Closing Bell: Overseas opportunity will protect investors from state's dead hand

I HAVE just read a depressing piece of research by the highly regarded strategist Robin Griffiths, of Cazenove Capital. The most optimistic finding is that the US market will bottom out by 2012, but not before testing the lows of March 2009.

Griffiths is a follower of the work of Joseph Schumpter, an Austrian economist who developed the "creative destruction" theory of economics. It says the very success of capitalism would lead to a form of hostile corporatism, which will eventually throttle the entrepreneurial dimension and see an increasing dominance of the state.

Taking up the theme of cycles, Griffiths suggested we have been in a secular downtrend since 2000 and he expects this negative phase to continue until 2012. Interestingly, Griffiths also highlighted the attractions of the Far East and, in particular, India.

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Some commentators believe India's economy may grow faster than China's. It is perhaps unsurprising that these regions offer such dynamic potential. They represent some 40 per cent of the world population, but they are also among the poorest. Whatever the social dimensions of this situation, India and China have a hugely powerful workforce potential, which also represents a colossal and largely untapped market. China's economy is very much more substantial, with a gross domestic product of something over $4 trillion against the $1.2trn in India. Significantly, however, while nearly 80 per cent of China's GDP is largely export-driven, the comparable figure in India is 50 per cent, which suggests that the population of the world's largest democracy is more upwardly ambitious and mobile.

This pace of growth does not come without risk. The Reserve Bank of India recently raised two key interest rates for the first time in two years, with the short-term lending rate and borrowing rate increased by 25 basis points to address burgeoning inflationary pressures. Similarly, China recently adopted a more orthodox monetary policy to address similar threats. However, these moves can be viewed positively by confirming that these economies remain robust and that the authorities are aware of the challenges and are prepared to take the necessary action as required.

In the West, we continue to pursue policies of near-zero interest rates – inexplicably, in my opinion. Quite how banks can be expected to attract deposit funds with which to lend when savings rates are more or less invisible is beyond my comprehension. Moreover, current interest rates bear no relation to real borrowing costs, with my bank recently demanding 600 basis points above central rate for an overdraft facility of 15,000 and 800 basis points for anything above that – hardly a great incentive to inspire the entrepreneurial spirit. Similar policies are being applied in the corporate sector, which makes capital investment very difficult and is overshadowing industrial activity here.

By contrast, India and China are thriving. Strikes in India and China are largely unknown, if not outlawed. In the UK, the unions at British Airways seem determined to send the nation's flag-carrier the way of British Leyland, the nation's former car manufacturer. The railway unions also seem hell-bent on torpedoing this country's transport infrastructure at the most sensitive point of the economic cycle when companies are struggling to service their customers.

Management may have to shoulder some of the responsibility but, when strike action is regarded as the first resort in the process of negotiation after some cosmetic fairy dancing, one is faced with a depressing reaffirmation of the 1970s. The past 13 years have seen this problem disguised to an extent by an explosion in the growth of the public sector, where the state pays the state to work for the state.

This is the financial equivalent of feeding cattle meal made from their dead relatives – an economic mad cow formula of potential devastating destruction.

I am rather more optimistic than Griffiths. A large proportion of quoted British equities – and not just the BPs, HSBCs and Kingfishers – derive a significant element of their revenue abroad. I expect investment markets to, at best, tread water in the coming weeks, responding positively if the Conservatives win the election, before developing a more reflective tone.

Towards the end of the year, though, global economic growth should be developing as a result of the energies of regions in the Middle East, Far East and Latin America.

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For investors shivering under a chilly UK winter of fiscal confiscation and state spending curtailment, an Indian summer or a financial Copacabana tan might be tempting.

• Bryan Johnston is a divisional director at Brewin Dolphin