MANAGING DIRECTOR, ARTEMIS
WHOEVER wins the election, one thing is clear. The UK economy is in dire straits. Amid the abundance of analysis, the billions here and there, one simple statistic makes sense to me. The UK government is spending £4 for every £3 of revenue. And as even Errol Flynn discovered, reconciling net income to gross habits is far from easy.
So is the UK stockmarket in trouble too? No; or not necessarily. The UK’s economy and stockmarket are not the same thing. There is one factor above all which gives ground for optimism about our stockmarket, if not our economy, and that is overseas earnings.
The British Empire isn’t what it was, of course. The world has moved on since Lord Salisbury, over his three premierships, added to the dominion of the British Crown the Central and East African protectorates, Nigeria, New Guinea, Rhodesia, Upper Burma, Wei-hai-wei, Zanzibar and Pemba, the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. This amounted to over 2.5m square miles and over 44m people. That’s all gone. But many UK companies are fighting back. Behemoths like BP and Shell are well known for their earnings abroad. But there are also lesser known UK companies like air services group BBA Aviation, which does almost all its business in the US. So does Ashtead (plant hire), while Lavendon (powered access) generates its profits from activities right around the world.
Petrofac (oil services), Weir Group (pumps), Abcam (antibodies) and Kentz (global engineering) are four other British companies with strong and diversified earnings from economies overseas which are thriving. Sterling remains weak. But UK companies which are making their profits in stronger currencies overseas actually generate more revenues when they translate their income back into sterling. So yes, it is fashionable to bemoan benighted Britain and its economy. But when it comes to investing in UK companies making healthy and growing profits overseas, investors are a little like Lord Salisbury: spoilt for choice.