DESPITE the obvious difficulties created by politicians and turbulence in the global economy, financial markets have been relatively easy to decipher in the last few years.

Indeed, the sensible thing to have done in the last three years would have been to carry out the opposite strategy to that which the wider consensus advised you to do.

In 2016 a great buying opportunity was presented to investors as a result of general investor panic and sensationalist attention-seeking comments advising investors to sell anything that they could because it was likely to be their last opportunity to get out.

What investors should have done at the time was hold on, buy cheap assets and not panic.

This patient and considered approach also proved wise as we lived through the UK making its referendum decision to leave the European Union, the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States and the rolling political crises in the tragi-comic eurozone.

As 2017 progressed, investors would have been well served if they had ignored the growing optimistic consensus that talked of a “synchronised global expansion” and a market boom in 2018.

Fading your riskiest positions and pursuing a defensive strategy was an unpopular, but in hindsight wise, practice to pursue.

A more defensive stance has been rewarded in 2018, however, given that it has been the hardest year since 1901 to find positively performing asset classes while no major asset classes have been able to outstrip inflation rates.

Of course, talking about the past is very easy; trying to predict the future is always much harder. At this time it appears to be harder than ever.

Interestingly, the wider consensus is now getting worried about economic growth in the year ahead and highlighting some of the negative trends that have recently been exhibited in financial markets.

While people are not necessarily wrong to be getting nervous, the time to take that view would have been in 2017.

In 2018 it is time to be proactive rather than reactive about a challenging year for stock markets.

While economic growth next year seems set to be lower than had previously been imagined around the world, investors would be wise to recognise that asset markets are usually good at sniffing out and pricing in future growth disappointments.

The collapse we have seen in UK, Asian and European share markets this year have surely priced in at least some of the economic slowdown we are seeing right now and which is likely to continue into next year.

Indeed, we believe we are approaching a buying opportunity in Asian equities. At the same time, other markets also look like they could also be moving towards cheap valuation levels for long-term investors.

Indeed, even the much-hated UK equity market could offer up a surprising experience in 2019, particularly if there is a further deterioration in sentiment over the country's chaotic exit from the European Union.

It might well be that investors will until the lorries start backing up on the M20 to get the cheapest prices.

But with UK equities, which are distrusted by most global investors, currently approaching historically cheap absolute and relative valuations, investors should not throw in the towel when it comes to their UK investments.

In the UK’s credit markets there is also a Brexit premium that investors can take advantage of with respect to high-quality corporate bonds.

Indeed some of the pricing of bonds during the recent market turbulence has become nonsensical, although it has allowed nimble investors to reap outsized rewards.

Given this backdrop, my advice for what is likely to be a tricky year ahead would be to ignore the noise, focus on valuations and take a contrarian approach to investing.

Tim Wishart is head of Scotland and the North of England at Psigma Investment Management.