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The mist clears

Here we are in October – that most unpredictable of months. Big stockmarket shakeouts happen in October. The Great Wall Street Crash of 1929, the Yom Kippur war in 1973, Black Monday in 1987 – all happened this month. This is meant to be the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. It is also the month when seasoned investors are on the lookout for banana skins and the fact that, at the end of September, Wall Street reached its highest levels since 2000 will probably heighten investors’ nervousness.

It happens I was in Scotland last week and this particular trip was one of the most positive and enjoyable I have undertaken in a long career of travelling to Scotland to deliver London’s take on the direction of markets. Starting in Glasgow, I found the local scene buzzing, with more confidence being expressed than seemed right on the eve of what is one of the trickiest months, historically, in the investment calendar. Some of the ideas being bandied around for communicating the investment message were innovative in the extreme. But it was in Edinburgh that the real fun started.

The interesting aspect of this particular seminar was the considerable amount of interaction that developed with those who had been invited to attend. For me, as one of the speakers, it was a unique experience.

Whereas much of the feedback I receive when on the public-speaking circuit comes from the quiet chats with members of the audience over a drink afterwards, this time I was gaining reactions to my words instantaneously. The effect it had on me was as dramatic as the financial cruise in which I participated more than 20 years ago. A guest speaker with a team from Allied Dunbar, I discovered more about the hopes, fears and knowledge – or rather lack of it – of private investors in a week than in the previous decade, through the simple expedient of living cheek by jowl with my audience.

Last week demonstrated just how far economic and financial matters have become part of our everyday lives. The understanding being demonstrated was still sketchy but the interest in what was going on and in what might happen was considerable.

A frequently asked question concerned the state of the occupational pension industry. There is, of course, no single – or simple, for that matter – answer so it did at least allow me the luxury of pontificating on the shortcomings of governments, actuaries and those who devise accounting standards.

The world is a dynamic place and the investment world even more so. We start autumn with inflation fears subsiding, a growing belief that monetary tightening is coming to an end and the gentle renewal of a confidence in market prospects that had faded in the spring. My message last week was that caution was still advisable. Whether my audience believed in me, they all understood what I was on about.

Brian Tora is investment communications director at Gerrard Investment Management

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