There are times when it pays to be idle and this summer is proving to be one of them
'One of the reasons he would be good is that he is idle,' Lord Cranbourne is said to have remarked about aspiring Tory leader Kenneth Clarke last week. 'There is a lot to be said for idle leaders.' Let the mob jeer 'He would know, wouldn't he?' The man has spoken a truth.
For the first time in many years this summer feels as summers should ' respite from the strife over the rest of the year. The balmy sunshine at Ascot, unknown British players in gallant defeat at Wimbledon, a soft-focus re-run of the lives and times of the golden coxless four at Henley. Only the abysmal cricket spoils days of uninterrupted leisure, and pleasure.
The corporate hospitality boxes are brimming with cool Bolly. And so they should. The Americans might be tipping into recession, but we're alright over here, Jack. Slowdown in Germany, eh? Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch. Feverish corporate reform in Japan? Been there, done that. Britain has had its election, the countryside is opening up and the markets are dozy.
Many investment managers are at a loss at what to do. 'There is no theme,' whined one. 'There's no direction.' It is true that each year usually throws up a hot idea. TMT stocks, of course, but before that corporate bonds, Europe (that fizzled out rather quickly), healthcare, Japan, privatisation, venture capital and way back, emerging markets.
Lately investors have had too much to think about over the summer period to let serious relaxation set in. Bull markets are pretty exhausting to operate in, and then there has been the Asian crisis, collapsing hedge funds, the Y2K phenomenon, a sizzling IPO market and the dotcom bubble to deal with.
This year ... nothing. (Independent Insurance is merely a little local difficulty, in comparison). But this is how summer used to be. It was like a ceasefire. You respected it unless you wanted to face the combined wrath of friends and foes. After a decent interval, the bell went and everyone started shooting again.
But this year some managers are still pacing about, reluctant to lay down arms. They worry that it is too quiet, that there is an almighty storm brewing up somewhere. They want to prod the market, like a sleeping baby, to check if it's awake. And they want to fiddle with their portfolios, trying a little of this and a little of that, swapping out of the SME Hopefuls fund into the Core Mid-Cap fund.
Beware such restless souls. As the scion of the Cecils noted, there is much to be said for idleness, in investment as in politics. Repose 'facilitates' (as the change management agencies would say) reflection. Thinking time. There is too little of it. Contrary to popular theory, it is not possible to think on your feet. Or at least not with a phone in each hand. Sit down, or even better, lie down. You are far more unapproachable when prone.
Brokers are offering discounts to trade, especially online. Have you thought of the warrants market lately? Can we interest you in this tax efficient trust? Have a hedge fund, Sir. The answer must be No, No and No! Besides, con men swarm in summer like midges round a beer glass, and it is too hot to check anything out properly. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger, the market will be back. Then by all means spring into action. But resist the temptation to do something today.
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