5 September 2018

It’s all about technology

There is a “back to school” feel about the City right now. Parliament has reassembled and commuting has the added pressure of schoolchildren returning to their studies.

Not that there has been much on the immediate horizon for investors to get their teeth into. Of course, Brexit rumbles on and the political scene looks like being particularly volatile this autumn. Seldom have we had a time when both major political parties are in such turmoil. The party conference season looks like being most interesting this year.

Uncertainty on this scale is likely to affect confidence and, while the Footsie has drifted off a little, there has been no major upset. Perhaps it is because the arguments on both sides of the political divide sort of cancel each other out. More likely it is a result of our benchmark index being more international than domestic. At least a degree of stability seems in prospect with the news that Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, is prepared to remain in his post to help our immediate post EU departure, though we have yet to hear if his offer is to be taken up.

A modest theme running through recent results has been our housing industry, with a number of leading builders reporting results or publishing trading statements. We also have the Halifax House Price Index due soon, which will probably confirm that the housing market has slowed, but has not really gone into reverse, other than in London, perhaps.

Much has been made of the apparent housing crisis in this country, with insufficient new houses being built to satisfy demand. Yet, as I travel around, there seems plenty of activity on the construction front. The real problem seems to be a mismatch between what is available and what buyers want. Anyway, with technology changing the nature of how we work, demand patterns are likely to continue to alter.

Talking of technology, this aspect of our daily lives appears to have claimed a senior scalp, with the boss of TSB stepping down after seven years at the helm in the wake of an IT crisis at the bank. So swift is the development of new technologies that many businesses must be struggling to maintain a competitive edge. That is certainly something for investors to consider, just as the news that Amazon has joined Apple with a $1 trillion market capitalisation serves to remind us just how important this industry has become.

Much of the outperformance of the US stock market can be attributed to the rapid rise in the value of many technology companies, some of which did not even exist a decade or so ago. Increasingly technological advancement is disrupting the old order. Jobs are at risk from the growing use of artificial intelligence. Even crime is moving into more technological fields. This is certainly a theme that you ignore at your peril.

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