Investors Need The Old Economy Too

Investors need to be aware of investment cycles as well as economic cycles. The investment stars of today can be the performance dogs of tomorrow. Just don’t tell South Dakota Governor, Kristi Noem, who has spectacularly blown up her vice-presidential ambitions in recent days. Kristi got her MAGA guns, God and babies messaging confused and thought it was a good idea to publish a book featuring a tale about her shooting a misbehaving puppy, Cricket. Not sure there’s even an emoji to cover that. Nor do investors really need to be told that shooting puppies is not a great vote winner. However, investors do need to know that star stocks can fade and badly performing ‘dogs’ do make comebacks.

Financial market stars are often the ‘next shiny thing’ and the Covid-19 pandemic introduced lots of new companies which suddenly entered our daily lives and kept the global economy going. Consider online payments and Shopify. Its share price collapsed by 20% (and $20 billion!) in one evening this week and joined other pandemic superstars like Peloton, Zoom, RingCentral etc. in a combined $1.5 trillion loss of market value since the end of 2020 (Source: Financial Times). Meanwhile, the old economy which was kept alive by these companies is finally shaking off its ‘dog’ status as the tech-obsessed investment markets realise we need the old stuff too. In fact, three recent developments have caught our eye and signal potential opportunity.

First, we need to dig. Not literally, but the most basic activity underpinning economic activity since the Stone Age is probably the extraction of basic materials. So, when a potentially massive deal in the mining sector is reported we should pay attention. The $39 billion approach by BHP Billiton for De Beers owner, Anglo American, shines a light on a sector which has been largely shunned by investors on ESG, geopolitics, talent retention and energy cost worries. A pick up in M&A activity suggests a floor for executive expectations and potential upside opportunity for investors. Indeed, in our recent Private Portfolio Thoughts newsletter we wrote:


“….the entire out-of-favour global mining sector is now worth approximately the same as just one technology company, Google ($2.2 trillion). However, when we see research showing China controlling almost 80% of the value chain in electric vehicle (EV) battery production we’d expect a few mining and mining technology ‘diamonds’ to be completely undervalued as the world races to EV adoption and net zero targets.”


The mining sector, despite its sustainability (ESG) challenges, is a critical part of our decarbonised future. As an illustration, the race to electrify the global economy requires more copper in the next 25 years than has been produced in the sector’s entire history.  But a shortage of investment threatens that electric transition. For investors, capital shortage (vs ‘hot’ capital stampedes) means probable opportunity and…..on the capital front, there might be better news too.

The critical cog in the global financial system is the banking sector. Of course, banking had its almost-perennial risk shock last year with the failure of Silicon Valley Bank(SVB) but, arguably, the lack of systemic knock-on impact should be taken as a positive. Furthermore, the stabilisation of interest rates (even if not falling) without major economic casualties to date is also encouraging. So, like the mining sector, we’d be looking for major deal activity from ‘insider’ executives to confirm there was potential sector upside ahead. Step forward Spanish banking.

Bilbao-based BBVA has just launched a hostile $13 billion bid for its domestic competitor, Sabadell. Not just a bid, but a riskier hostile one too. Also, don’t forget recent bank deals in the UK  – Nationwide buying Virgin Money ($3.7 billion) and Barclays acquiring Tesco Bank (up to $1 billion). This feels significant and check out the performance of the financial sector in a “Magnificent 7” tech-dominated US market. Larger US financials are actually outperforming the top tech names in the Nasdaq 100 index year-to-date (+10% vs +7.6%). Also, it is interesting that the traditional barometer of the broader old economy, the Dow Jones Index, is on a 6-day winning tear. Perhaps, the dogs (but not Cricket) are back?

Finally, the combination of the old economy Dow Jones rising, banks gaining deal confidence and shunned sectors doing M&A prompts a further thought. Public markets have been shrinking for years in terms of numbers of quoted companies listed on public exchanges. However, the role of private capital and private markets has grown in significance. Pitchbook’s latest research suggests private markets now control $14.7 trillion in assets, growing by an annualised 12.8% each year since 2012.

Those private assets include private equity, real estate, infrastructure, venture capital and private debt/credit. The latest projections from the Pitchbook research team say these assets could stretch to $24 trillion by 2028 in a positive macro environment. This writer has also seen research showing family offices for the uber-rich now allocate 46% of their investment portfolios to private assets. So, let’s join the dots here. It seems entirely possible that ‘old economy’ companies could be purchased in private buy-out deals, backed by private capital and more confident banks. That’s a healthy development for investment markets but also provides opportunities for investors to diversify their portfolio into private assets. Now, start digging, or even mining those possibilities.

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