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UBS Forum – Investment opportunities remain despite political and economic volatility


The 2019 UBS Forum, held at the Royal Yacht Hotel on the 29th January, saw economists and investment specialists from UBS and a guest speaker from Chatham House present to over 100 private investors. The audience were shown a comprehensive view of the past year’s economic performance, analysis of the current global state of affairs and recommendations for negotiating the coming year.
 
Tom Hill, Group Country Head, UBS Wealth Management in Jersey opened this year’s Forum and the event was moderated by Michael Clarke, Head of Private Clients at UBS Wealth Management in Jersey. The four speakers, Dean Turner, Caroline Simmons and James Mulford from UBS and Thomas Raines from Chatham House, then presented key analysis where the subject of volatility was high on the agenda.
 
Economist Dean Turner, from the UK Investment Office at UBS Wealth Management, told investors that 2018 was the 9th consecutive year of growth for the global economy. However, the essence of his presentation was to highlight that a turning point has potentially been reached, with growth slowing and the expectation that this deceleration will continue in 2019. Dean confirmed that we are now in a mature phase of the economic growth cycle, but a recession in 2019 is extremely unlikely. The volatile political environment hasn’t previously impacted overall market conditions, but there are signs that these have the potential to evolve into economic challenges with examples such as the US/China trade dispute and the effects of the Italian government policies on bond markets being discussed. However, Dean was quick to highlight that not all political risk presents a downside.
 
‘Despite all of the volatility we have had in emerging markets, from an economic perspective, predicted growth expectations were largely met, in spite of the head winds of high US interest rates and a much stronger US dollar than expected. In 2019, economic growth is set to slow across all of the major economic blocks, compared to 2017/18 which saw the fastest rates of economic growth for the global economy since the start of the decade. Economic growth has provided a tail wind for the markets over the last couple of years and as it slows it may lead some investors to question if the end of the economic cycle is approaching.

Dean finished with a reflection on the UK and the issue of Brexit:
‘There is a challenging few months ahead. Nobody knows how or when this is going to end, and delays and uncertainty do have an impact on the UK economy, so we really do need some clarity before the UK can move forward. However, as important as this is to us, it is worth remembering that the UK is 3% of the global economy and whatever the outcome of the final Brexit agreement it is not enough to derail the global economy.’
 
Deputy Head of UBS Investment Office UK, Caroline Simmons, then presented a view on how investors might best navigate this economic period. Caroline delivered the message that whilst market volatility is unlikely to go away, it is too early to sell equities as historically they have performed well in the late cycle. The current political uncertainty means that investors may wish to diversify globally and be selective.
 
Thomas Raines, Head of the Europe Programme at Chatham House gave an insightful overview of the current political volatility. Thomas highlighted the global trend towards populist governments being elected, with the likelihood of populism and protectionism staying on the radar throughout 2019. Thomas raised the point that political volatility is not a new concept but has trended upwards since the 1970’s, along with the decline of party identification and voters being less loyal. With regards to Brexit, Thomas shared the following:
‘There appears to be a post-Brexit bounce in support for EU membership. Some supporters of Brexit had a theory that the UK leaving might lead other countries to follow suit, but it appears that the opposite is happening to public attitudes. There has been a rise in support for the EU, illustrating either that Brexit has made people value membership more than before, or they have seen how difficult it is to leave!’
 
The final speaker of the afternoon, James Mulford, Head of UBS Global Mandates & Investment Content (UK & Jersey), delivered a presentation confirming that market volatility had made a comeback in 2018. Despite this, UBS has continued to outperform peers. The 3L’s concept was discussed as being the recommended model to implement that could help prepare for volatility.
Liquidity - to help maintain your lifestyle (cash, fixed income)
Longevity - to help improve your lifestyle (classic diversified portfolio)
Legacy - to help improve the lives of others (capital growth with high risk)

Throughout the UBS Forum, the audience of private investors and intermediaries were invited to answer a series of questions. 58% of the audience said they do not want the UK to leave the EU in 2019, but 49% believed that the greatest risk to the global economy in 2019 is the US/China trade dispute compared to only 4% for Brexit. 66% of the audience felt that there is room for populism to continue to grow. The continued concerns about political and economic volatility are obviously having an impact. When asked if they felt confident about economic growth in Jersey, 48% said Yes, with 32% saying No and 20% being unsure.*
All speakers responded to questions from the audience with the topic of US politics and the US/China trade dispute being of particular interest.

*Summary Results – UBS Forum 2019:

Do you want to leave the EU in 2019?
Yes - 42%
No - 58%
 
What are your current investment intentions?
Leave things as they are? - 53%
Increase investment commitment - 20%
Decrease investment - 5%
Rebalance your investments - 22%
 
What do you think will be the best performing asset class in 2019?
Equities - 59%
Hedge funds - 20%
Commercial property – 11%
Fixed income – 9%
Cash – 1%
 
What do you perceive as the greatest risk to global economy and investors in 2019?
US China trade dispute - 49%
Brexit - 4%
Rising interest rates - 16%
Slower emerging market growth - 10%
European political crisis - 21%
 
What is your view of populism?
Already subsiding - 10%
Peaking now - 24%
Room to grow - 66%
 
Having heard about the 3L concept, have you considered investing this way before?
Yes? - 43%
No? - 57%
 
Where do you sense you will increase exposure during 2019?
Bonds - 23%
Equity - 30%
Hedge funds - 16%
Private markets - 15%
Structured products - 10%
Cash - 6%
 
Do you feel confident about economic growth in your region?
Yes - 48%
No - 32%
Don’t know - 20%