And….. they're off. Finally, Gordon Brown has announced the 6 May election date that we all knew already. The main parties are now spending their time arguing about Â£12bn of cuts – sorry, 'savings' – and a small national insurance rise. In the context of a Â£163bn budget deficit, I am unimpressed.
But what about the view from outside – how would a sovereign wealth fund or foreign investor currently view the bickering in the boardroom of UK PLC? I suspect they would be similarly unmoved. Fundamentally, neither party has set out its plan for how it would return the UK to 'profit' and unwind the accumulated debt of the past few years (which incidentally makes a leveraged buy-out less likely). But, even if the new board manages to get out of the red, rates of return on the investment will probably be low, as the company is unlikely to grow its global market share in the years ahead.
What about domestic growth prospects? As an investor, I want to know exactly where the company will cut its budget – a credible fiscal plan without details is just an oxymoron. And, such is the scale of the problem; tip-toeing around the unions by emphasising recruitment freezes and efficiencies simply does not cut the mustard. Similarly, ring-fencing parts of company spending is frankly daft. Prioritising future opportunities and growth makes sense – but not shielding them altogether. In this vein, though, education should be a priority – and sustaining the recovery should be too, to limit unemployment, which can have very unpleasant long-term effects, particularly for the young. Debt servicing costs are not a concern at the moment, although they are obviously something to keep an eye on.
Perhaps the only Chancellor offering this approach is Vince Cable, who has refused to ring-fence spending or rule out tax rises. Certainly, the shareholders seem pretty keen on him. But the vagaries of board membership mean that he stands only a small chance of becoming CFO. In that way, at least, UK PLC is severely hampered – as we typically only get to vote the entire board in or out, rather than hand-picking specialists for defined roles. Do we want the grumpy and uninspiring incumbent, who made bad mistakes before the recession but got the important decisions during it right, keeping the company afloat? Or would we prefer the younger and charismatic, but frightfully inexperienced, challenger, who has never been on the shop floor? The problem is, each comes pre-packed with their own teams of spiffs and flunkers. Perhaps, in that sense, a hung parliament might have something going for it – provided, of course that we then got the experts into the right jobs. But, as more than one company has found, gelling a board with disparate backgrounds can be tricky, especially when the candidates' CVs are woefully uninspiring.
Thanks, but I think I'll pass. There are other investment opportunities in the East that look like a far better bet.