Thursday, January 08, 2009

2009 - The Year of The Regulator?

Well, as Gordon Gecko would say 'Christmas is over and business is business'. So here we are in 2009 staring down the barrel of a potentially crappy year. Potential landmines are everywhere and our governments are running short of bullets to protect. With interest rates reaching all time lows, zillions of dollars across the world being used to stimulate the economy, I still feel like I want to take a year off and come back when the dust has settled.

Sadly, school fees, car payments and a depleted portfolio put paid to that idea before it was fully thought out, so onwards and upwards, once more into the breach.. and all that.

We kick this year off with the news that short selling is back, Sainsburys have had a record Christmas and plans 4000 jobs in 2009 and we have 'Super Obama' entering the White House ready to splurge to save us all.

Perhaps it will not so bad after all.

Even Neil Woodford at Invesco Perpetual is calling the bottom. He said: "With the sharp falls in the UK and global stock markets in late 2008, the UK market seems to be discounting an outlook which is at least as bad as that which I foresee. Overall UK equity market indices are now lower than 10 years ago and I think there are now good grounds for thinking the overall market has bottomed.

"But, as always, it is important to look at individual stocks and sectors and at that level there is some very good value indeed."

After this ray of sunshine he then rains on our parade, he is still pessimistic on the outlook for the wider economy and says there will be significant further bad news in the three interconnected factors of consumer spending, the housing market and economic growth.

"Taking house prices first, we have already seen a drop in average UK house prices of 20pc from the peak level in August 2007. But house prices are still high in relation to average earnings, especially for first-time buyers.

"In the early 1990s the house/price earnings ratio fell very markedly, from almost five to just over three. Even if the fall is not as marked in the current phase of adjustment, it is quite possible that we will see another 15pc-20pc drop in house prices nationally.

"The latest Treasury forecast of a 1pc fall in GDP in 2009 looks far too optimistic. Furthermore, the recovery from that is unlikely to be a sharp, V-shaped one. With consumers and banks deleveraging and with the prospect of a very large government fiscal deficit, the recovery after 2009 is likely to be pretty anemic."

Even the prospect of Obamanomics is overshadowed by his desire to reign in Wall Street."Wall Street has not worked," Obama told CNBC's John Harwood in an exclusive interview. "So it's going to be a substantial overhaul. We're going to have better enforcement, better oversight, better disclosure, increased transparency.

It seems to me that President Elect Obama is a sensible guy and has a team around him that know what they are talking about. I do hope, however, that he and his team don't pander to the wider public and throw regulations at the market without thinking them through. You may wonder why I would be worried about this, well, it seems to me that whatever Obama does in the US will be mirrored over here in some way shape or form.

If you are not concerned, imagine a Euro Sarbanes-Oxley act here (more than likely called Sarkozy-Merkel here). Bye, bye IPO's, hello massive regulatory cost hikes. Compliance consultants and accountants would be happy; pretty much everyone else would get screwed.

We have seen the shape of things to come with the short selling ban. As much as it pains me, I would argue that the move to ban short selling in banks was the right decision at the time, it was special circumstances.

Problem is, now idiot Politicians who catch CNBC for a few minutes a day in their Parliamentary offices, think that they are market experts. This 'expertise' now leads them to believe that short selling is evil and the cause of the world's problems. Their constituents believe this because they have read the 'City' pages in their favorite red-top, and suddenly we have a love-in that ends in some unworkable, ridiculous rules.

Imagine if short selling were completely banned, how long would it be before the hedgies and the wider investment community would find a way of being able to exploit a one sided market. Pushing stocks to incredibly high levels without the fear of shorters spoiling the party. Enter a second Internet bubble type market. Not good for anyone.

This year could be a write-off, it could be a sobering reminder that times can't always be good, it might even show how resilient the world economies are as we shrug off the recession in the last quarter but one thing it will definitely be is 'The Year Of The Regulator'.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water

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