What a few months

By Elissa Bayer, March 16, 2011
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When the financial crisis erupted in September 2008, there was a definite feeling that life as we knew it was going to be changed out of recognition.

But with equal clarity it was evident that this was a man made crisis. It was therefore up to man in the form of the central government, world bankers et al to sort out all
the mess.

So far, 2011 has seen a number of unprecedented events on an equally dramatic scale culminating in last week's earthquake and tsunami
in Japan.

This time it is beyond man's capability to do very much and that is why markets have been so weak.

There was talk this year that it was time to invest in Japan, which has been a flat market for years.

The catastrophic events of the past week, shown in such graphic detail over our television screens, may well give the economy a boost, but at the same time increase Japan's debt levels.

The Kobe disaster of 1995 saw an inital fall in markets and 18 months later, the Nikkei had a big rise. The international community has already gathered round to give Japan support and likely will continue to do so.

Against this, the action in the Middle East is now far more difficult to predict.

It has been a rare event that Israel has hardly had a mention as Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Libya all jostle for position in terms of political unrest and a cry for a more democratic government.

In the case of Egypt, the Mubarak government fell relatively quickly and fairly peacefully. Libya is not the same at all and the Gaddafi regime will fight to the bitter end.

This is what is unsettling the markets as clearly international intervention is slow and may be powerless to avert the humanitarian tragedy.

In the UK, a possible rise in interest rates, a fast-moving oil price and deeper cuts in the public sector are all contributing to a depressing end of March.

George Osborne's forthcoming budget may not bring much good news and he has shown no signs of altering his stance. At the moment the Unions are threatening strike action but that may be just talk.

However, unemployment levels are rising, particularly among the younger generations, and at the other end people will be working longer, perhaps leading to a less fluid job market.

As usual the retail sector is feeling wobbly, although John Lewis's figures were good and on-line sales remain reasonably buoyant.

It has been quite an eventful start to the year and a less eventful second quarter would be a real relief to all.

Elissa Bayer is director of private clients at Charles Stanley

    Last updated: 12:49pm, March 16 2011