The World In A Week – Love Changes Everything?

Today we could have written about the United Kingdom no longer being part of the European Union, as Friday saw us exit, but without any clarity around the trade relationship for the future. This is the start of the long journey towards clarity around how we will interact with Europe going forward.

We could have written about Mark Carney’s last Monetary Policy Committee as governor of the Bank of England. The expectation for an interest rate cut had surged during January, however the committee voted 7:2 to keep UK interest rates at 0.75%. Mr. Carney officially stands down on 15th March after extending his governorship twice in order to see the UK leave the EU in an orderly manner.

What we are writing about is the Coronavirus and the concerns that this raises with short-term sentiment in the financial markets. Fear is the biggest economic threat and fear spreads more quickly when carried on the wings of social media; Google searches for ‘Coronavirus’ have risen sharply over the past week. It seems fear changes everything.

Fear changes consumers’ economic behaviour and in turn changes policy makers’ responses. In response to help contain the spread of the virus, China extended the Lunar New Year holiday to three days, with financial markets opening today. This has knock on effects for global supply chains and even a short disruption to global manufacturing should not be ignored. Companies should have enough inventory, but if Chinese companies are closed long enough, European and US production may suffer a lack of parts. We would expect sentiment surveys to worsen on the back of this.

The World Health Organisation has now declared the Coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. We believe that international measures to stop the spread of the virus will ultimately prove effective and there are early signs that the rate of increase in the number of new cases is slowing. It would appear the world was much more prepared for this type of outbreak than it was in 2003, with the Chinese government being pre-emptive and transparent, especially in quarantining major cities.

As we wrote last week, action will be compared to the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the blueprint is this current crisis could last between three and six months. We must keep in mind that this period of apprehension will eventually end, but in the meantime, we will probably face more bad news as media sources continue to use more emotive headlines, which will likely impact markets in the short-term.