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All change at the next nation

All change at the next nation

The decision to vote for Brexit (or Trump) was a plea for change, as much as it was a sign of growing nationalism. When your own living standards are under pressure, the last thing you want is an army of immigrants to come in and put you under even more pressure.

National income is ultimately shared between capital and labour, and I think capital has belittled labour for too long by taking an ever larger share of national income. Frustrated by the stagnation in living standards, the man on the street wants something to change. 

Stagnating economic growth and low – or even negative – real wage growth has created a deep level of dissatisfaction that the electorate chose to use politically, and the Brexiters (and Trump) took advantage in spades.

For the first time in 150 years, the average Brit is now facing falling real wages. That the low or negative growth in wages is driven by entirely different factors and have nothing whatsoever to do with Brussels is being conveniently ignored.  

‍UK real wage growth
Source:   Bloomberg, Bank of England, The Daily Shot, December 2016
Note: The chart shows 10-year moving average of real wages based on weekly pay and the CPI. Data from 2016 onwards is based on BoE projections.

Meanwhile, the political leadership in the UK is facing a very tricky year, with the real opposition to the ruling Conservative Party coming not from the Labour Party but from inside its own ranks. The Brexiters want Theresa May to act now, even if all logic would suggest that the country may be better off counting to 10 before any moves are made.

As 2017 progresses, we face important elections in the Netherlands, Germany and France. The Dutch will kick it all off on the 15th March with the extreme right-wing leader of the Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, currently in pole position.  On the 23rd April, the French will be asked to choose their next president.  If no outright winner is found in the first round, a run-off between the top two will be held on the 7th May. German general elections will follow in the autumn.  The date hasn’t been set yet, but German law prescribes the 2017 elections to take place in either September or October.

Radical forces in all three countries are on the roll and, given what happened in the UK and the US last year, and what happened in Berlin just before Christmas, nothing should be taken for granted.

As far as nationalism is concerned, we are also learning how much Trump’s walk resembles his talk, and we are saddled with a certain Mr Putin in Russia, who clearly knows how to take advantage of rising nationalistic sentiment.

About the Author

Niels Clemen Jensen founded Absolute Return Partners in 2002 and is Chief Investment Officer. He has over 30 years of investment banking and investment management experience and is author of The Absolute Return Letter.

In 2018, Harriman House published The End of Indexing, Niels' first book.