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IPE 360: The political concerns you should have on your radar

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Panellists at last week’s IPE 360 conference in London highlighted a range of political concerns for investors – not all of which were necessarily on the radar yet.

Vincent Reinhart, chief economist at Standish Mellon Asset Management, warned of the potential for “policy mistakes” in China in the near future.

“Its desire to project a military force as powerful as their GDP on the global scale could lead to them interfering more than the US,” he said.

Roughly 60% of global GDP was generated in emerging markets, Reinhart said, and half of that emanated from China.

“Global GDP has actually been less volatile over the last few years because much of it is being increased in a region that delivers growth at 6.5% year-on-year,” Reinhart said.

But he urged investors to “consider the tail risk in China”.

With emerging markets getting wealthier but global GDP growth shrinking, some parts of society were being left out in the developed world – leading to the rise of populism.

Reinhart said: “These global economic readjustments create resentment and there is no growth to appease the anger, which in turn leads to voter resentment against trade, migration, etc, and to more geopolitical risk.”

Turning to the US, where the effect of populism has been arguably most prevalent, Reinhart said his biggest concern was “thinking about the day when three Republican senators say they want to run for president. This would mean there is no majority government anymore and it would be an incentive for [president Donald] Trump to use executive action wherever he can.”

Brexit

For Anthony Arnull, Barber Professor of Jurisprudence at Birmingham Law School, the greatest political worries were related to Brexit – in particular the difficulties facing the UK government when seeking to strike new trade deals after it leaves the EU.

Apart from the “chaotic lack of preparation” both leading up to the Brexit vote as well as to the negotiations with the EU, Arnull highlighted that the UK government’s plan to “peel off” some members from the bloc was “not looking very realistic”.

“The EU does not welcome the UK’s departure but it is now in a post-referendum phase, adjusted to the idea that UK is leaving,” Arnull said. “It might even think the EU will develop faster without the UK, and this is a difficult dynamic for the UK to deal with.”

More uncertainty over trade was added by Donald Trump, he said. Trump has promised both German chancellor Angela Merkel and UK prime minister Theresa May that their respective markets would be “first on the list” for a trade deal. “Now the UK does not know where it is on this list,” Arnull said.

Finally, Ian McKnight, CIO at the Royal Mail Pension Plan in the UK, highlighted Italy’s forthcoming election as a potential flashpoint.

Discussing potential triggers for an equity market selloff, McKnight said: “There could be something with the Italian election coming up next year. A lot of Italian MPs – as I understand it – will be against the EU. That’s potentially a catastrophic event.”

Italy’s next election must be held no later than 20 May next year.

See the July/August edition of IPE for a Special Report on Italy’s pension system.

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