Did you believe Boris and think we’d be getting another £350m a week to spend on the NHS, that unemployment was going to fall after all those EU workers went home, and that everything would be just lovely?
Well, that cash was never there for the NHS, economic growth forecasts by the Bank of England have been slashed, and unemployment is predicted to rise. And the pound has collapsed to its lowest level for 168 years!
Against a basket of other currencies, according to the Bank of England, sterling is actually at its all-time weakest since records began, plunging as low as $1.2117 on 11 October. And with UK interest rates possibly set to be cut even further and US rates rising, we might not be at the bottom yet.
Will it hurt?
But what difference, other than making our imported goodies more expensive, taking a big slice off our holiday spending money, and probably triggering inflation in the medium term, will it make to private investors?
Well, actually, it should make very little difference at all.
In fact, former Bank of England chief Mervyn King has even suggested that a low pound should make a welcome change for us. Speaking to Sky News, Lord King reminded us that before the vote some were claiming that if we chose Leave we might end up with “higher interest rates, lower house prices and a lower exchange rate” — but he added “that’s what we’ve been trying to achieve for the past three years.“
Let’s consider a few companies we might want to buy shares in.
How about Royal Dutch Shell, the biggest in the FTSE 100? Shell is a truly global company and conducts very little of its business in the UK. The price of oil is quoted in dollars, Shell’s accounts are done in dollars and its UK dividends are converted from dollars… so that 188 cents per share. If repeated this year, you’ll get you more pennies.
Second placed HSBC Holdings is similar, with hardly any of its profits coming from the UK. China and the Asian region provides the lion’s share, and while a Chinese slowdown was our biggest fear that really wasn’t the place to be. But now, HSBC is safe from Brexit, it’s impervious to the value of sterling, and its earnings and dividends are going to be worth more in pounds.
The same is true as we go down the list. BP, GlaxoSmithKline, Vodafone, Diageo, Unilever… they’re all international companies whose business, earnings and dividends are almost totally independent of sterling.
The companies that will suffer will be manufacturers who source their components and raw materials overseas, but sell the bulk of their products here in the UK. They’ll see profits fall if they don’t raise their prices — so factory output prices are worth monitoring over the next few months. But even then, prices from competing imports will be instantly more expensive already.
The big lesson from the unexpected Brexit vote and the resulting run on the pound is that if you stick to solid companies operating internationally and paying reliable dividends, your investments will just shrug it off… and they might even provide better rewards.