Do you remember where you were when news broke that the UK had voted to leave the EU? I was in Oslo waiting to catch an early flight to London, frantically rewriting all the articles I had drafted before going to bed expecting the nation to vote to remain. I then landed in a shell-shocked Britain that was… mostly carrying on as normal, going to the shops, commuting to work and popping into the pub.
OK, not entirely normal. The FTSE 100 had plunged more than 8% to hit an intra-day low 0f 5,991 points, with an estimated $2trn wiped off global stock markets. Sterling was down more than 10% against the dollar. For a moment, it looked like Project Fear was right.
Except it wasn’t. The FTSE 100 recovered to end the day just 2.5% lower and investors soon realised this was a massive buying opportunity. The slump in sterling was a tonic for the FTSE 100 troops, who generate three quarters of their earnings overseas, as these revenues were suddenly worth a lot more once converted back into pounds.
The FTSE 100 is up an incredible 25% since then to stand at just over 7,500, after enjoying one of the best years in its history. This shows the power of stock markets to recover from political shocks, even once-in-a-generation blow-ups. Sterling acted as a shock absorber, and continues to play that role today. It may just have saved us.
Today, almost exactly one year later, divorce talks start in earnest. Brexit secretary David Davis is meeting EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and the UK could hardly be in a worse position. Parliament is hung. The economy is slowing. Consumer sentiment has slumped. Today’s Rightmove figures show the first June drop in property asking prices since 2009. Repeated terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower horror have shaken everyone.
Worse, we don’t know what kind of deal the UK is after, as soft and hard Brexiteers stake their ground. Now if I was in charge, talks could be wrapped up in a day: EU citizens rights guaranteed; an open Northern Ireland border; £40bn to keep the EU sweet but with the UK keeping its share of assets; Norway-style transitional trading terms until a free trade deal is agreed. Job done.
Tragically for the nation, I haven’t been asked to join the nine-strong negotiating team, so things could take longer. We could face a new election, and a new government, and a new set of negotiators. The EU could turn nasty. Any deal will have to get through a divided Parliament. We may simply crash out.
Some may see this as a reason to shun the stock market, but I see it as a string of buying opportunities. In the longer run, Brexit will be sorted. The UK may be better or worse off, but either way Britons will go to the shops, commute to work and pop into the pub, and the FTSE 100 will climb. One day, even the pound may rally. And if you have taken advantage of short-term market dips to buy shares, you will be richer.
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Harvey Jones has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.