The last week brought much hyperbole to the description of financial markets (using the BBC website as my barometer):
Early in the morning of 9th November (UK time), Donald Trump gave his victory speech as his election victory became certain.
9th November, 8.01 – “FTSE Sinks” – the FTSE 100 has plunged. Wow, what has happened? “Plunged” by 2% – that’s not really a plunge is it?
9th November 17.01 – “FTSE 100 Closes Higher” – the FTSE actually closes 1% higher on the day.
So, in other words, like lots of other days.
In fact, after some very minor ups and downs over the following days, the FTSE 100 ended the week almost exactly where it started.
My inbox on 9th November was overflowing with pre-written (and probably hastily watered-down) circulars about Trump’s win. Some forgot the watering down bit and talked about global market falls “only being the start” – oops.
The fact is that nothing much has happened. Markets have probably learned (yes, markets sometimes learn) from the Brexit vote aftermath. Panic sellers lost out, some quite heavily. Sometime, sitting on your hands can be a pretty good strategy. Remember, the costs of buying and selling assets can be substantial. In the world of pensions, long-term investing is the name of the game and so over-reaction to what were fairly minor market movements can be costly.
That is not to say that the medium-long term is going to be plain sailing in calm waters. Volatility in terms of asset values, exchange rates, long-term interest rates and inflation rates – is likely to be prevalent for some time. And what is going to happen? I don’t know and will be very wary of anyone who tells me they do.
For pension schemes, shafts of light have appeared in the dark tunnel of post-Brexit funding levels. Rises in long-term interest rates have placed lower values on scheme liabilities, albeit offset in part by the spectre of rising inflation. Together with relatively positive asset returns, many schemes are in better shape than they were a few months ago.
Accordingly, managing assets relative to the value of liabilities should remain a key priority for pension scheme trustees.