Trained as a stockbroker and barrister before moving into private client investment management in 1980, with Dunbar Fund Managers. Formerly chief investment officer of Rathbone Bros plc. He established Ruffer Investment Management Limited in 1994, which transferred its investment business to Ruffer LLP in 2004.
In the 26 years that Ruffer LLP has been in existence, a clear pattern has emerged. When the market mood is either complacent or ebullient, equity indices tend to rise strongly, and we lag behind them. An ‘unexpected’ crisis then hits, and Ruffer quickly recovers lost ground.
We have been talking of inflation for well over a decade—which is not the same thing as calling its timing. An impasse was created by the failure of the economy to grow after the 2008 crisis—all the risks (as we patiently explained) were deflationary, and in vain did the central banks and governments try to force an inflationary impulse into a sluggish world. Their primary weapon? An invention, deployed on a grand scale—quantitative easing (QE to its friends).
In lockdown, I have been watching the blockbuster Deutschland 89. There’s a moment in the hours before the fall of the Berlin Wall when the top-dog commissar considers whether to shoot himself—but a little piece of hemp consoles him with the thought that times of change are times of opportunity, times that bring up new winners.
Somewhere in a cupboard, I have a set of eight contract notes dated 8 January 1975, when I invested—upwards of £100 per holding!—in a range of UK equities. Reader, I called the bottom of the market—a dangerous thing for a young man to do.
Whatever one’s outlook, there have been times in 2020 when the markets seemed to echo one’s innermost thoughts, and times when we shout out like Falstaff, that the whole world has gone mad. The bulls and the bears have had their time in the sun, and their time on the dark face of the moon—what follows is a digested diary of our journey through the year 2020 so far.
Ever since we started in 1994, we have written an investment review, garnished with a cartoon, and filleted by compliance for political incorrectness. In normal times, it appears shortly after the quarter end. Amid the fireworks of COVID-19, it is appearing now, in early June, rather than waiting for early July.
When the elements speak, elemental forces are unleashed, and it is important, in the middle of this storm, to capture the right tone of voice. Any false attempt to give reassurance, to boast about early success, to bury oneself in clichés, is unhelpful—even worse, it is historic: by the time these words are read, events will have unfolded which make them, as the CD music reviews have it, ‘Of historic interest only’. We are a long way from terra firma; at the time of writing, it’s a case of ‘so far, so good’. If this were a tennis match, all we could say is that we’ve had a decent first set.
The year of 2019 was one when many of the six impossible things before breakfast remain unresolved—with the shining exception of Brexit, and the wider resolution of domestic politics. We can still feel the political earthquake which struck the UK last month—we cannot yet see the effect of it. Most political earthquakes, when they happen, are scarcely discerned, and even those which are perceived for what they are, do not easily reveal the new pathways created from the changed landscape.
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