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Investment Notes

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In the 1970s, the British comedian, Spike Milligan devised the Q series. This was a surreal comedy show, which when any particular sketch had come to an end without a suitable punchline, the actors would then wander around saying “What are we going to do now?” UK economic policy seems to have reached the “What are we going to do now?” stage.

Recent data have shown that in 2012, China overtook the USA to become the world’s most important trading nation. On the basis of aggregating total imports and total exports, China’s total international trade amounted to $3.87 trillion, and that of the US was $3.82 trillion.

Over the ten complete quarters that the current UK government has been in power, economic growth has been minus 3%, but total employment has risen by 1%. For the last calendar year, the data show the size of the economy as unchanged but total employment up by over 550,000 or about 1.6%.

All three of the major credit rating agencies, Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch, have the UK rated at AAA but with a negative outlook. A fourth, Dagong, a Chinese-owned rating agency, already has the UK at only A+, four notches below AAA.

Germany, the powerhouse economy of the Eurozone, recently announced 2012 GDP growth of only 0.5%, and that it expected 2013 to deliver only 0.4% growth. At a time when most of rest of the Eurozone is undergoing policies of austerity and reductions in private sector wage costs, they are looking to Germany to be the source of demand for their goods and services, which their own economies are currently unable to provide.
The US fiscal cliff agreement, which passed through Congress on the first day of the year, showed most US politicians in a bad light. Only at the very last minute before significant tax increases and spending cuts would have taken effect, did all participants agree to (i) a deferral of these measures for two months, (ii) a 4.6% tax increase on all incomes over $450,000, and (iii) a 2% payroll tax increase on all incomes up to $107,000. Obama got the tax increase for the top 1% of earners that he had campaigned for, which will raise about $60bn a year, and the Republicans demanded no further extension of the payroll tax cut, which will raise about $125bn a year. Together these measures will reduce US consumer incomes by a little over 1% of GDP in 2013.
As 2012 draws to a close, three things about central banks and monetary policy are becoming more apparent.
As 2012 comes to an end, a review of the performance of financial markets indicates that it has been (at the time of writing) a relatively good year for returns. The major equity indices have managed very acceptable gains - the UK 6.5%, the US 12.5%, Europe 13.5%, Japan 10%, Hong Kong 22%.

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