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Butterfield’s asset management chief gives economic outlook speech in London

Michael Neff, executive vice president and head of group asset management at Butterfield, said the economies of the world need to be driven by economic fundamentals to achieve growth, rather than the supply of cheap money.

He made the comments at the Bank's annual wealth management seminar in London, according to a Butterfield Bank press release.

The conference also featured a keynote speech from explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

Butterfield highlighted that Mr. Neff stated that the financial crisis “took the stuffing out of economic growth around the world” and since that time there had been experiments in the US, UK, Europe, Japan and China, through which monetary and fiscal policies were manipulated to aid economic recovery.

He was quoted in the Butterfield release saying: “We need more growth by fundamentals and less by engineering from central banks. The monetary experiments we see today must begin to be unwound.”

The United States had embarked on the “mother of all experiments”, with a mix of fiscal stimulus, three rounds of quantitative easing and “forward guidance”; unprecedented moves aimed at reviving the economy. There has been some progress towards recovery as a result, based on housing starts, automotive sales, personal consumer spending and job creation.

“Economies need banks to lend money and a lot of work has been done around that in the US, where the strength of banks' balance sheets have been significantly improved. However, much work remains for their European counterparts.” he said.

He said that in the UK, a blend of austerity and quantitative easing had met with mixed results: a flirtation with a triple dip recession and the downgrading of Government debt; and he noted there is reasonable optimism that the UK is now on a path to continued growth. Similarly, austerity, bailouts and ECB commitments in the EU had led to indications of a nascent recovery, although structural issues still need to be addressed and there is a risk of further European flare-ups.

Japan has seen quantitative easing and generous fiscal stimulus, with some tenuous steps towards market and fiscal reforms and, in China, the goal is lower but more sustainable growth with contained inflation.

The group asset management head said despite some tremors over the summer he sees opportunity in the emerging BRIC markets. He noted that there had been changes since 1998, including a move by many currencies to float instead of being pegged. Foreign currency reserves are more robust and a greater percentage of debt is denominated in local currency, meaning the exodus of capital is now more manageable.

He said it is also a matter of debate whether emerging markets were decoupling from the developed world.

In Mr. Neff's view, a growing middle class is being created in the emerging market economies with consumptive behaviour to follow, similar to the US and Europe after the Second World War.

Mr. Neff predicted that global economic fundamentals would continue to improve, albeit very gradually. Asset prices and equity markets had significantly benefited from fiscal experiments and a near-term correction is possible. However, Butterfield maintains its stance of overweight equities favouring the US and underweight fixed income favouring credit over sovereign exposure over a 12-month investment horizon, and the bank will continue to monitor the progress of global economic recovery and the status of the various experiments underway.

Mr. Neff said it was now time for the US to unwind the experiment, noting that what happens in America is relevant to and will have an effect on the rest of the world.

Michael Neff, executive vice president and head of group asset management at Butterfield (left), speaking at the Bank's annual wealth management seminar in London, which included a keynote speech from explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

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Published October 22, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 21, 2013 at 6:46 pm)

Butterfield’s asset management chief gives economic outlook speech in London

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