Market update – 13th July 2020
Flying high in a neon sky
Little breeds contempt like over-familiarity. I confess to a previous mild affection for the 1982 one-hit-wonders known as Fat Larry’s Band. I am sure that everyone can sing a couple of the infectious lines to themselves, and muddle through the rest of the words (you chased the day away-ayay-ayay).
COVID-19 has changed all that. That darned Zoom tune could not have been so repetitively implanted into my consciousness if I had been wearing an orange boiler suit and locked up in Guantanamo Bay. Well, as the boys sang, my whole wide world is going zoom.
All this, of course, is a shameless advertisement for our Zoom seminar on Thursday morning. We shall don our suits and now ill-fitting office shirts and take to the Zoom airways. We will be looking not just at the economic catastrophe of lockdown, but also at how COVID-19 has accelerated so many existing evolutionary trends, and how the opportunity has arisen for genuine transformational change. We look at the risk that governments spurn this in the quest for perceived easy votes, while, in contrast, business is moving ahead much faster towards sustainability and decarbonization. And interwoven into this is how the reaction to COVID and the change in the economies absolutely reinforces why ‘sustainability’ in the investment world is here to stay.
If any of this whets your appetite, we would be delighted if could join us. The response so far has been tremendous, thank you, if we can tempt you to join us, please can you email Diane Hayman ([email protected]) and we will send you the details of how to log on.
Since I have mentioned the spurning of opportunities, let us move on to last week’s update on the state of the nation from the Chancellor, and also onto newts. Many of you will be aware of the issue of ‘greenwashing’: the practice of obfuscating one’s environmental indifference by claiming the contrary.
It is hard not to judge the Chancellor by his employer’s earlier assertion that “newt-counting delays are a massive drag to the prosperity of this country”. I believe that the expression now being used, rather than ‘build back better’ is ‘bulldoze and be damned’.
Primark has made it clear to everyone which direction the economy is heading. The nation’s favourite discount clothing retailer has turned down the £30m it would have received for taking staff off furlough and into non-jobs. Instead, it is re-sizing itself for the years ahead. That is probably fewer stores, but certainly stores with less capacity. The queues for checkout can no longer snake all the way back into menswear. The scrums for the packs of five pairs of Christmas socks are confined to memory.
Almost every business with a physical interaction with the consumer has to downsize its capacity. This is a structural shrinkage, not just something that will be all over by Christmas. And this requires fewer staff. It cannot be right to incentivize business to recreate what previously fell apart (and in many cases was already doing so before COVID arrived).
The Prime Minister’s earlier New Deal speech went down like a, er, wet newt. The idea is spot on: we undeniably need a new deal. It is just that it is not one that involves building more roads, for more cars, for more meetings that no one actually needs. The Chancellor has just tantalizingly dangled a hint that he understands this, with his subsidies for insulation and boiler upgrades. He needs to do much, much more.
The reinvigoration of the economy will not come from shifting employment into building roads, or being able to travel from London to Birmingham half an hour quicker. It will come from the constructive approach to the immense challenge of how we actually achieve carbon net zero by 2050. If the government fully grasped this, it may even fit in with the timetable of their over-riding desire to win the next election. My guess is that there will be more bulldozers.
Jim Wood-Smith – CIO Private Clients & Head of Research
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