When The Lord tells you to panic... You panic. And beg for QE 3, 4, 5, etc. Just think of the poor bankers.
Let me look now at the time ahead. I reminded shareholders in my Chairman’s Statement last year that our aim of preserving shareholders’ capital takes precedence over short-term capital growth if we feel that there remains above-average risk of capital loss. There is, I believe, a growing awareness of the dangerous position which confronts many countries, particularly those in the developed world. In spite of these concerns, we continue to take advantage of areas that we believe are attractive, but we will remain cautious in terms of the quantum of capital that we allocate. For instance, your Company has benefited from the rise in commodity prices. Yet a noted US strategist has pointed out that commodity returns relative to equity returns are at a 200-year high on a rolling 10-year basis. We are not alone in having noted the attractive level of valuation of many quality companies, eclipsed till now by commodity and cyclical companies. After a decade of commodity leadership, a shift to a new regime is a possibility; identifying a new trend, if indeed it comes to pass, will be a major factor in future investment performance.
The risks ahead are glaring and global. The US recovery is fragile, with millions unable to find work. The Dollar has diminished in value and the government deficit has ballooned. In Europe, the fate of the Monetary Union is in doubt and growth is likely to slow as the European Union seeks to rein in government deficits and spending in a number of their member countries. Japan’s challenge following the earthquake and tsunami is monumental. The Middle East uprisings have led to a surge in oil prices. Inflation is threatening in emerging markets. African and other poor nations are suffering from grain prices which have risen by about 70%. It is likely that the withdrawal of the fiscal and monetary stimuli which will surely come soon will have an impact on global growth: indeed there is already evidence of some slowing down since your Company’s year-end of 31 March. Stock market performance does not necessarily go hand in hand with economies. Timing is crucial, at least in the short term, for investment performance. In these uncertain times it means retaining a good quota of liquidity and being eclectic in our investments, picking our stocks and situations well as we long have done.