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Tom McCabe: 'Blame Brexit as Irish investors feel the gloom despite the boom'

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One of the most interesting themes this year is how investment markets have performed so strongly even as investors have grown pessimistic about the outlook. (stock photo)

One of the most interesting themes this year is how investment markets have performed so strongly even as investors have grown pessimistic about the outlook. (stock photo)

One of the most interesting themes this year is how investment markets have performed so strongly even as investors have grown pessimistic about the outlook. (stock photo)

All around the world investment markets have rallied strongly in 2019. World stock markets are nearly up by 20pc for Irish investors and bond markets have also joined the party with eurozone government bonds posting their best gains since 2014. So investors are feeling positive right? Well, not quite - that's where things get more complicated.

One of the most interesting themes this year is how investment markets have performed so strongly even as investors have grown pessimistic about the outlook.

In June the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Investment survey showed that the last time international investors were this downbeat was in 2008 at the height of the Global Financial Crisis.

In Europe, the Sentix Index of investor confidence currently languishes at around a five-year low while in the US the AAII's (American Association of Individual Investors) 'Bull-Bear' Index currently shows that private investors are more negative than positive on the short-term outlook for stock markets.

When we look at the reasons for investors' apprehension typically question marks about Chinese economic growth, the trade war and whether central banks can still dig the world economy out of a hole tend to occupy minds most.

It is understandable why investors feel nervous about these issues.

The US and China are the two biggest economies on the planet, so it stands to reason that a trade war between the two will muddy the economic outlook.

In addition, China is forecast to account for around 30pc of the growth in the world economy this year and this massive contribution is unlikely to change soon.

In other words, whatever happens in China will be central to the global outlook for the foreseeable future. Since central banks were instrumental in rescuing the economy and markets from the global financial crisis, naturally investors will wonder can they produce a repeat performance if required again.

Since October 2017 Bank of Ireland has been tracking investment sentiment among Irish investors. So have Irish investors reacted any differently to their international peers this year? Well, no is the short answer.

Like many other global gauges of investor sentiment, Bank of Ireland's Investment Index has fallen from 102 in March to 94 in August, its lowest level since launch.

However, over the summer months Irish investors appear to have adopted a much more gloomy outlook. Our Investment Environment sub-index (which asks people whether they think it is a good or bad time to invest), slumped from 91 to 76 in August, by far the lowest reading on record. Here a record high percentage of people (39pc) felt that now was a bad time to invest.

The fact that Irish investor sentiment weakened significantly during a period which coincided with Boris Johnson's election as UK Prime Minister strongly suggests that Irish concerns about the UK crashing out of the EU, above all else, are central to growing Irish investors' unease.

This is also validated by another insight in August that 50pc of Irish people answered that they were less likely to invest as a result of Brexit concerns.

In our view the direction of investment markets over the medium term is much more likely to be shaped by global issues such as trade and the twists and turns in global economy rather than the nature of Brexit per se.

A crash-out Brexit could certainly add to market volatility and may even tip the UK and eurozone economies into a recession in the short term, in addition to having negative repercussions for the Irish economy. Clearly such a scenario makes the short term investment outlook more uncertain. However, we would caution against Irish investors thinking that Brexit will be a 'global event' for markets in the same way the global financial crisis was.

Amid periods of economic and geopolitical uncertainty such as now, basic investment advice if anything becomes even more valuable for investors.

This includes principles like the need to stay well diversified (to reduce risk), to remember that investing is a long term process and to even 'drip feed' their money into investment portfolios if they are particularly nervous about short term volatility.

The decade since the global financial crisis has been packed with geopolitical issues and economic scares and yet the bull market in stocks has endured. It is also worth remembering this.

Investment markets are always climbing 'walls of worry'. The important thing to remember is that these episodes don't last forever.

In the meantime investors can console themselves in the knowledge that the markets have delivered strongly despite weaker sentiment globally - which makes you wonder whether bad news has somehow become good news for markets in 2019.

Tom McCabe is global investment strategist at Bank of Ireland Investment Markets

Sunday Indo Business