The Investment Clock
Investment experts have often looked to a well respected technique called The Investment Clock to work out what they should do with their money next and in order to determine where we are in the current investment cycle.
The Investment Clock has been around since it was first published in London’s Evening Standard in 1937. While not flawless, the Clock often provides a useful guide for making investment decisions and can be very accurate at predicting what might lie ahead in the economic cycle. The real difficulty is determining exactly where the hand on the Clock should be placed at any given time.
The Boom Phase of The Investment Clock
The seeds of the recovery are now sown and eventually share prices will rise as un-employment, which is often regarded as a lagging economic indicator falls. Share prices move through a period of gradual increases from 6 o’clock until about 11 o’clock as commodities increase in price, overseas reserves are rebuilt and money becomes easier, subsequently property again becomes an attractive investment opportunity.
The improving economy leads to more aggressive market highs. A frenzy of interest and speculation begins, marking the beginning of the end of the recovery phase, which peaks when the economy is booming and everyone believes the good times will never end, as overseas reserves continue to rise.
More spending on government projects and infrastructure occurs in this phase, to create jobs, which increases the demand on private sector businesses. This in turn results in employment of more staff to cope with increased production needs. Lower interest rates then prompt businesses to borrow and invest in capital projects. Well before the Clock strikes midnight, wise investors have exited shares and are looking for the next investment opportunity.
The Slow Down Phase of The Investment Clock
Boom Time is a period of greed and excess. Consumerism is at its most extreme, full employment provides for maximum optimism and a feeling of real and sometimes imagined wealth exists, where investors believe that the favourable conditions will continue indefinitely. A whole range of new players come into the sharemarket at this level, and often regret having little or no knowledge, relying only on what others have told them- that sharemarket investment ‘is easy money’. Smart investors get out on the way to and at the top of the boom by taking their share gains and moving into real estate as part of a longer term wealth creation strategy. At this stage of the phase, the rapid increase in the demand for real estate often pushes demand above supply and results in an increase in property prices. Property prices may rise well above real value and can come back to bite you later, if you have excessive gearing.
As property purchases are primarily funded by borrowing; the increased demand for funds causes the cost of funds or interest rates, to rise. The Government recognises that the economy is overheating and introduces measures to enable a ‘soft landing’, by increasing interest rates to flatten demand by consumers. Often the inflation bogey can rear its ugly head in this period and monetary policy in the form of interest rate increases can be used to keep it in check. If the Reserve Bank over corrects in this period by raising rates too quickly and too high, it can cause the market to come to a grinding halt.
The rapid growth of the property and sharemarket cannot be sustained for more than a few years and eventually the economic slow down becomes apparent. Interest rates continue to increase until it is no longer viable for purchasers to continue investing in property and soon supply outstrips demand. As interest rates rise companies find it harder to make profits and this, combined with the booming property market and the fact that fixed interest investments now seem more attractive, causes share prices to begin to fall or at least plateau.
The Recession Phase of The Investment Clock
Before the Clock strikes midnight, savvy investors have exited shares and are looking for the next opportunity, having realised that there is likely to soon be a correction in the market. 3 o’clock sees the realisation of this correction and the consequences that will inevitably follow. Subsequently, more people are selling shares within this phase and the lack of demand triggers a sell off, a slump in share prices occurs and coupled with falling commodity prices the decline accelerates. High interest rates, still persisting at the beginning of this cycle, slow the economy and lead us into the beginning of the recessionary phase.
Decline into recession begins as business confidence starts to fall and consumers stop spending. Investors find little value in either shares or property and with impending trouble on the horizon fixed interest securities and cash become popular again – Cash is now King. A flight to quality assets occurs to protect what remains of an individual’s wealth. Often the gold price escalates at this time as it is seen as a store of value against worsening economic conditions. The dollar can also come under pressure to find the right level of adjustment in line with the prevailing economic ill winds relative to the rest of the world.
Poor business confidence means that new capital ventures are postponed and Initial Public Offerings become a thing of the past. This is a time when capital is near impossible to raise and banks are not lending. Less spending and higher interest rates result in lower demand, which results in less production. Consumer confidence is at a very low level with demand for goods and services coming under enormous pressure. With fewer sales there is a squeeze on earnings, resulting in profit downgrades; and economic rationalisation becomes a hot topic in the boardrooms. The economy slows to the point where productivity stalls and then declines. When this happens for two consecutive periods the economy is said to be in a recession.
The Recovery Phase of The Investment Clock
6 o’clock marks the peak of a downward swing in the economic cycle. Investors are now either too scared, or cannot afford to borrow money and in response, interest rates slowly start falling. Individuals are now trying to pay off debt and spend less where they can, as well as trying to keep their jobs. A severe contraction in the labour market is often evident in this phase of the Clock. This can exacerbate recessionary deepening, unless correction through government fiscal and Reserve Bank monetary stimulus, and the return of business confidence becomes apparent.
A recovery from recession begins with increased government spending and a sustained easing of interest rates. Interest rates fall to historically low levels and eventually a point is reached where long term investors see value in the market and start to accumulate the better performing shares – often you don’t need to look any further than the Top 50 companies for investment selection. With a lower demand for money and interest rates falling the economy is stimulated and share prices begin to slowly rise. Cash is no longer King and the value net of inflation begins to erode.
During this time, companies are forced to become leaner and increase productivity. These measures and the slowly improving economy translate into increased company profits and this gradually stimulates share prices to recover. Investors who come into the market at this level often see excellent gains in the years ahead.