In my papers, share prices “plunge” or “soar”. On my screens, they have a slightly more boring habit of ticking up or ticking down.
In the same genre of hackneyed media clichés, the City is short-termist. That is true, but it is also long-termist. Woe betide an investor who omits consideration of issues that extend beyond next week. That is particularly the case right now, when many economies are at an inflexion point in their cycle.
At present, a lot of brain power in the Square Mile – yes, it can be found with none-too-diligent searching – is devoted to figuring out how economies, sectors and companies will evolve in the next few years. Some days, it feels rather like Bear Grylls, the explorer/survival guru/nut, according to your point of view (Why does he appear to eat every creature apart from grilled bear?).
In a recent programme, he was crossing a snowfield in Patagonia, South America. The objective was to explain the dangers of crevasses, so he peered over the lip of one before descending into it on a rope, naturally.
At the moment, there is a compelling need to set aside vertigo and evaluate the dangers of the crevasse ahead. This process is hampered by not knowing how or when the Government will make another alarming change of strategy – rather like trying to mix a martini on a wobbleboard.
Yet there is also a need to plot a route through the snowfield on the other side. I recall from my days in retail that, when making long-term plans, it takes a conscious effort to cast aside the mindset induced by the previous day’s, week’s or month’s trading.
For UK retailers, the picture is further complicated by the impact of funding problems on developers. Even if managements are bold enough to want to storm ahead with ambitious five-year opening plans, there may not be an adequate supply of new retail space to fuel those ambitions. Plenty of tired sheds or clothing shops on offer, though.
One sub-sector where it is particularly important to retain a long-term perspective is entertainment. These retailers have little control over their product and consumer demand is driven by the ebbs and flows of release schedules. Nowhere is this more acute than in video games. Judging by recent directors’ share sales, some retailers do not like the landscape, either.
Uncertainties for retailers seem to be multiplying rapidly. But it is important to not give up on formulating longer-term plans. Those companies that pin down scenarios for navigating the snowfield on the horizon now will be better placed once the looming crevasse has been crossed. Recommended equipment: ropes, crampons – and binoculars.
By Paul Smiddy, head of retail research, HSBC