency markets always seem to act far ahead of stocks and bonds.  It’s also because equity investors, particularly in Europe, want to see some evidence of earnings improvement–either actual results or management confirmation that the numbers are looking surprisingly good–before they are willing to act.

timing

The big question, I think, is not whether London stocks, especially multinationals or exporters, will do well.  It’s when the fallout from the Brexit vote will have fully played itself out in financial markets.  Given that European investors typically take the month of August off, and that the start of this annual vacation period is only a few weeks away, my guess is that this won’t be until close to Labor Day.

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