City Watch: Mark Sylvester on the growing geopolitical threat to market confidence

Charles Sylvester of Charles Stanley & Co, Ipswich

Charles Sylvester of Charles Stanley & Co, Ipswich - Credit: Archant

As measured by the Vix Index, otherwise known as the “Fear Gauge” of the US market, investors around the world have been more relaxed about current geopolitical and economic news than at any time since 2007.

Back then of course, we were enjoying the calm before the credit-crisis storm.

However it’s not just economic turbulence that markets often fail to factor in, and today there is a growing list of geopolitical problems that are threatening to shake them out of their complacency.

Of the 10 countries with the world’s largest oil reserves, six are in the Middle East, where years of instability are looming due in particular to the Sunni-Shia split, which whatever Tony Blair says, wasn’t helped by the blundering intervention of western powers.

Other areas where there is potential trouble include Ukraine and Thailand; there is also growing unrest in Brazil and Turkey and the recent terrorist activity in Nigeria and Kenya don’t bode well for that area either.

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However, economically ? in the UK anyway ? the news continues to get better and better. This led Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England to suggest in his Mansion House speech last week that interest rates might start rising rather sooner than anyone expected.

Looking at the evidence you can see why he might want to flag this up. The UK economy has grown considerably faster than predicted ? in the last quarter GDP was up 3.1% compared to a year ago ? and unemployment figures have been remarkably positive.

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However, the Governor’s forecasting ability has since been called into question, with some commentators reminding readers that his “forward guidance policy” from a couple of years ago, didn’t actually provide as much clarity as it was supposed to. More recently, we were told that rates wouldn’t go up until unemployment fell below 7%; this policy too was abandoned when the figures improved too fast.

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