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Opinion Piece: 2022 & The Road Ahead, Will Governments Around the World Keep Continuing to the see the Light?

This piece has been authored by Fintuity’s Head of Strategy, Ed Downpatrick – All views and opinions are solely those of the Author.

Illicit, height-of-hypocrisy partying aside, it looks like the government is gradually setting us free. The same scientific models that put us onto this road of ravage two years ago are the ones to now call time. Vaccinations cannot stop you catching and passing on the virus, at least not this variant and likely the variants to come, assuming they follow the correlative path of decreased lethality to increased transmissibility. Omicron has put far fewer people in hospital and accounted for comparatively few deaths. By gum it can still make us feel pretty poorly, some of us at least (ahem), but all this is really to say that we have reached the endemic stage, the time when a virus takes up tolerable residence within a population. What does it all mean, Basil/Boris? A derestricted country with significantly-reduced mask wearing, enforceable only in places where it truly makes sense; a massive sigh of relief for the tourist and hospitality sectors, well those of them still breathing at least; better news for travellers; worse news for providers of testing apparatus and PPE, fingers crossed, and so say the landfills and oceans.

The US looks to be following suit, judging by its cosmetic removal of daily covid figures which it now adjudges to be misleading, possibly false, and no longer relevant to the public. Covid will not go away, but now it can continue to be vaccinated against or better yet, treated (an absolute no-go if you are under the thumb of the behemoth pharmaceutical companies of course… it is not nearly as lucrative a business). For a brief moment imagine controlling the needs of a billion people with a single, easily-replicable product. As a matter of course, we do not indulge in conspiracy theories, but there are some mathematics in the world that are just impossible to ignore.

Not to perpetuate the conspiracy theories but is it a mere coincidence that the ten richest men in the world (and the wives on their way to a lucrative divorce) have doubled their net worth during the pandemic? One metric of what this has cost, albeit tenuously, is the fall of 161 million people beneath the poverty line.

Will other governments around the world begin to ease restrictions and allow tourism, not to mention all trade, to flow once more? The writer has just been in one of the European countries to take a less authoritarian approach to the pandemic, but even Portuguese restaurants require an up-to-date proof of vaccination or a clinically-registered negative test for would-be customers to enter. The Italian police spot check pedestrians, outside to boot, effectively stopping and searching them to verify their digital covid passports. The Austrians have talked about camps for the unvaccinated… oh dear. The projection of ‘power’ to mask economic frailty and political scandal. For liberty and a certain kind of common sense at least, Brexit might not have been such a terrible idea.

Stumbling blocks

If common sense prevails, there should be pleasingly few.

Housing

Moving on, we survey the lay of the land for mortgages, pensions, and a brief investment outlook for 2022.

Expect more stability after a stamp-holiday-induced frenzy of buying in 2021 which was the strongest year for mortgage lending since 2007. Affordability for first-time buyers will continue to be a challenge with prices having reached record levels last year. Inflation rising at its current rate (it hit 5.1% in November) puts even more pressure on mortgage affordability. Add to this bleak picture for market newbies the 38% of houses purchased last year going for above-market prices. The search for the bucolic idyll will likely remain a theme as flexible working practices look here to stay and with them, the slightly softening but ongoing exodus from cities to the countryside, nationwide. The imbalance between supply and demand continues and that only bodes well for sellers. First-time buyers, unless you’ve just has a massive windfall, hold your horses. Elon Musk no longer owns any personal properties. Either he’s moving to Mars a little sooner than anticipated or he thinks there are better places to put his money.

Pensions

I’ll be as to the point as I can. Three million cash ISA pensioners have been hit hard by inflation which makes cash, i.e., your hard-earned savings, worth less than it was because when prices of goods rise that cash no longer has the same purchasing power. A cautionary tale for a cautious approach. Equity markets provide inflation-beating returns and with your pension pot, age dependent, you can afford to be patient and watch your money grow over time. If you are one of one million people on the State pension, check if you qualify for the weekly top-up from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). According to financial guru, Martin Lewis, “the Pension Credit can top-up your State Pension if your total weekly pension is below £177 for a single person or £270 for a couple. Even if you earn more than that, if you’ve got some savings, you might still be entitled to a small Pension Credit top-up. The reason this is so important is that it’s a gateway benefit, so if you’re entitled to the core element of Pension Credit and over 75, you get a free TV Licence, your Council Tax may be lowered, and you may get the Warm Home Discount.”

Financial Markets

Tech stocks, partially on the back of covid-restriction-easing announcements in countries like the UK and US, have taken a long-awaited nose-dive, especially the ‘stay-at-home’ stocks like Netflix which make up a big chunk of the Nasdaq, the exchange having this month seen its biggest rout since the aftershocks of the dotcom bubble in 2002. It is worth mentioning that there are twofold causes behind the tech-stock slump: the world is reopening, and sit-at-home consumerism will concomitantly slow; the Biden administration is on an ideological crusade to dismantle the tech giants, despite their being the shining lights of the US economy, investing unprecedented billions into new technologies. The knock-on effect has flown over the Atlantic to the FTSE which dropped over a percent.

Panic not, however, and here’s why. According to some we are in the midst of a bubble, driven by low bond yields and plentiful liquidity, which is not yet at bursting point. This means a cautiously upwards trajectory, for a while yet. Corporate profit growth is on an encouraging trend whilst absolute valuations come down to more realistic (and more affordable) levels, so from a relative valuation point of view and taking historical economic cycles into consideration (recovery from a shock followed by expansion), conditions are favourable for stock investments. Good managers will understand how far and hard to ride the wave before selling out of certain stocks or indices which they see as having surpassed their absolute valuations.

2022 should see strong consumer demand as job growth returns and countries reopen proper. Returns will likely not be as exciting as 2021, but they ought to still be positive. The private sector has adapted to keep serving the customer and policymakers, whilst not blemish free, are sufficiently equipped to boost demand when required.

Let us look forward to a happy, healthy, and stable 2022 (geopolitical shenanigans aside). As a separate note to caution, please think very carefully before you invest in cryptocurrencies. Odell Beckham, the wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams, is on a $750,000 salary which he chose to take in Bitcoin. At the time Bitcoin was worth $64,293, as of a few days ago $35,400. Today the deal is worth $412,953. Odell will be taxed, Federal and California state, at 50.3%. This means Odell, as of now, has netted $35,703 from his contract this year. Understand animal instincts (there’s even a book, a good one), understand behavioural finance (there’s another book, a great one), build a risk matrix (or ask a whizz-kid with a commendable track record to make one for you), and then figure out if it’s a good idea.

This piece has been authored by Fintuity’s Head of Strategy, Ed Downpatrick – All views and opinions are solely those of the Author.

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