1 August 2014

Market comment: a personal view 29th July 2014

Our own stock market has been winding down

And things do seem to be getting worse on the geo-political front. Not only is there no end in sight for the Syrian civil war, tensions in Iraq have worsened, while the Israeli invasion of the Gaza strip has propelled this ongoing conflict back on to the front pages. Moreover, the downing of a civilian passenger aircraft has brought unanimity amongst European nations, with the sanctions squeeze on Russia intensifying. This could have implications for economic growth on a number of fronts.

Not that all news that might affect sentiment is negative. The results coming through as companies announce how they fared in the first half of 2014 has generally been positive. The news that Reckitt Benckiser was to spin off its pharmaceuticals business into a separate listed company also helped their shares, as did a similar move from Glaxo SmithKline, though probably for rather different reasons.

Meanwhile, according to the Land Registry, house prices in the UK were actually unchanged in June. As their index is calculated using the price at which houses change hands, this is probably a more accurate measure than most. It could also take some of the pressure off the calls for action to curb the rise in the value of residential property, though quite what the Bank of England could actually do, short of raising interest rates, is hard to assess.

This week also sees the opportunity to apply for so-called fracking licences to prospect for oil and gas in shale deposits. While the success of this means of extracting these valuable commodities has transformed the energy and fuel landscape in the US, local opposition in this country has been particularly voluble. With pressure to reduce reliance on gas from Russia now high on the political agenda, it will be interesting to see what happens.

With a vast array of businesses reporting half year figures over coming weeks, investors have to hope that the generally benign environment continues. Interestingly, there does seem to have been a rise in profit warnings recentl y, but the biggest risk to markets continues to be the potential uncertainty that further escalation in current conflicts could produce. Let us hope for good news from there as well.

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