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.”

 

China’s bid for world domination

The rumour that China plans to dominate the world has been circulating for decades. Its isolation from the West for a significant period of time made it even easier to turn the country into a Bogey Man. Some argued that it was a misunderstood country, whilst others held firmly to the view that China could never be trusted. These days, with greater media coverage of the world’s most populous country, we perhaps have a clearer view of its ambitions, and it seems some of the old rumours contain more than a grain of the truth.

Global expansionism is one of China’s tools. John Glynn writes that Beijing’s ‘Going Global’ strategy emerged in 1999, and it signalled the end of the “Mao-era mindset of self-reliance.” China suddenly started taking advantage of a boom in world trade and global market investments. Glyn says, “The idea that one government could commandeer sub regions in Asia, Europe and Africa, which account for 64 percent of world population and 30 percent of world GDP, might sound ludicrous. But try telling this to the Chinese government.”

Glyn also warns in his article that President Xi is engaged in an ideological and economic venture, and that it is clear the country has massive global ambitions, if its investments are anything to go by: “Between 2005 and 2017, the combined value of China’s global investment in construction was $1.8Trillion.”

What does it construct? The Chinese Government is making a concerted effort to increase infrastructural, economic, and political connectivity between China and the other countries of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Glyn calls it a “Belt and Road” initiative. But as he also says, it is essentially a new Silk Road connecting China to the rest of the world.

Glyn also remarks, “While other countries find themselves consumed by petty squabbles, Beijing officials discuss square footage, potential monetary gain, and militaristic strategies.”

It has invested widely in Energy, Transport, Real Estate and Metals — the key ingredients for developing infrastructure, and this has worried the Western governments, particularly the Trump presidency. That’s why he’s so keen to buy Greenland, an island mass that is rich in rare earth metals.

It is also the case that China has been involved in lending large amounts to other countries, and some fear that part of its strategy is to saddle these countries with “unimaginable levels of debt.” Furthermore a lot of this debt is “hidden” and that is especially worrying. Hidden debt means that the borrowing isn’t reported to or recorded by official institutions. A Kiel Institute study found that other countries’ debt owed to China has soared ten-fold since 2000, and it stated, “This has transformed China into the largest official creditor, easily surpassing the IMF or the World Bank.”

Much of this money is going to emerging markets. This is not because China wants to help grow these economies, but because it allows China to put those countries in a position of “indentured servitude.”

It is also looking to expand its military bases internationally. The US defence department expects China to add military bases around the world to protect its investments in its One Belt One Road initiative. Currently Beijing currently has just one overseas military base, in Djibouti. However, officials are planning others, including one in Pakistan.

This repressive regime has global ambitions and they are closer to being a reality than ever. Can China be stopped? The answer would appear to be — NO!