LEGENDARY investor Sir John Templeton apparently quit his office in the Bahamas each day around mid-morning and headed to the beach, where he spent an hour or two, alone on a bench, pondering the news and planning his next moves.
If he were alive today, I imagine he would leave his smartphone on his desk, avoiding the disruption of a flood of e-mails, tweets and SMSes that relentlessly distract our attention these days.
(I recently learnt that the modern generation will spend between six and eight years of their lives hunched over handheld devices.)
With all the noise and commotion around the latest downturn in financial markets, I tried to follow Sir John’s mood-calming therapy by, but instead of watching waves break on the banks of the Hudson River, I chose instead to taking long, slow jogs around New York’s Central Park.
Unfortunately, as I meandered along the trails that cover the 850-acre landscape of lakes, gardens, forests and meadows, I discovered I lacked the necessary powers of concentration, finding it difficult to distance myself from the frenetic activity around me and the places of interest in and around the park.
Apart from thousands of locals, the park was especially packed with tourists. Summer was over and the Europeans had returned home, but they were substituted by masses of visitors from Asia, Central and South America, and Americans from neighbouring states. They crowded the lanes and pathways, snapping photos on their cellphones, stopped to feed the squirrels and gathered in groups to listen to buskers on saxophones, harps, guitars and even bagpipes.
It was not only the multitude of sightseers who disturbed my concentration. With each run I discovered a new trail, statue or monument dedicated to heroes, including tributes to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Bonzo, a sled dog which in 1925 saved children in Alaska from diphtheria by delivering medicine over the frozen terrain.
I did find the kind of peace and solitude Sir John sought in the gardens, streams and forests in the northeast section of the park, a sanctuary out of wandering distance for most casual visitors, who congregate in the south.
Also, while the slide in oil prices will aid householders and businesses virtually everywhere, lower margins could halt the development and expansion of oil fields in North America, a big driver of growth in the region.
For most investors, the fall in the market was a welcome relief. Share prices on global markets had run ahead of company earnings and traders needed to realign values with the underlying business fundamentals. While the US economy was performing strongly and the UK GDP was growing above expectations, fears over falling productivity and a property slump in China, obdurate European policymakers and slowing consumption in Japan had raised worries over the pace of the global recovery.
It’s not likely markets will bounce back soon. The rupture, though small relative to gains in equity prices over the past five years, will begin healing only when Germany is convinced that a Ben Bernanke-style bond-buying programme is critical to sidestep the eurozone spiralling downwards, and Japan chooses to hold back on further increases in consumption taxes.
Also, while the slide in oil prices will aid householders and businesses virtually everywhere, lower margins could halt the development and expansion of oil fields in North America, a big driver of growth in the region. And, of course, we still have to tackle IS, Ebola and Vladimir Putin’s interventionism.
For South Africa, the road ahead still appears murky. A stronger dollar will divert vital foreign capital flows, and falling commodity prices must be matched by efficiencies and lower costs, something we struggle to master.
We’ve overcome these scares before and things are really not that bad globally. The IMF is still forecasting global growth of 3.8% in 2015. Furthermore, until Europe stabilises and geopolitical issues moderate, interest rates are likely to remain low, a boon for equity investors prepared to sit out some short-term pain.
Clear-headed, I generally follow the same path home from my run, this time with the opportunity to gaze at classic buildings that line the west side.
The New York skyline is rapidly changing. Pencil-thin residential developments are rising that will dwarf the Empire State Building, projects designed to catering for the rich and famous who want to set up homes in New York. While the scale of these modern marvels take your breath away,
I prefer the art deco architecture that characterises the soul of the city, embodied on the west in buildings such as San Remo, The Majestic and El Dorado.
My run is not complete without passing Strawberry Fields. October 9 would have been John Lennon’s 74th birthday. I like to stand in the garden and cast my mind back to the 1960s, and the heyday of The Beatles.