Should savers and investors embrace more risk in 2021?
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Most of us can recall incidents from our salad days which, with the benefit of hindsight, are best described as impetuous, or even reckless.
The impulsiveness of youth, usually coupled with an unfounded confidence, which is actually little more than another form of spontaneity, often causes us to make rash decisions, (or statements) and, as a good friend puts it, to “chase rainbows”.
We rarely locate that undiscovered pot of gold, but embarking on the rainbow-chasing journey can be enormous fun.
I recall one such instance from my late twenties when, with two others, we worked on a project over a couple of years to establish a safari park in southern Europe. We had very little money but borrowed heavily to buy the land and, armed with details of our only asset, endeavoured to create the continent’s largest – and most authentic – safari park.
Our collective sector experience amounted to zero, but we had bags of enthusiasm and confidence. To say we flew by the seat of our pants is an understatement.
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These were pre-internet, pre-crowdfunding days when cutting edge office technology comprised an electric typewriter and a fax machine, so trying to persuade people and companies to invest in the project invariably entailed visiting them, be it in Spain, Germany, the US or, most frequently, the Middle East, which ate into our limited reserves.
We enjoyed some successes, but ultimately had neither the experience or the resources to turn the project from a written plan into a viable business. We eventually sold the land, but would I attempt anything similar today? Probably not.
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Nevertheless, I’m pleased to report that three decades on, greying temples have not made me ridiculously cautious. Like most of my peers, I have little interest in chasing rainbows any more, but recognise that a combination of experience, contacts and resources enable most entrepreneurs to accumulate wealth on an ad hoc basis to make life comfortable without taking undue risk.
But should a mild form of risk be a feature savers and investors embrace more readily this year?
To answer, we must begin by assuming the Covid vaccine is administered to millions of people without a hitch so that by the summer, life is more-or-less back to normal. Rosy outlook aside, unemployment is still expected to rise significantly by mid-2021 and it appears the only positive observation we can make about the economy is that every other nation on Earth (except, oddly, China) is in the same boat.
Nevertheless, the return to normality is enormously important, both in reducing unemployment and rebuilding the economy.
The economy is showing some very deep cracks, although it’s not completely shattered. Moreover, it should benefit from one of the virus’s encouraging consequences.
According to the Bank of England, average household saving rates have soared since March. With holidays cancelled, spending plans put on hold, restaurants, cinemas and theatres closed, we’ve either been putting our ‘fun time’ cash in the bank or paying off debts.
The Bank revealed that since March, UK households repaid more than £15.5 billion of consumer credit; equally heartening, we’ve also saved an aggregate £90 billion more than normal.
If the vaccine roll-out is a success, those temporarily suspended spending plans will swing into action pretty smartly and we can expect a prolonged, Viv Nicholson-style (remember her?) consumer spending spree, boosting all areas of the economy, from restaurants to housebuilders, holiday firms to decimated high street retailers.
Sure, online shopping will continue to be popular, but humans revel in face-to-face contact and social interaction, which means a large chunk of that £90 billion will burn an enormous hole in many pockets once consumers are allowed off the restrictive leash, boosting ‘bricks-and-mortar’ businesses across the land and simultaneously improving the employment prospects for millions.
So, do bold savers and investors wait until everything is just-so before taking the plunge, or is there merit in accepting the risks associated with buying into companies that could do very well should we successfully inoculate most of the UK’s adult population by the summer?
Taking the latter option could prove either astute or an unwelcome display of rainbow chasing; before deciding, consider the lines from Byron’s The Dream:
Of all the horrid, hideous notes of woe,
Sadder than owl-songs or the midnight blast,
Is that portentous phrase, ‘I told you so.’
Happy New Year.
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