The Future That is on Its Way to You!

We should be preparing for a set of major macro trends, Bernard Marr has written, after a discussion with Scott Smith of Changeist. Some of the trends already pre-dated the Covid-19 pandemic, but have been accelerated by it, and both men warn that these trends are ones we should not ignore.

Decoupled economies

According to Marr and Smith, the ‘decoupling’ of economies has been happening for around a decade. The result is a turn to nationalism in some of the world’s biggest economies, such as the USA, the UK, Brazil, Russia and India. As they say, ‘globalization is in the rearview mirror’ now, and we can expect a ‘multipolar world’ where three or four large regions with their own “distinct economies, security networks, cultures, and laws.”

Social change

Education, transportation, energy, food, and healthcare are in the midst of massive changes, much of it spurred on by the recognition that climate change is not a hoax. We are seeing a swell in the numbers of vegans and vegetarians due to livestock production accounting for 14.5% of greenhouse gases. There is also a transition to cleaner transport, and in the energy sector there is a move to meet the emissions reduction targets agreed to as part of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Covid-19 has also produced a transition to more working from home, and we are still grappling with this sudden change in our work life.

A new social contract?

The traditional social contract between citizens and government is no longer working for a significant number of individuals. Marr writes, “Societies have become divided between the haves and have nots, and any differences, whether religion, race, or sexual orientation, create chasms rather than common ground in the echo chamber of social media.” Automation threatens some workers, while the idea of a universal basic income has become a much hotter topic, as will debates about the nature of the future social contract between people, businesses and governments.

An AI reset

Currently we are seeing what is called an ‘AI reset’. The technology presents challenges that need to be carefully considered now, such as the regulatory obstacles and cost of development. On the other hand AI is accelerating and Smith believes another big wave is on the way.

Who are you?

Our personal identity would seem to be solid, yet thanks to digital technology it is varied and complex. Marr writes, “Today we have the ability to represent ourselves as a “stack” of identities that account for various affiliations, situations, values, and more.” Virtual and augmented reality has added to this ‘stacking’. As Marr says, “Given the tools at our disposal, smartphones, social media, and technology, we are free to create a digital narrative about who we are that might not match our physical world persona.”

Finally, we are facing life in a “blend of the physical, biological, and digital worlds.” The ‘new normal’ will be a combination of the physical and digital, and “Every organization must now consider how they provide products and services equally as well and complementary, whether interacting online or in the physical world.”

Some will welcome these trends, while others will be less enthusiastic. Whatever your view, it’s not difficult to see that regardless of opinion, this is our direction of travel.

Covid-19 figures prompt stock market surge

It appears that Monday 6th April may be remembered as the day that the global stock markets resurged and investors heaved a sigh of relief. This turnaround is due to the fact that it seems the global pandemic is peaking in the worst-hit countries, such as Spain and Italy, giving investors the green light to start buying again.

According to the New York Times European stocks were trading 2 to 4 percent higher after a modest rally in Asia picked up steam later in the day. At the time of writing the New York exchange hadn’t opened, but Futures markets are predicting it will also see a good day today.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index rose 4.2 percent. South Korea’s Kospi index rose 3.9 percent. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index was up 2.2 percent. Taiwan’s Taiex was up 1.6 percent.

However, oil prices, which usually rise when there’s good news, are not doing so well due to the continued argument between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Owing to the coronavirus epidemic, demand for oil has dropped precipitously. Saudi Arabia and OPEC proposed a deal that would trim oil production in response, but Russia declined to go along with it. So the battle continues.

A stress test for Europe

Another thing that came to light in today’s news is that European banking regulators had planned to stress test banks to see if they could withstand another major economic downturn. As it happens, they didn’t need to run any simulation, because the real thing came along in the form of the coronavirus Covid-19.

The New York Times said, “Government officials planned on running their test earlier this year, and it was meant to simulate a 4.3 percent decline in European economic output by 2022.” But now they are faced with an even worse ‘worst case’ scenario.

Some economists predict that Europe’s economy could drop by over 10% by June, and the continent’s central bankers are concerned that the crisis proofing that they put in place, won’t be sufficient to cope with what promises to be a global financial meltdown. It’s a worrying time, as European banks have never fully recovered from the last big crisis in 2008. And firms like BMW are already recording a massive drop in sales. The German carmaker announced sales had plunged by 20% in January to March 2020 and that is probably by now a conservative figure, as most countries hadn’t gone into lockdown until mid-to late March. In the UK, car dealers sold 200,000 cars fewer than they did in March 2019. It isn’t the only industry under stress, and many big companies will be looking to expand their existing lines of credit.

But, for the moment, we can take some pleasure in the fact that Covid-19 infections and deaths appear to be declining in the worst hit places, and that there is still investor enthusiasm for global stocks.

The Covid-19 Virus Has Just Reset The Global Economy!

President Trump claimed that the Covid-19 pandemic was “unforeseen”, or as Harvard’s Professor Jeffrey Frankel suggests, political leaders are seeing it as a ‘black swan’ event. That’s an event that nobody saw coming. The last one of these was the financial crash of 2008.

