The best-performing investments in the five years since the financial crisis began in earnest have been precious metals, oil, the bonds of the world’s most creditworthy governments and – most of all – corn.
BNP Paribas’s move to halt withdrawals from three money market funds, on August 8 2007, heralded the onset of the credit crunch. The subsequent half-decade has seen an investor exodus from riskier assets and money gushing into “real” assets and safer bonds.
The main beneficiaries have been gold and silver – which have returned 143 per cent and 121 per cent over five years, according to Deutsche Bank – but also the government bonds of the UK, Germany and the US. The latter three have returned 54 per cent, 40 per cent and 38 per cent respectively.
However, prices for corn – which investors have been taking an increasing exposure to through the futures market – have gained 144 per cent, boosted by a recent US drought.
“The last five years have been a rude awakening for many investors,” said Navtej Nandra, head of international, Morgan Stanley Investment Management. “Alternatives are definitely gaining traction,” he added. “There are far more discussions of gold, silver, even farming and infrastructure, these days – not just developed world bonds and equities.”
However, corporate bonds– both investment grade and junk – have also been winners. Aside from a spike in corporate defaults in 2008-09, surprisingly few non-financial companies have been tripped up by the crisis and resulting economic downturn.
As a result, money has gushed into corporate bonds, even as central bank interest rates have fallen. US investment grade non-financial corporate bonds have returned almost 55 per cent during the past half-decade. Even US and European junk bonds have returned about 40 per cent, according to Deutsche Bank. In contrast, many stock markets have performed poorly over the past half-decade, and in some cases abysmally.
London’s FTSE 100 has returned more than 15 per cent, partly due to its exposure to energy companies and emerging markets, but only in local currency terms, and the British pound has weakened markedly. The S&P 500 has returned just under 8 per cent, and the Hang Seng 5.5 per cent. Many other markets have yet to recover. Investors in Europe’s Stoxx 600 have lost almost 13 per cent since the credit crunch started, led by the continent’s banks. Worst is Athens’ stock market, where investors have lost more than 85 per cent of their money.
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