US Presidential result has dire UK financial implications

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INVESTING for the long-term is all about keeping your eyes on the prize, as any good independent financial adviser (IFA) will tell you. There will be nervous moments, they always advise clients, but if you’re sticking money into equities over a decent period of time it will all – hopefully – be smoothed out. Patience is a virtue, in other words.

That doesn’t mean they don’t keep a close watch on events that may have an impact on markets over the short and medium term. They’ll have clients nearing retirement or investing for the short-term who can’t afford any scares and who need to be moved quickly out of harm’s way should it present itself.

So the outcome of this week’s election in the US will be of great interest, and not just politically. UK investors have relatively little direct exposure to the US these days, particularly in terms of stocks and shares; the average UK investor has just 4 per cent US exposure in their portfolio, Chelsea Financial Services estimates. These days they’re more likely to put their faith in funds that invest in emerging markets and the Far East.

But the US election may still have very real implications for the average investor and pension saver in the UK. Many will have money in global funds – and the typical fund in that sector has 43 per cent of its assets in North American equities, according to financial research website Trustnet.

Add to that the fact that 40 per cent of FTSE 100 dividends are declared in US dollars and it’s clear why the US still matters for savers and investors.

What adds to the interest is the timing of the election. Markers almost always rise in the wake of the election and the two outcomes this year – a Democrat incumbent victory or a Republican challenger win – have historically been followed by S&P 500 rises of 14.5 and 18.6 per cent respectively, says Fisher Investments. All good, then, although history also shows that the first year of a presidency tends to be the worst for US equities.

But it’s less clear cut this time, certainly as far as the markets outlook is concerned. The US economy is in recovery mode, but a huge obstacle looms in the shape of the fiscal cliff.

That’s the expiry in January of billions of dollars of Bush-era tax cuts and the start of more than $1 trillion of spending cuts. It may not be the result of the election that matters most to investors, but the work of finding a solution to the fiscal cliff.

With expert consensus putting the potential damage to GDP at as much as 4 per cent, failure to resolve the issue could halt the US recovery in its tracks. Success, conversely, could act as a catalyst and send confidence soaring.

Curiously, markets don’t appear to have begun pricing in the potential inability of American politicians to ensure this fiscal time-bomb doesn’t go off, even after the debacle of August 2011, when a Republican-Democrat stand-off took the US close to default. Markets also have some confidence in corporate America, with plenty of companies having restored their balance sheets and hoarded cash.

If an agreement is reached in January, independent financial advisers may look again at the US as an appealing long-term investment option for their clients. If the worst fears are realised, however, they’ll have in mind the old idiom about the rest of the world catching a cold when the US sneezes.

The outcome of the election will give us a better idea of the chances of a workable resolution of the fiscal cliff. So, in the days following the result, advisers will be listening closely to the views of fund managers and economists.

They’ll be mindful of the fact that even if their clients don’t realise it, many will have investments in the US and may be set to feel the impact of an election they thought didn’t matter to them.