In 1948 the boomers were born. Now we have the biggest boom since 1948!

Andrew Saks, Tuesday, 4 May 2021

No, not that kind of boom. Today's use of this particular superlative does not represent a sudden increase in the population of the Western world, but instead refers to the sudden perceived growth in the British economy that has been measured over the past week.

The correlation between the different use of the same word during equally unusual periods in modern history is represented by the current perception within the financial markets sector that the United Kingdom's economy is experiencing the largest increase in over 70 years.

One of the propagators of this line of thinking is Barclays Bank CEO Jes Staley, who this morning made a remarkably bold utterance that Britain is about to experience the "biggest economic boom since 1948".

That is quite a statement. Post-war Britain was a place of great hope. The rebuilding of the nation and its economy amid the backdrop of peace and potential prosperity was a lengthy period which gave rise to a relatively comfortable and easy life for those who made the effort to work hard during the 1950s and 1960s.

That generation, now known by the informal term 'boomers', referring to the post-war baby boom, had paved the way forward for a steady and stable economy.

This rose gently for around thirty years until the 1970s, a decade blighted by socialist activism within British manufacturing and heavy industry, unrest and a government close to bankruptcy, culminating in James Callaghan's Winter of Discontent in 1979 which saw a new government led by one of the most famous (or infamous!) leaders in world history, Margaret Thatcher.

The boom years of the 1980s saw the then 40-something baby boomer generation prospering suddenly, making them some of the most comfortable retired people in the world today.

Now, after a year of a different type of discontent and probably the worst economic meltdown in Western history with some analysts saying that the draconian lockdowns have taken Britain back so far that it has been suggested to be the worst recession for over 300 years.

Therefore, for Mr Staley to anticipate the largest boom since 1948 is something for debate.

Does he mean that there is going to be a genuine economic boom, or is he talking about percentages, which would suggest that if the economy has now experienced a very slight upturn as a few people go out and spend money, it is much higher than it was when it was in its emasculated lockdown state under a government that would make Arthur Scargill appear conservative.

It wouldn't be too difficult to show a huge increase over a completely locked down economy, even if it is just a few people spending.

Mr Staley's prediction is that the UK can expect the strongest year for economic growth since the aftermath of the second world war, at 6.5% this year, as “tremendous pent-up demand” built up during the illiberal lockdowns.

He made the upbeat assessment of the outlook for the UK economy as Barclays published its first-quarter results, which showed profits at the bank more than doubled over the period to £2.4 billion. It is quite astonishing how many banks have experienced enormous first quarter profits. Perhaps they will be quashed when the Bounce Back Loans which were handed out with no underwriting having taken place are called in and the entities that took them out declare bankruptcy instead of paying them back.

They are due to begin repayment around now. Yes, the government backed them, but the banks issued them and are at risk for at least 20% of all default balances.

On the other side of the fence, and perhaps looking at it from a more impartial perspective is City analyst Alex Brummer who today said that if there is a boom, there will be a huge bust shortly afterwards.

He noticed that Berkshire Hathaway chairman and billionaire investor Charlie Munger poured acid over the fast fading boom in special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) where values have slumped by as much as 40%.

Mr Brummer noted that the post-lockdown bounce-back, which will generate real wealth, barely has begun. This week the Bank of England is expected to raise its UK growth forecast from 5% to as high as 7.5%.

"After past pandemics and wars, consumer spending surged and employment recovered," said Mr Brummer. "In Britain we have heard much of the 'coiled spring' recovery and the 'roaring 20s'."

Barclays Bank, which is led by the bullish Mr Staley, closed its entire European retail branch network a few years ago, and is now focused on India. “We are very focused on India right now. That’s our second employee location “he said.

It is worthy of note that Mr Munger and his astute colleague Warren Buffett hardly ever make mistakes or get analyses wrong. That's why they are in their lofty position.

Barclays, on the other hand, was the worst-performing stock on the FTSE 100 on Friday afternoon, falling 6% to 177p a share at a time at which the FTSE 100 index in its collective form was at a 12-month high of over 7000.

So, are the boomers really going to experience a boom, or is it just a loud noise?

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