A letter to the Spectator (unpublished), posted here on 2nd November 2008. We seem to be edging towards the "unsurprising", though the market may give a leap of denial before then:
Your leader (“Riders On The Storm”, 1 November) suggests that current investor sentiment is “excessively negative”. That depends upon one’s historical perspective, in both directions.
A reversion to the mean (over the last generation) for UK house prices would be some 3.5 times household income, which on 2007 figures would imply average valuations around £120,000. Turning to shares, the progress of the Dow over the past 80 years (adjusted for consumer prices) indicates that a return to 6,000 points should be unsurprising, and a low of 4,000 not impossible.
But in addition to the business cycle and recurrent bubbles, there are deep linear changes at work. While maintaining the Western consumer in his fantasy of idle wealth, the East has been building up its human and physical industrial resources. We are focussing on the present recession, but not what the world will look like afterwards. When Asia has sufficiently developed its domestic demand, it will lose its enthusiasm for US Treasury debt, and the credit markets will tear at our economies with higher interest rates. Already, the search is well under way for an alternative to the US dollar as a world trading currency; and foreign investors, sovereign wealth funds and oil-rich governments are building up holdings in our bellwether businesses (e.g. Barclays Bank), thus converting imbalance into equity and exporting our future dividends.
Besides, the Dow and FTSE companies derive an increasing proportion of their income from abroad, so stock indices no longer reflect national prosperity. Real wages have stalled, and seem set to decline against a background of rising inflation and global competition; this, plus an interest rate correction, might strengthen the downward trend for house prices.
In short, successive governments have failed to repair our economic structure, and bear market rallies notwithstanding, I think we must eventually recalibrate our measures of normality.