Six trading ideas before and after a potential 'yes' vote in Scotland

18 September 2014

Amidst all the social and political uncertainty and potential for chaos that would ensue after a 'yes' vote in Thursday's Scottish independence referendum, we must all remember that financial markets will take a dispassionate view, eventually, whatever the outcome.

However, in the immediate aftermath of a 'yes' vote, markets will likely be more emotional than dispassionate, as they react to the uncertainty (which markets abhor) that such an outcome would create.

That means there are trading opportunities now for investors prepared to take a view of what a 'yes' vote will mean not just for Scotland, but for what remains of the United Kingdom in 18 months' time.

Should the unionists hold sway with a 'no' majority vote, it will pretty much be a case of business as usual. However some of the ideas below look set to benefit in any case.

Short sterling/US dollar

Either via a spread bet (where losses or gains are something of a gamble) or via an exchange traded currency such as ETFS 3X Short GBP Long USD.

This would give three times the underlying currency movement between sterling - which would surely tumble against global currencies in the event of a 'yes' vote - and the US dollar.

The added attraction is that the US dollar is strengthening against other major currencies in any case. There seems very little short-term downside to this trade.

Buy investment trusts domiciled in Scotland

As we reported last week, share price discounts to net asset value for global investment trusts such as Scottish Mortgage and Securities Trust of Scotland have been widening as investors get the jitters over a potential 'yes' vote.

Even now they are something of a bargain, given that the strength of sterling over the past year or so has dented returns from the overseas portfolio holdings of these global trusts.

In a 'yes' vote, share prices in these trusts would likely fall further, which should create an even better buying opportunity. In a 'no' vote an upswing in demand for the shares would likely reduce the recent widening of discounts.

Buy the FTSE 100 index

A sharp fall in sterling after a 'yes' vote would be a boon for the FTSE 100 index, because it is packed with companies that derive most of their earnings from overseas, with oil majors such as BP and Shell, along with mining companies which derive all earnings in dollars, the major beneficiaries.

Buy selected UK-listed shares domiciled in Scotland

Even in the event of a 'yes' vote, there will be another 18 months before ties are officially cut. That should be plenty of time for companies such as Aberdeen Asset Management - Europe's largest as measured by assets under management - and insurer Standard Life to get their jurisdictional affairs in order.

Sell UK-focused banks

All banks are likely to take a battering after a 'yes' vote, but the extent of this will depend on analysis of potential asset impairment - from property values to mortgages, and business and personal loans, which could be repaid in a new Scottish currency that has yet to be determined.

Sell UK fixed interest securties

UK government bonds and corporate bonds denominated in sterling are likely to take a battering as global investors take fright of a 'yes' majority - indeed there are reports that some global asset managers have already started to reduce their exposure to UK financial assets.

With yields already as low as 3.1% on UK 30-year government debt, having fallen from 3.7% in December, there doesn't seem much benefit in holding gilts beyond having some diversification in a multi-asset portfolio.

This article was written for our sister website Money Observer

Add new comment