Don't let fiscal cliff fatigue get you down
Typical Yanks. Why, when the rest of the world is enduring austerity measures or simply trying to balance its budgets have the Americans got to be to so wretchedly melodramatic – shouting and waving their arms around as usual? Fiscal cliff indeed. Great big flap over some expired legislation and the need to, wait for it, increase taxes and decrease spending.
This vast, towering fiscal cliff, the apex of which the gargantuan US economy teeters upon, apparently threatens to plunge us all into eternal darkness.
To deal with it, the American Taxpayer Relief Act, passed on New Year’s Day, simply took the edge off the problem, leaving the upper middle class parting with a bit more, as usual. Dear me, the Americans started the whole crisis with their collateralised debt and their rubbish mortgages, so they should cut the clamour and calmly pass the port to the left. My long position on the Dow, which is doing nicely, remains open for now.
Having been rude about Facebook in the past and made a couple of bags with my first ever short on the share, I have been watching a recovery in the US with interest.
I note that much has been going on in the mercurial mind of Mr Zuckerberg. The site has changed its terms and conditions to take greater ownership of Facebook content and make more sense of the strange price paid for the picture creation site Instagram.
Facebook has taken a bit of a kicking from users, but there are still plenty of them and further great strides have been made in what I understand is called the ‘gamification’ of the site – no idea what that means, though it sounds rather fetid. On recent rumours of the imminent arrival of a Facebook mobile device, I bought a couple of hundred shares when the price fell below $30 (£18) with a view to holding into the summer. As it happens the mobile phone didn’t appear but a new search feature did, and that is potentially much bigger news.
Closer to home, it seems the commodities cycle is shackled to the railings for the time being and financial companies are having a little turn at the wheel, much to my gratification. There still seems to be much nervousness around about the banks, and the feeling has only been intensified, for me, by the famously dreadful investor friend of mine, Freddie, chirruping about the recovery of his RBS stock in the clubhouse last week.
I own a modest piece of the stock. Since its consolidation, the company has been heading in the right direction – though from the deepest basement, I must confess. This might sound controversial, but young Stephen Hester, RBS’s chief executive, seems to have a calm head on his shoulders and is well used to handing over bits of his bank, so the anticipated slap on the wrist for Libor tweaking, while expensive, might give the stock a chance to show its resilience. We shall see. I’ve been wrong in the past on this stock, but I’ll keep holding – with my finger on the mouse, just in case.
I’m watching Lloyds closely too. The share has enjoyed a splendid rally since the autumn. Sitting on a near 30 per cent profit makes me twitchy, but I shall sit tight and ignore the imaginary greedy bird that squawks from over my shoulder wanting more and more.
Meanwhile, as the sun resolutely sulks below the horizon in the post-Christmas gloom and the ground remains too hard to get a tee peg in, I will distract myself from the memsahib’s continual carping over the frost-related fate of her geraniums with a spot of income hunting.
Old favourite Tesco is re-rating after bumper Christmas figures, an encouraging sign following its profit warning last time around. I rather prefer the look of Marks & Sparks though. It had a shocker of a Christmas, with sales (excluding food) down 3.8 per cent for the 13 weeks to 29 December. But it could just turn things around.
United Utilities has always been a decent twice-yearly dividend payer and appears to be recovering from a blip, after a year-long uptick. A quick butcher’s at its share price chart shows it always seems to dip at the year end and appears to be pulling back from an 80p drop to about 650p. The share is residing at 692p at the time of musing and seems to be recovering. It paid a total dividend of 33.78p last year and about 30p the year before. All the utilities – I like National Grid and Centrica as income plays – are hovering around waiting for the results of yet more regulatory sabre-rattling, but energy prices don’t go down and it’s parky out there. I’ll watch for weakness and keep my ammunition to hand.
Until next time, then, over and out.