Perhaps countries’ responses might have been more organised had governments listened more carefully to leading epidemiologists who have been warning about the dangers of a global pandemic for decades. However, as with any event like this, hindsight is a wonderful thing. We are where we are, and we must deal with it.

There isn’t one person who cannot be aware of the effects that the coronavirus epidemic will have on the economy, because so many are already afraid of the future already due to the immediate loss of employment that came in the wake of each country’s lockdown restrictions. At the very beginning of Spain’s lockdown, unions said more than 100,000 people risked losing their jobs, and economists have warned that these temporary layoffs could become permanent. These figures refer to the big companies such as Seat, Iberia and Burger King, not the small businesses, such as bars and cafes, which have also been forced to close. And then there are the self-employed. This scenario is being replicated across Europe and in the USA.

Three scenes of impact

I believe there are three possible scenarios in relation to the economic impact:

Containment

This hasn’t happened. Economies would have had a better chance of staying stronger if we had managed to contain the infection rate to less than 500 per million. However, if you look at the average rate in the most affected countries, you are looking already at 1600 cases per million. So, it’s too late for that.

Government funding

Massive injections of emergency funding is another route. The USA is pouring an historic two trillion into the economy to shore up retail supply chains, and other countries are taking similar measures, mostly to ensure that its citizens have some income. However, there is a clear problem with this approach. Government loans will only work in the short term for businesses, for two or three months at most, and then businesses will have to let staff go. This will be fine if the economy can return to business as usual by the end of April perhaps, but if it goes on longer, there will be problems.

Herd immunity

Then there is the ‘herd immunity’ approach. The UK government suggested taking this approach when the first cases appeared, and allowing 60% of the country to become infected. They said it was what the science said, but the British people weren’t quite so keen on the idea, and it was only a matter of days before the British government stopped talking about herd immunity, and followed other countries’ actions. If a country followed the ‘herd immunity’ concept, it is likely that the crisis would continue into September/October, by which time a blanket of economic depression would have fallen over the entire world. Two-thirds of the population would be infected and the death toll would be enormous.

The economy would grind to a halt, and even a powerful economy like that of the USA wouldn’t be able to bail out businesses. The result would be a real life horror film, with social unrest, looting and crime at record heights due to unemployment. Hospitals would close their doors to all coronavirus patients, and uninfected people would fear those who were infected and violent hate acts would follow. The most vulnerable citizens, that is our elderly, would have to be moved to safe areas, while criminals would happily take advantage of the situation. Indeed, it would be like sunshine for them, as law enforcement resources would be focused on dealing with the social unrest arising from unemployment. If it sounds like one of those zombie apocalypse films that is because it is pretty close to one.

Currently we are all trying to stop the spread, but as you can see from the above scenarios, none of them guarantees us a return to the economic certainties we knew just a month ago. There will be many more predictions as the days and weeks pass: let’s hope they paint a brighter picture.

However, be warned: We are entering a new era that we might as well call ‘Global Elite Centralization’ and Covid-19 was the reset button that triggered it.

Investing in Stock Exchanges: a novel idea

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The world of investing centres on investing in stocks. However, Jon Markman writing at Forbes offers up a new idea: investing in stock exchanges. How does that work, you may ask. Markman points to the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), an operator of commodity and stock exchange, which posted exemplary financial results on 1st August and suggests that as its managers plan to disrupt lucrative markets, such as the new digital ones, it is worth looking at it as a potential investment.

ICE “builds, operates and advances global markets through information, technology and expertise,” according to its website. It’s a relatively new set-up that was only founded in 2000. In 1996, Jeffrey Sprecher, a mechanical engineer from Wisconsin, bought Continental Power Exchange, an Atlanta electronic energy trading company for $1,000. He saw an opportunity to take advantage of a move to electronic trading.

The company launched as ICE in 2000 when Sprecher gave up 80% of the business to investment bankers Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, according. It immediately became a competitor to Enron, one of the biggest electronic trading platforms at the time. However, it wasn’t long before the Enron scandal broke and in a very short time ICE became the market leader.

Sprecher had no experience in financial markets, nor had he ever traded stocks and shares, but he “could see how slow, traditional financial markets were about to be disrupted by fast, low-latency software platforms,” Markman says. Sprecher recounted the story of how flying back from London he spotted a story in the Financial Time about credit default swaps (CDS), and while he had no clue about what they were, he intuited that there might be an opportunity for ICE to leverage its platform to build an electronic marketplace. Today,  ICE currently clears 96% of all CDS.

He also used his creative thinking to engineer the $8.2 billion buyout of the New York Stock Exchange in 2012. In a little over a decade, this small Atlanta company went from obscurity to being in the vanguard of financial markets.  Today ICE currently operates 12 regulated exchanges and six clearing houses. The company logged $6.3 billion in revenue in 2018.

Its success is down to a great strategy based on seeing the transformation of financial markets early on. It has continued to make interesting strategic acquisitions, including the Chicago Stock Exchange last year, and as Markman says, “Getting ahead of the digital transformation of the $11 trillion mortgage market is another multibillion-dollar opportunity for ICE.”

Furthermore, as it is based in regulated financial markets, the company is the logical intermediary for this emergent digital ecosystem. It appears ot be firing on all cylinders, and as Markman says, “Growth investors should consider using broad-market weakness to accumulate shares.”