The fund I manage for FT readers started the year strongly, and is currently up 2 per cent even after the recent slide in markets.
Exposures to the green and digital revolutions have been particularly helpful, with the global clean energy index the star performer, with gains of over 150 per cent since purchase a year and a quarter ago.
The specialist global indices for robotics and cyber have also put in a strong showing. Late last year I added more general world share exposure to provide some balance, reducing the position in the tech-heavy Nasdaq market after big gains. I wish to participate in a wider general economic recovery as we come out of pandemic restrictions following extensive vaccination.
US shares are currently 57 per cent of the All-World stock index: what a US president says and what the US Federal Reserve does can be felt in all the world’s main markets. So how will Joe Biden use his global pulpit and how will the winds of US policy affect share prices?
Mr Biden has proved to be energetic in setting out his agenda in a blizzard of executive orders. Instead of reaching out to Republicans and building bridges on difficult issues like migration, climate change and pandemic measures, the president has opted rapidly to reverse as much of his predecessor’s work as possible.
Out go the new border wall, various controls on migrants and some oil drilling. Meanwhile, his Democrat allies in the Congress have pressed on with their attempt to impeach ex-president Donald Trump. This is a radical government with serious implications for investors.
The president is making big changes. He is engaging the federal authorities in tackling the virus instead of leaving it to individual states. The centre is now pushing for the universal wearing of masks, more enforcement of social distancing, increase purchases of PPE equipment from American sources, more testing and more federal involvement with vaccines.
The US still has a serious economic challenge on its hands: the first quarter will carry yet more economic scars of the prolonged pandemic and will see slow recovery in businesses needing social contacts.
Assuming that the pandemic will be brought under control as vaccines are rolled out, the battle against carbon will be the defining one of this presidency. The US has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. President Biden has cancelled the Keystone XL oil pipeline project linking the US to Canada. He has paused all new oil and gas leasing on federal lands while wishing to double offshore wind power by 2030. He promises to put the US “on an irreversible path to net zero by 2050”. John Kerry, his special presidential envoy on climate matters, has already called for the world to go further than the Paris agreements and urged China to offer more.
These are very important changes, marking a big reversal of Mr Trump’s pro-oil and gas industry policies. Sectors investing in the green revolution will be favoured, while oil, gas, coal and traditional motor manufacturing among others face closures and write-offs.
Mr Biden is deliberately expanding the scale of the federal government. He has cancelled the requirement that the government remove two regulations for every new one put in place. He has backed his view that the government can do good by setting up benefit delivery teams, increased food assistance, set up a health equity task force, strengthened the government’s role in PPE supply, offered central co-ordination of the pandemic response, and promoted unionised jobs in the public sector. In due course, Congress will probably embark on higher taxes for both companies and better-off individuals.
Mr Biden and his allies mean what they say with the “build back better” programme, which will be entirely coloured green. The early moves show this will require bigger government, spending more and doing more at the federal level.
In a rare piece of continuity, there is also a strongly nationalistic tone on buying American. There is also a strong thrust to promote greater equality, regardless of race or sexual orientation.
The main takeaways for investors will be attacks on the traditional energy sector, the likely extra taxes needed to pay for the US government’s programmes and the big regulatory and subsidy stimulus to be administered to the green sectors.
This means the high valuations created last year in many US sectors will be more at risk as the sums are done on the impact of higher taxes on shareholder profits and dividends. Good returns are more likely in Asia which has got through the pandemic more quickly and in better economic shape than the US or Europe.
I am running the portfolio with a smaller position in the US than last year as we await the rollout of the tax and regulatory plans for the corporate sector. I also have a reduced exposure to US technology in particular, after the phenomenal run in 2020 boosted by lockdown demand. The fund has a bit more in Asia and the wider world instead.
Meanwhile, the environment will be very much in the news up to the UN Glasgow climate change conference in November, as the US and others set out more detailed policies and fix shorter-term targets.
Investors will see a further shift of capital, jobs and activity away from carbon-based models. The US policy winds will be blowing for renewables and for batteries. The FT fund remains invested in these sectors via its global index holdings. Other investors are often paying very high prices for a slice of this action because there is a shortage of good assets available in the form of individual quoted shares or specialist funds.Sir John Redwood is chief global strategist for Charles Stanley. The FT Fund is a dummy portfolio intended to demonstrate how investors can use a wide range of ETFs to gain exposure to global stock markets while keeping down the costs of investing.