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Banking on another recession, are we?

Alan SteelIt was reported the other day on Bad News at Ten that the head honcho at RBS decreed that the UK is definitely in for a recession. Aw naw! What should we do then? Should we take heed of what he’s saying and panic? Well, after all, he might be right, I suppose, although he is singing from the same hymn sheet as a growing consensus of “experts” with rather dubious credentials.

I have to say that bothers me. Why? Well, does anybody remember what the RBS chief economist (ever wondered why you need more than one economist per bank?) predicted back in January 2016? He said it was going to be a “cataclysmic year” and he publicly advised investors “to sell everything” before it was too late.”

And that excited headline writers. Hit the front pages big style in the UK it did. And even wider afield. The story was picked up across the world from Washington to Wakayama and West Calder. Caused more than a few panic phone calls here from worried investors. And it was “proof” to a couple “who had a feeling” back in October 2015 that stock markets were going to crash “sooner rather than later”. Let’s face it they’d seen articles written by “proper experts” reminding readers that October was a dangerous month to invest in shares.

Mark Twain used to say that yonks ago. Although he also reckoned that February, December, August, May, January, July, September, March, November April and June were, too. Say no more.

No matter what we said this couple of perpetual worriers cashed out and stuck their significant life savings in bank deposit, assuring us they’d reinvest when it felt better. So when would that be? “When the market’s higher of course”. No, they didn’t spot the irony. So three years later how have they done? Not good I’m afraid . Earned literally sod all in interest, and lost money in real terms thanks to inflation.

And the stock markets? If they’d stayed with their “attacker” funds exposed to global growth, they’ve missed out on 100% after charges , no tax. If they’d stuck to their “boring” global and UK income funds which formed the bulk of their medium risk strategy they would be anything between 22% to 78% better off. And even their “goalkeeper” or “last line of defence” funds they’d be over 20% better off. But they didn’t. How sad is that?

Right now as I write this, the “end is nigh” headlines are being brushed down for a fresh airing. You may have noticed that over in the US, stock markets fell by more than a squidgeon on Thursday. No matter that they’d gone for three months previously without a 1% daily move in either direction, which isn’t normal. Suddenly the world was ending again.

A cracking headline on the internet showed that some mathematical genius with too much time on their hands had calculated that the richest few on the planet had “lost” a total of $63 billion in the falls. A Bernie Arnault was only worth $73.5 billion apparently. I bet he’s devastated. Not so Warren Buffett who is known for ignoring fads and experts. His wealth went up by $1.2 billion it seems. He’ll be singing and dancing on the streets of Omaha I suppose.

It’s easy to forget the constant scary predictions by “world experts and scientists” whom we’re told just know better than us. And I could give lots of examples over the last nine years where they’ve been miles out with their considered opinions. But let’s stick to a couple.

In August 2010 an analysis was made of ten renowned economic experts and their predictions related to an imminent “double-dip recession” in the wake of the 2007/8 Great Financial Crisis. They included well –known revered figures including Robert Shiller (Prof at Yale University), Bill Gross (Former managing partner at PIMCO), Nouriel Roubini (Prof at New York University) as well as those economists representing Goldman Sachs, The Institute of Directors and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research.

They all saw the probabilities of a double-dip recession as higher than normal. One or two saw the probability as high as 50% to over 60%. And they were wrong. Unless you count the fall in demand for Hummus and Taramasalata in Greece.

Currently, there appears to be a growing consensus of experts and scientists that know best when history disputes that scenario. So here’s what Harvard graduate and world famous science fiction writer Michael Crichton has to say on the matter…

“ I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus…. Historically the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels. It is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.”

“In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.”

Or in other words “Nullius in Verba” the Latin motto of the Royal Society formed in London in 1660… which roughly translates as “don’t take their word for it, check for yourself” Sounds sensible to me.

Alan Steel is chairman of Alan Steel Asset Management

Alan Steel Asset Management is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. This article contains the personal views of Alan Steel and should not be construed as advice. Do check your individual circumstances with your advisers.








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