James Coney  

Keep calm and carry on investing

James Coney

James Coney

If there is one benefit that may have come from the corona dip — as the slump in the markets is being called — it is that it may have reminded some people that bull runs do not last forever.

In fact, perhaps my use of the word ‘remind’ is a little misleading.

For some people, the idea that the market could have anything other than a bull run may be news itself.

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There was a funny cartoon in The Telegraph business section on March 2, with two traders joking that millennials had just learned that markets go down as well as up.

There is a truth to that — and there is a danger in it, too.

Without experience of what such movements mean, the lack of familiarity can lead to fear, and fear can lead to a market overreaction, or a ‘doom loop’ as those more nervous financial commentators are already dubbing it.

Coronavirus is not just a demand-side risk, of consumers failing to buy because they are in isolation, but of supply-side too.

The rhetoric of manufacturers warning that their supply chain has been disrupted should not be ignored.

It will not matter how much stimulus the Bank of England and Fed are willing to support the markets with; if parts are not getting to where they need to go, everything slows down.

One of the difficulties of this column is that it is several days between when I write it, and when you get to read it.

The coronavirus situation is changing so quickly that you really can not tell what is going to happen on the markets from one morning to the next, no matter one week.

The consensus, though, is very much that things will get worse before they will get better.

Of course, the UK matters, but it is the reaction in the US if there is an outbreak there, that will be the most telling.

Should some small US city have to go on lockdown, then I suspect the reaction on US corporates will be severe.

Not only that, it could damage President Donald Trump and play into the hands of the pro-national healthcare Bernie Sanders, but also shaking American blue chips that have been surging along under his presidency.

This will be a time for calm heads.

Fund managers have already been dipping in to the market to buy solid multinationals that have suffered a sell-off in China because they are exposed to the consumer: Diageo, Burberry and Nike, for example.

Others have been dipping into more traditional assets: gold and, in increasing numbers, silver.

But it can be very hard to convince savers to ride out a storm if they cannot remember the last time there was one. 

Regular saving, dividends and a long-term horizon are the key things to emphasise here.

Focus on the positives and try to emphasise the fact that times like these serve as a reminder as to why equity investing carries bigger returns, and that is because it does come with some risk.