If ever a topic displayed how right we were to leave the EU it is the Covid vaccine fiasco. Freed from the Brussels harness the UK’s vaccine taskforce set off at a gallop last year securing contracts early with multiple potential suppliers. As those suppliers’ products have successfully trialled and been authorised for use the vaccine delivery plan has motored ahead with the UK sitting third in the world’s delivery league. It is probably the one thing in the war against this awful virus the government has got absolutely right.

The EU, on the other hand, first prevaricated and then decided on a centralised procurement policy, with Brussels securing supplies for all member states. Its dilatory reaction to the evolving emergency verged on criminal. Rather than give precedence to securing multiple contracts quickly, as did the UK, Brussels chose to waste time arguing price with too few suppliers, most of whom are producing the vaccines at cost anyway. The upshot being they have nowhere near enough vaccines and will be months behind most of the developed world in protecting their citizens.

As with every major problem Brussels has had to deal with, this, like all those before, is not their fault. Rather than sort out the mess they preside over they always resort to attacking someone else to deflect the criticism and who better to attack than the newly freed Brits. The EU’s actions over recent days are reminiscent of the old Soviet Socialist Republic. Raiding the Brussels offices of Astra Zeneca has got to be a huge mistake if they are looking to attract cutting edge businesses to the EU. Effectively threatening a hard border between Northern Ireland and Eire, in breach of its own Northern Ireland Protocol, was yet another error but one, at least, that was reversed almost as soon as it was unleashed. They were then reduced to trying to undermine perceptions of the efficacy of the Astra Zeneca vaccine whilst at the same time trying to force its UK plants to divert the product to the EU. You couldn’t make it up. Now they have rolled over completely.

Whilst maintaining its fury at such games, our government has done the right thing to grant Brussels a little of our supplies once we have broken the back of our vaccine roll-out programme. We are likely to have more than we need ultimately and it displays to the world that we are above such shenanigans and have the interests of global health at heart. And Brussels knows where we are the next time they need our help!

Reddit

We are not talking frogs here. Apparently Reddit is a social media site with a subsite called WallStreetBets (WSB) upon which some 3.5m readers unveil their speculative trading ideas. Their concerted efforts to reverse the fortunes of some bombed out stocks shorted by hedge funds have met with some phenomenal successes as their collective buying power has squeezed those short positions. 1000% increase in the shares of one company, GameStop, saw off at least one of those dastardly hedgies.

If nothing else the attention drawn to these positions ought to give the US regulators something to think about. One company is reported to have had around 140% of its shares out on loan as cover for short positions. How can it be right that short positions can exist in more than the issued capital of a company? And how can an extra 40% of issued capital be created to cover the loans for the extra short positions? I can only think they are created by some synthetic product because, taken in its simple form, it is mathematically impossible. Anyway, the regulators need to look at it. I am sure they will also be looking at the very nature of the WSB site too. Its potential for abuse is clear for all to see – pumping and dumping, front running and all sorts of market manipulation are possible.

As for Reddit’s WSB traders, some will make their fortunes and plenty will end up skint. Human nature will determine that they will only act as one for a while. Before long some will break ranks and scramble out on the backs of their fellow punters, like some huge pyramid scam – ultimately doomed to fall apart. It’s fun while it lasts but long after this game is over I’m sure plenty of hedge funds will still exist.

Ashoka India Equity Investment Trust (140p) – (Stuart Parkinson)

If you are looking for exposure to the vast Indian market, look no further than Ashoka.
Run by two ex- Goldman Sachs fund managers who have returned home to manage this fund.
There is no substitute for boots on the ground when it comes to investing in different geographies and cultures.

They are excellent stock pickers and adopt a bottom-up approach having considered the macro themes. Ashoka is now valued at £100m and is large enough to start attracting Fund of Fund managers.

In the last calendar year the fund returned 26% NAV growth against the benchmark of 12.6 and easily out-performed the larger funds. Although actively managed the average life cycle of an investment is circa 3.5 years and fund turnover is around 20%.

India was hit hard by the Pandemic but is recovering quickly, its knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry has stood it in good stead and it was very quick off the mark securing Covid vaccine contracts. Digital transference is happening quickly and the financial system is evolving fast. We feel India has strong growth ahead of it over the next five to seven years.

Ashoka is risk-rated Moderate High and we regard them as very attractive on a medium/long term view.

Russell Dobbs FCSI
Chartered Wealth Manager