After counting the ballots into the wee hours of early Friday morning, the decision was made — the people of Great Britain voted to leave the European Union. Entitled “Brexit,” the mainstream media — particularly their finance arm — seemed for the most part unflustered heading into the vote. They remained confident that the potential of the U.K. leaving its important partnership with mainland Europe was nothing more than white noise. Perhaps now would be a good time to learn a lesson in humility — or hedging one’s bet.
To say the markets were unprepared is an understatement. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 600 points on Friday’s session, erasing earlier gains and making its year-to-date haul just slightly negative. The Nasdaq Composite Index lost 4.1% on the day, its worst single-day performance since August of 2011. International markets fared far worse, with the German DAX shedding 7%, while the Japanese Nikkei 225 went into a nosedive at -8%.
In a day rife with negative surprise, the one positive was Britain’s own FTSE 100 index. Despite being at the epicenter of the Brexit controversy, it only lost slightly more than 3%. That simply doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Individual British stocks were among the hardest-hit in the global markets — why wouldn’t the entire index fall with them? Has the panic selloff overdone itself?
In my opinion, the Brexit “crisis” is an opportunity to grab world-class companies at greatly discounted prices. I say this because Brexit is ultimately a net positive for the U.K., although some patience may be required to see sustained profitability. Ultimately, the European Union is a giant bureaucracy, sucking the resources of productive nations and distributing it to less productive partners. Some would call it high-scale affirmative action.
The mainstream doesn’t see it that way, suggesting that Brexit is akin to economic suicide. This just obfuscates the very real possibility that what we are really seeing is a tremendous discount in the markets. In particular, I’m looking at Britain’s big banks. During the market open on Friday, I picked up shares of Lloyds Banking Group PLC ADR (LYG). The reasoning is very simple — these multinational banking firms are too cheap to pass up.
Sure, we could go into the bearish details of the global and European economies. We can talk about the nearer-term volatility in the markets as traders digest this unexpected news. I’m not even sure if the position would be profitable for the rest of the year.
What I am looking towards is the long-term. I could point to fundamental reasons and technical reasons as to my buying decision. But in the end, it comes down to the belief that there are companies that are too big to fail. If they did, it would represent a paradigm shift that would go well beyond the shock of Brexit. And really — where else can we find such powerful organizations trading near penny stock valuations?
This imbalance can’t go on forever. And that’s why I’m banking on the British economy to bounce back within a reasonable timeframe.