As many of you will know, apart from being quoted in National Newspapers over the years, including The Telegraph and The Sunday Times, I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity of a column in The Scotsman for 20 years. My latest looked back to 1982 asking the question - "Wouldn't it be handy if investors had easy access to a time machine - not one that looked back - no - one that could look forward into the future?"
How wonderful it would have been in 1982 to have had a time machine looking forward 30 years or more. I don't know how you were feeling then, but times were tough, economic prospects were dire apparently, UK interest rates were way up in the high teens and mortgage rates were crippling.
We'd just survived another Recession, Stockmarkets hadn't gone anywhere since 1965 and unemployment hit 3 million. Despite a Conservative Government, top rate tax was 75% and a wife's unearned income was taxed as her husband's. My Dad, a bricklayer, paid 50% tax because my Mum had money in the Bank.
It wasn't a good time to have a big mortgage or be an investor because the media was crammed with experts predicting things could only get worse. Better wasn't even hinted at. Oh, for a time machine. But there was a sort of time machine available. I've just stumbled across it again raking through my piles of books. In 1982 a chappie called John Naisbitt, a futurist, wrote a book called "Megatrends".
He predicted ten major trends over the following decade and his predictions largely came true. His first prediction was he saw us moving from an Industrial Society to an Information one. He saw complicated technology understood only by Nerds moving to High Tech High Touch - one that was simple for people to understand or use. He predicted the rise of the fax machine and mobile phone.
It's interesting looking back to that period because I knew only one person with a mobile phone, which was the size of a brick, and apparently could only use if you went to the top of scaffold to pick up a signal!
He followed that up in 1989 with "Megatrends 2000". A few months after I bought the book, one of his predictions - the collapse of the Soviet Union - came true. He foresaw a connected Global economy replacing identifiable National ones. He predicted management moving from short term planning to long term perspectives, paying more attention to the environment.
Despite his main thrust that Globalisation was the future, he also forecast the increase in the importance of the smaller entity, nation states, companies, clubs and societies, all being networked by technology. He predicted the shift away from pyramid business structures to flat networks. He saw the growth of multiple options, flexibility, the rise of cable television and the dominance in the US of California, Texas and Florida.
In "Megatrends 2000" he referred to the fact that although economic growth was good in the Eighties especially in the US, bad news stories vastly outweighed good news stories. And despite the gloom in 1989, he foresaw the 1990s as being good news for equity investors, especially the Pacific Rim - Far East countries linked with the Western seaboard of North America.
In 2006 he published "Mind Set" and more recently completed his work on "Megatrends China" I've just ordered that book and I'll let you know what I think shortly. But what now? Well, he sees no next big thing for decades, although is of the view the World will progress fine-tuning the technology discoveries from the Eighties and the Nineties.
He sees Industries and Companies increasingly as part of a Global, not National economy, which is not yet recognised by traditional economic thinking. So the
eBays and Apples, for example, will belong to the World economy, not the US. He sees, one day, World Domestic Product being the only economic number that matters.
The bad news is he sees European decline continuing - dominated by political infighting, high taxes, restrictive labour laws, falling exports and poor productivity. He thinks it will end up as a Theme Park for US and Asian tourists.
Despite what academics and the gloomy economists say, if you spot a trend early enough and, invest in the right areas, ignore simple Index Trackers or Deposits you can build serious wealth!
As an example - over the last 10 years, 3 of our favourite Asia Pacific funds have produced average growth of 222%. The FTSE on a total return basis produced 56%. Over 20 years the difference is even more marked, with the FTSE total return up 339% and the average of the three Asia Pacific funds up 800%. And frankly we see that continuing.
For and on behalf of Alan Steel Asset Management
This letter is the personal view of Alan Steel. Please check the appropriateness to your individual position with your adviser before taking or refraining from any action.