Stock markets are hitting record highs. New companies are being listed. Fortunes are being minted. The last year has been a great one for investors, and so has the last decade, as what was already one of the longest bull markets acquired fresh impetus. There is one exception to that, however, and if you happen to be British it is sadly close to home. The London market has woefully under-performed the rest of the world.
In 2020 that will finally start to change. Why? With our departure from the EU finally resolved global money will come flooding back, the Government is set on a huge stimulus, and the Bank of England will decide to go for growth. For once, the UK may start to do better than its rivals.
True, anyone who invested in the UK had an okay 2019. The UK market was up by 13 per cent, and at least Jeremy Corbyn didn't become Prime Minister – which would have sent the market hurtling downwards. But most other countries around the world did far better. Greece and Russia were the real stars, with gains of more than 40 per cent, both Italy and Ireland were above 30 per cent, the United States returned 28 per cent, and even protest-racked France 27 per cent. We had the worst returns of any Group of Seven country. A combination of slow growth and political turmoil meant most investors preferred to be elsewhere – and it is hard to blame them. The outlook for 2020 is very different, however. Why? There are three reasons.
First, with the election out of the way, we now have a secure and stable government set to remain in power for five years – and potentially ten. Our departure from the EU will be completed by the end of January, and although a trade deal still has to be negotiated that may well prove a lot easier than the speculation now suggests. The heat has gone out of the Brexit debate, and most businesses and investors are now seeing it for what it always was – a rather minor adjustment to our trading relationships which required some mid-level administrative work but otherwise didn't make much difference to anything. The UK will soon look like one of the most politically stable countries in the world.
Second, the one thing we can be sure of about the Johnson administration is that it likes to spend money. We will learn how much exactly when the Chancellor unveils his budget. But it is going to be a lot. A mixture of higher spending, some tax cuts, and increases to the minimum wage will deliver a massive stimulus. When Donald Trump did that it pushed growth above 3 per cent, and it can do the same here.
Finally, the Bank of England will soon have a new Governor who will spend less time on keeping the Davos set happy with platitudes on climate change and more on delivering growth. The European Central Bank has re-launched quantitative easing, and the Federal Reserve has cut interest rates. Among major central banks, the Bank of England has been the only one not to try and stimulate growth. The new Governor Andrew Bailey has not yet revealed his plans, but he wouldn't have been appointed if he didn't want the UK to grow faster.
Add all three together, and the UK should be one of the most attractive major markets. Of course, a global crash will torpedo that. But if the bull market keeps going, the UK has a lot of catching up to do – and should for once significantly outperform the rest of the world.