Being an optimist in trying times


By John Kennedy, Director and Regional Head, Citadel

I am an optimist and believe that tomorrow will be better than today; that the future will be better than the present. This is a mind-set that has worked for me in many ways… and it is core to who I am.

But, in these difficult times, in the world of daily disruption and distractions that we’re living in, trying to hold on to this attitude isn’t easy. The news we are exposed to is littered with depressing stories and disheartening information, all directly and indirectly impacting on our psyches: South Africa is in a recession; our unemployment rate is nearly 28% and higher than any time since March 2004; and three rating agencies have lowered SA’s sovereign credit rating, in some cases to sub investment grade. Can things get any worse?

Our very own “WikiLeaks” – the #GuptaEmails – has definitely upped the ante as well as raising the angst of South Africans as we realise that there is no easy way out of the disorder we’re in.

However, it may seem unlikely, but on the domestic front we have had some significant good surprises this year too: the rand is one of the world’s best performing currencies over 12 months; the Purchasing Managers Index is buoyant; our trade surplus is now in positive territory (compared to last year); and inflation is down to 5.3%. In addition, despite the recession, both the mining and the agricultural sectors swung from negative to positive contributions to the economy. The former accounted for +0.9% growth in the first quarter 2017 GDP and the latter a more modest +0.4%.

We need to step back from the jolts and gain some perspective on the situation. When I joined Citadel in 2001, I learnt a fundamental lesson that is integral to our thinking as a business and our approach to financial planning and investing: the future will surprise.

Not only that, but it will surprise us on both the upside and downside.

And, more importantly, to a large extent we have the ability and responsibility to plan for this future by looking through the cycle.

At Citadel, our decisions and recommendations are therefore not just about tomorrow, or for next year, or even the year thereafter, but we need to think and look long term and consider our lives and needs in 2025, 2030 and beyond. And act accordingly.

Adjusting the angle of the view enables us to make much cleaner and clearer choices. And, as a result, what is often distracting today becomes far less so if we extend our time horizon. It puts the people, politics and prices of today into perspective. It changes the narrative and, in our world, it makes investment decisions clearer.

I remain confident that South Africa’s future, in terms of both economic growth and opportunity, will continue to be cyclical with an upward slope, but significantly, that we will continue to be surprised (and shocked) as events unfold both on and beyond our radar screens.

Within this, it is important to remain committed to a well thought through, resilient financial and investment plan that will be able to ride the inevitable positive and negative surprises that will (always) arise in the journey of our lives.


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