Political Analysis

About 15 years ago, I was asked by a City-type: “What distinguishes a good political analyst from an average one?”.

My answer, after some careful thought, was: “Gut instinct”.

Whether one agrees with this or not may depend on one’s definition of “gut instinct”. Mine is as follows:

“Gut instinct is the conscious manifestation of one’s subconscious grinding over one’s accumulated knowledge.”

To the purist, this may seem a strange way of working, often involving “reverse engineering” to understand — and explain — how one reached the conclusion on the table. And, for sure, very often it is not only unnecessary but inappropriate. Nevertheless, be it through building a “bottom up” analysis or through the analytical equivalent of a quantum jump, the wealth of “accumulated knowledge” acquired during two decades’ experience working for the British foreign service and over a decade in the City of London is central to my expertise. Indeed, I regard it as essential in a field which is seldom linear and which has a logic of its own which can often seem utterly irrational when viewed from a business or ‘pure’ economic perspective.

Furthermore, my experience brings with it a second asset which is just as important, ie networks. Even more than my knowledge and analytical abilities, I value the network of well-informed individuals worldwide with whom I remain in touch on a regular basis, sharing thoughts about what is really going on in an increasingly fast-moving, complex and hard-to-comprehend world.

This is, in my view, massively important. In the 24/7 news flow- and social network-dominated context in which business operates today, my job is:

  • To get behind, if not ahead of, the politics and policy headlines and sort out the wheat from the chaff;
  • To set out clearly and succinctly what is really going on and where it is likely to lead; and,
  • To ensure that, as far as political issues are concerned, you are, therefore, in the best position to make the decisions which could prove essential to the profitability of your business.

In short: Anticipate, Analyse, Explain.

To this end, much of Alavan’s current work is with the financial sector — insurance as well as banking. Notably, I am exclusively contracted to Nomura International plc on the ‘sell side’, providing regular research notes on politics worldwide and helping Nomura’s clients to make their investment decisions.

This nevertheless leaves Alavan freely available to work directly and independently with fund managers, be it on one-off studies, regular updates or special events. I currently have a number of such commissions, including presentations at major conferences.  Some examples of recent publications can be found at Research Papers; and of speaking engagements at News & Events.

Furthermore, Alavan does not restrict its offering to the financial sector. I understand fully — not least based on my extensive experience promoting foreign direct investment at the OECD in the first half of the 1990s and for the British government’s business development agency, UKTI, in the United States a decade later — that understanding ‘local’ politics is particularly important for inward investors irrespective of sector.

Whether you are a portfolio or foreign direct investor, here I bring an additional part of my “accumulated knowledge” into play based on my time with African Development Corporation from 2008 to 2015, for the last three of which I chaired the supervisory board. This has given me a solid understanding of what senior executives need to know in terms of politics and policy to help them make the ‘right’ decision, be it relative to portfolio investments or the longer-term development and day-to-day management of assets on the ground.

Alastair Newton

October 2015