The U.K. votes on Thursday in a de facto second Brexit referendum. The Federal Reserve’s “Open Market Committee” decides on where U.S. interest rates should go. President Donald Trump meets with his trade representatives for an update on China-U.S. negotiations ahead of the Dec. 15 sanctions hike. Saying this is a critical week for the global economic climate, would be an understatement.
The term “risk-off” or “risk-on” describes the mode that markets are in and the mood of investors. Saying we’re in a “risk-on” climate, therefore, means that investors are willing to take risks and invest in equities, debts, and derivatives. The recent run in financial markets is an indication that investors are largely still very keen to put their money into risky assets. Is this because they have already priced in the risks associated with the aforementioned events? Or is it because memories of 2008 have faded and/or regulators are in control and aren’t allowing institutions to take risks that would mean systemic fault lines to derail the global economy? My confidence in regulators is, unfortunately, far from complete. So what is it then?
Central banks hold nearly $10 trillion worth of assets globally or nearly 20% of all outstanding debt. Consumer consumption dominates the world's largest economies. Even a 5% decline in either would cause a tsunami. Elections all over the world in democracies and protests in non-democracies mean that austerity is no longer an option in much of the world. The influence of the ultra-rich on politicians means that higher-taxes are also not an option. Something's got to give.
Exploding growth in technology has meant the concentration of wealth and power in the few that control those technologies and frustration in those that don’t. Governments are trying to ban those companies that earn billions overseas yet pay zero taxes from that revenue. Those companies, in turn, are spending hundreds of millions in lobbying those very governments. Something's got to give.
The Fed won’t lower interest rates (which it will have announced by the time this column is published) and will promptly be attacked by the elected president of the United States for not doing so. That same president is in the middle of an impeachment battle that will almost certainly yield no results. Meanwhile, that same president has put unprecedented pressure on China to decrease the trade imbalance between the two countries with only 3 days left to go before tariffs are raised on $500 billion worth of Chinese exports. With so much uncertainty in the world, something's got to give.
I don’t know why markets are currently trading in a risk-on manner, but they are. The age-old question is, “Is it riskier not to invest and miss the boat on a bull run or is it riskier to invest and suffer the consequences of a bear market?” That’s a decision each investor has to make but whatever you decide, please note, something's got to give.
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