The half year approaches – what has happened? Two very different quarters so far. And Investment Trusts complain too much, having stuffed their boards with placeholders with minimal stakes in the shares and multiple appointments. In markets many things still depend on how the cards (and ballots) fall.


With current interest rates for hard currency, high yield bonds, around 6%, you would expect riskier equity markets to be giving you over 10% a year, made up of a mix of capital and dividends. That’s the bar; it is quite high just now.

Looking back a year, only Japan and America comfortably achieve that, the S&P up +24%, NASDAQ up +30%, Nikkei up +14%. Germany creeps in at +10%, neither France nor the UK do. Outside developed markets, it is largely dire, only India at +25%.

Then looking just at the first half, all of Japan and Germany’s gains came in the first quarter, so they are now sitting well off their twelve-month highs. While as we know the big three, S&P, NASDAQ and SENSEX, are now close to all-time highs, they powered through the second quarter.

So, the challenge is, do they go on up, do the markets that have fallen back, after a good first quarter, come back to life, or do some of the dogs perform?

various stock markets - and their performance on Friday 21 June 2024

Some major markets, Friday close and intra day

I have no great faith in the UK market, nor in a new government being much better at growth (it can hardly be worse) than the current mob. But there are cheap looking international stocks in the UK and the punishment meted out to real assets, by interest rates and shrinking bank balance sheets, might be finally ending.

While quite clearly the good middle tier stocks are easily cheap enough to lure in bidders from abroad or private equity, in some number. UK valuations are in short OK, not something you can necessarily say about the US.

The residual underperforming markets do often have a nice yield, but who cares? With bond yields high and staying high, in an appreciating currency, why take a cut in yield in order to buy equities? Plenty of time for that later.

Anyhow in most European and Emerging markets, equities seem not to be able to get out from under their own feet, endlessly tripping over their own fractured politics.


We are hearing a lot of moaning about Investment Trusts, which the FCA really do not like. EU law always struggled with the trust concept anyway. That the FCA has shown no interest in freeing us from those shackles is not a surprise, it seems they too would rather channel money to Nvidia than invest in the UK. Here is their Lordships’ briefing on what EU rules we might be repealing. Nothing for Investment Trusts.

I am on balance on the Trust’s side, I do think closed end structures (as they all are) allow long term decisions, while protecting daily dealing, one of Europe’s quirky hang ups. Daily dealing is fine in deep markets, but an illusion in many medium and small equity markets. With liquidity ever more narrowly focused, closed end funds seem more, not less, important, for balanced capital allocation, competition and growth.

Trusts directors should also protect investors from over mighty fund management houses, who treat closed end funds with disdain, as captive funds, with often high fees. Their greed lets in low-cost passive competitors. Instead, their permanent capital should come with an obligation to hunt down good, index beating performance.

Sadly, the FCA has perpetuated a system, where the fund management house appoints the Boards, not, in reality, the other way round. So, they are decorative, good for marketing, and highly unlikely to fire the manager. Too many are industry insiders, serving on multiple trust boards, often in sequence. Seldom do they have an investment of at least their annual pay cheque in their current Trust, and often, little investing expertise in the relevant area.

So, Investment Trust boards hardly ever sack fund managers for poor performance. David Einhorn explains the bigger issue very clearly, noting benchmark hugging over time is what investors now get. There is a clear link to poor performance and bigger discounts, and to big discounts and treating shareholders badly: One area where big certainly does not mean better.

Rather than sabotage the sector with old, irrelevant EU law, the FCA should be hunting down poor performance, and making the “independent” directors just that, including banning directors shuffling around a set of one-manager trusts.


We have just had Powell hold US rates, saying it is all data dependent, and slightly oddly he conceded the expectation is for a pick up in inflation, on the technical grounds that the abrupt drop in inflation last year, creates base effects.

Although he rules out more hikes; you get the feeling if he had held his nerve last summer, and added a bit more, inflation could be beaten by now. Not that he wants to or can add such instability now, so he is stuck, and we with him, watching paint dry.

With no real distress there is no pressure to cut prices, service inflation remains too high, energy prices are still quite strong, so no longer giving a deflationary boost. Both the AI boom and the resulting stock price gains, encourage consumer spending and keep (in most sectors) a strong labour market.

Markets are evidently OK with that, falling rates, no recession, growing earnings, is almost ideal. Meanwhile we are all hoping that Congress will keep either of the two old men from doing anything unusually silly, and the electorate will keep Congress on a tight leash.

Quite a lot of hoping and several months still to go.