Comment: Focus turns on Europe at National Gallery

The immigration crisis may topple Angela Merkel. So is Europe really the place to be for an investor? Picture: AP
The immigration crisis may topple Angela Merkel. So is Europe really the place to be for an investor? Picture: AP
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Over the years the Scotsman Investment Conference has become an unmissable event for private individuals and professional advisers alike – and the event at the National Gallery Edinburgh this Wednesday evening is no exception.

Five top fund managers and analysts from leading investment houses will set out their views on the current state of global markets, their direction of travel – and what we should be buying and selling.

Seldom have the risks and rewards for investors looked more daunting. Dramatic and unsettling swings have characterised world markets in recent months. Oil and commodity prices have tumbled.  There is near total confusion over interest rate policy – when rates will rise and who will move first.

Major questions lie ahead – whether you are looking for safe, short-term fixed-interest returns or equity investment for the longer term.

How best can investors diversify to protect their wealth when stock markets world-wide have been so lacking in firm direction and when bonds with ultra-low yields look vulnerable?

Sharp falls in China and turbulence across global markets have put question marks not just over investment strategies but our attitude to risk. Huge mountains of debt still hang over many economies.  After seven years of near zero interest rates, can savers now look forward to better returns? Or has emergency monetary policy become a permanent feature of our age?

Should we be using the recent falls in the mining and energy sectors as an opportunity to buy in at discounted prices? And what of the mega trends –the implications of rapid technological change and the growing demands on key natural resources such as food and water?

Investing for this new era requires thought and care. This year’s Scotsman Investment Conference centres on these immediate but eternal issues – from capital protection to balanced portfolio management.

On the stage will be five leading figures to give their analysis and face questions from an alert and discerning audience.

Veteran Scottish financial manager Colin McLean, co-founder and chief executive of Scottish Value Management, opens the conference. As former head of investment giant Templeton’s European operations and an expert in behavioural finance – the study of asset bubbles and the ideas and forces that influence stock market behaviour – Colin is well placed to set the scene with a global market overview.

Wealth manager Investec – the ubiquitous zebra with some £110 billion under management – is fielding John Wyn Evans, head of investment strategy, to speak on pension planning and saving in a low yield, low interest rate era. John is an expert on the variability of investment returns over different decades and will set out the risk to present day pension savers who may find themselves lulled into a false of security by relying on returns in previous eras.

Those who attended the conference last year may recall how Bruce Jenkyn-Jones of Impax Environmental Markets recovered from a late arrival due to flight delays to deliver a compelling summation “off the cuff”. Bruce represents one of the most intriguing investment trusts specialising in the energy and environmental sectors, with a well- argued investment approach. The trust specialises in markets for cleaner or more efficient delivery of basic services of energy, water and waste and in companies which provide, utilise, implement or advise upon technology-based systems, products or services in environmental markets, particularly those of alternative energy and energy efficiency, water treatment, waste technology and resource management.

Alan Porter of Edinburgh-based Martin Currie is well known in the Scottish fund manager community. He is portfolio manager of global income for the firm and head of the Securities Trust of Scotland investment trust. Kepler, the independent advisory and asset raising boutique, recently selected Securities Trust of Scotland as its preferred choice for global equity income. The trust’s prospective 4.7 per cent yield is now one of the highest in the global income sector.

Finally, there will be keen interest to hear Will James, the highly regarded fund manager for Standard Life Investments’ £2.2bn European Equity Income fund.

UK investors can have a love-hate relationship with European equities. What is the relation – if any – between EU/eurozone economic performance and European equity performance? Portugal’s recent election result may stiffen hard Left anti-austerity resistance across Europe. Spain is holding elections next month. Greece still smoulders like a volcano. And the immigration crisis may topple Angela Merkel. So is Europe really the place to be for an investor?

Ultra-low interest rates, hints of yet more ECB quantitative easing and resulting fall in the euro should be good for eurozone corporates. But might this be all temporary, short-lived stimulus?

This week’s conference offers guidance on all these issues. A few tickets are still available – email conferences@scotsman.com or call: 0131 247 6785.