Banish Brexit denial and buy safety

The problem with intellectuals, by and large, is that they have at their hearts a vanity - their own intellect.

Collectively, this can result in a tendency to manifest itself in both stubborn denial and a desperate need to express a viewpoint. Far as I am from being an intellectual, stubbornness and denial seem to me to have been a feature of 2016.

Our 'establishment' is made up almost entirely of intellectuals. That's the very same establishment that was totally unprepared for the consequences of democracy in 2016. It has largely expressed itself with stubborn denial because it didn't get the outcome it was expecting.

Yet the people spoke loudly at the ballot box for two unpopular election results. You can't change the rules of democracy with bleating, endless court hearings and forensic examination of the whys and wherefores, just because you don't like the result.


At the beginning of 2016 I had lunch with a very smart man - John Bennett, the manager of the Henderson European Focus trust - who stated that 2016 would be a 'down year'.

Actually his fund put on more than 4 per cent. That's not a bad result given the huge dark clouds over Europe and deep fall of the pound.

His attitude then was 'never mind the result, just get on with it'. He was right; and at the time of writing this seems to be what the Footsie is doing, regardless of the negative sentiment surrounding the immediate economic future.

Strong results from British manufacturing, which recently hit a two-year high, and miners (nine of the top 10 performers in 2016 were commodity or oil stocks) have led the charge in the 19 per cent rise since the FTSE 100's 27 June low. The FTSE 250 is trading 5 per cent above its 23 June level.

Is the market over-valued? For me there's generally more sentiment than substance here.

Most of these companies are foreign earners - though with a good smattering of UK housebuilders - but the FTSE Local UK index is compiled from businesses with at least 70 per cent of their earnings coming domestically.

The local index dumped 18 per cent after the vote, and is currently trading 3.8 per cent below its pre-referendum level.

The UK, however, is a notably open and globalised economy with a low corporation tax rate, and so there could well be room for growth here, though I'm damned if I can find an exchange traded fund to cover it.

And then there's Donald Trump. He has said he will embark on a tax-cutting and business-motivating spending spree.

Usually this is a recipe for living today at the expense of tomorrow, but surely investors will want to make hay while they can wear their shades. I think I'll keep an eye out there, but I can't see any downside to those who are long on tech.

So, Blighty then. Regardless of whether we exit the EU hard, soft or with a barely audible squishy noise, exit we will, so I'm of a mind to pick out a couple of large and reliable stocks which will at worst survive in the status quo.


Frequently this can mean dull, but in most of the scenarios I can foresee, dull means dosh. I have therefore topped up my holding in Severn Trent at 2,157p.

It has served me well with near 20 per cent growth in three or so years, and a nice dividend above 3.6 per cent. A fall-back in price in late 2016 presents value.

Top of the tree of tedium is the outsourcing and distribution company Bunzl. The bizarrely named firm makes and supplies all those things companies find too dull to source - plastics cups, disposable cutlery, packing trays, cardboard boxes ...zzz.

But it has had a compound annual growth rate of more than 10 per cent for more than 20 years. It's very acquisitive of small companies rather than big deals, and has a price/earnings (p/e) ratio of about 20 and a dividend yield of 2.1 per cent. Dull but worthy.

It has experienced a dip in price in 2016, perhaps due to currency issues, but at 2,125p I'll have a toe in the watercooler.

One almost certain ramification of Brexit is the continuing rise in 'staycations' - holidaymakers staying in the UK rather than paying over the odds on goods and services in Europe and the US.

Leisure providers such as Merlin Entertainments seem worth a look. The owner of Thorpe Park and Legoland had a ghastly year, being fined a record £5 million following a tragic accident on one of its rides at Alton Towers.

The stock was hit quite hard, down 316p, but has since executed a small recovery and at the end of 2016 was 452p. It trades on a p/e ratio of above 26; I think a decent summer will see the turnstiles going like billy-o - and along with them the tills.

Finally, you would have thought that food price inflation, weak sterling and pressure from the internet would not lead to optimism about the supermarkets.

But as everyone knows I am a Tesco fan. It continues its recovery from various disasters in 2015 and 2016, when it bottomed at 144p, and looks good at 204p.

Morrisons may also worth a look - perhaps if only because there's one round the corner and it never runs out of tonic.

Subscribe to Money Observer Magazine

Be the first to receive expert investment news and analysis of shares, funds, regions and strategies we expect to deliver top returns, plus free access to the digital issues on your desktop or via the Money Observer App.

Subscribe now

Add new comment