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Fund Selector: Europe at a turning point

Fund Selector: Europe at a turning point

Earlier this year my thoughts were focused on the outcome for markets were we to see a Labour or Conservative majority government, or even another hung parliament.

My conclusion at the time was rather far from profound, in that markets would have inevitably moved on to the next story. With this month seeing the 200-year anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, which defined much of modern Europe, it is now looking ever more likely that the next two years could define what it looks like for the next generation.

Today, it is the glow of the exit sign that is looking most prominent.

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Having passed on a Scottish exit, kicked the can down the road on a Grexit, we arrive at the latest portmanteau: Brexit.

The newly elected Conservative government has promised an in-out European referendum by 2017.

However, prime minister David Cameron has made it clear he will campaign for the UK to remain a key member of the European Union, albeit with a significant renegotiation of its membership.

He will have to walk a very fine tightrope between campaigning at home for the virtues of remaining part of the union – and all of the benefits that it brings – and obtaining the best terms in any renegotiation.

If we cast our minds back to the sole televised debate between the seven party leaders in the UK, the differences in opinions were stark.

Extrapolate that to 27 member countries and a vote by 2027, let alone 2017, is the most likely outcome.

Of course the UK may not be alone in holding a referendum.

Should the latest round of Greek debt negotiations fail, the past six years of can-kicking might well catch up with the very nation that brought democracy to the world.

Spain has also turned to the left in its most recent local elections. If this trend is carried through to the national elections later this year, might we see another continental country searching for the exit?

If we couple this with elections in France and Germany in 2017, the coming 18 months are going to see increased volatility, despite low inflation and interest rates continuing their dalliance with multigenerational lows.

Indeed, true to form, it is likely that central banks will continue to play the most significant roles when it comes to returns from both equities and fixed income.

Back in 2012, European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi warned the world that Europe was poised to do “whatever it takes” to protect the union.

Initially, words were enough to scare the horses. Now the ECB’s asset-purchase programme is in play, it is clear his actions are even more effective.

Some 110 years ago, Ivan Pavlov won the Nobel Prize for his work studying digestive systems using, rather simply, his dog, a bell and some food.

Like Pavlov’s dog, markets will continue to salivate at each bell-ringing stimuli provided by central banks. With most developed markets looking to slow or withdraw their stimuli programmes, Europe’s bell is being rung, loud and clear.