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Uncertain times for investors and economies

World view: Hilary Wakefield spoke about Brexit and uncertainty in global economies, when he addressed Hamilton Rotary Club

Bermuda’s pillar industries are likely to be safe amid global uncertainty over the future of the European Union and the US presidential race.

Hilary Wakefield, head of portfolio management for the London-based arm of Swiss private banking group EFG, said: “With the insurance business, there will probably be very little impact.

“It’s a fairly defensive industry — you can’t really see there being a major problem if we have a Trump presidency and turmoil across Europe.

“Uncertainty is never good, but people will still need insurance and reinsurance.”

Mr Wakefield was speaking after he delivered a speech to Hamilton Rotary Club covering Britain’s vote to leave the EU, the US presidential election battle between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, and the world economy.

Mr Wakefield said a massive injection of liquidity by central banks after the 2008 economic crash had been “like a drug” to the markets.

But he added that the possibility of a change in US policy on quantitative easing and the possibility of a Trump presidency had caused concern in the equity and bond markets.

Mr Wakefield said that the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan were expected to inject more than $1 trillion into financial markets next year.

And he said the asset management industry potentially faced more disruption if policies were to change.

Earlier, he told Rotarians: “In my career of 35 years in investment, I have never been more surprised by how uncertain the world is and how uncertain investors are — there is an incredible amount of uncertainty around in the world today.”

Mr Wakefield said the global economic downturn had lasted longer than expected — and predicted it would continue to affect economies for some time to come.

He said that quantitative easing — the injection of cash by central banks to shore up economies — had been widespread since 2008 in a bid to limit damage.

“We never really had the recession we really should have had to give us the shake-up we needed.”

He said the next problem was how that support would unwind and what the collateral damage as a result would be.

Mr Wakefield said Britain, which has not yet triggered the mechanism to quit the EU, had yet to feel the full impact of its decision to go it alone earlier this year.

He added the British economy had been “quietly robust” since the vote in June, but said: “The interesting part about it is actually sterling didn’t move. If you get good growth numbers, interest rates are likely to go up to cool things. Sterling didn’t move.”

Mr Wakefield said the Article 50 trigger for Britain to leave Europe was likely to be signed next March, which left industrial giants like Nissan uncertain over future investment in Britain, and that there would likely be “a sharp slowdown” in manufacturing.

And he said that the pound could drop as low a $1.05, while Britain was running a current account deficit larger than any since Second World War.

“That’s got to be faced — we have got to attract investment.”

Mr Wakefield added: “One dollar five cents is a little bit of an extreme view, but I think it is a realistic one.”

Mr Wakefield said his firm had examined the policies of both Trump and Clinton and found that both were committed to major capital investment, with Trump talking about energy and defence, while Clinton focused on areas like roads and broadband, so investment in infrastructure and energy would be good bets.

He added that Clinton still seemed likely to win next week’s vote, but that if Trump were to win there would be a lot of uncertainty and concern.

But he said: “With Trump, it’s all political rhetoric — when you are president, sitting in the White House facing reality, you don’t rock the boat so much.”