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State of shock

By the time you read this, I will have returned to our shores. My experience of life down under has been clouded to a considerable extent by the tragedy that unfolded in the state of Victoria as we concluded our journey in New Zealand.

It it a shocking realisation that so many fires were started deliberately. Who could do such a thing? And insurance companies will be in the spotlight over claims. There are rumours that some insurers will fail in the months to come, though whether over claims resulting from this disaster or from consequences of the global financial meltdown is far from certain. There is more optimism out here, for sure, but that could be put down to failing to understand the problem. An undercurrent of worry exists, however, and given the news that has emerged in the past month, this is hardly surprising.

A lot has happened while I have been away. A new US president has been sworn in. His first measures – the stimulus package and the toxic bank – are already being developed but markets appear to be granting him the briefest of honeymoon periods. Perhaps it was the cautious noises emerging from his new treasury secretary that prompted the nervousness among investors but the Dow sank below 8,000 as I was packing for my return journey.

Back home, we have seen interest rates cut to an unprecedented 1 per cent, yet there is little, if any, sign of relief for the embattled economy. The Government appears to have just one weapon in its armoury – to encourage people to borrow and spend as once they did. This time, the lending criteria will be a tad tougher but with financial services under such pressure – and given the importance of this industry to our economy – I see little to feel cheerful about for the UK.

Markets are poised between the unthinkable and the disagreeable. It is unthinkable that the world could slip into depression, given the considerable amount of international co-operation and the sophistication of governments and central banks. It will be disagreeable if the solution reignites inflation. The former favours bonds, the latter equities and property. I know where my money lies.

Brian Tora (brian.tora@centaur.co.uk) is principal of the Tora Partnership

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