The panic buying of essential items around the globe – from food to, fittingly, toilet paper – sparked by the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has been mirrored by panic selling in capital markets. It’s almost as if investors were taking cash out of stocks and bonds to buy whatever food, hand sanitiser and toilet paper they could get their hands on.
Pessimism in global financial markets has reached heights not seen since the dark days of the great financial crisis of 2007-2009, which this current crisis threatens to overtake in depth and significance. But, as news about rapid tests for COVID-19 and resilience to deal with the virus begin to multiply, could investors hope for a bottom in the capital markets’ selloff?
Central banks are again under the limelight. With Mark Carney’s departure as governor of the Bank of England next month, Boris Johnson could try to seize the opportunity to curtail the central bank’s independence.
This should not come as a surprise. Already, Johnson’s soulmate from across the ocean, Donald Trump, has been making noises about the Federal Reserve being too independent (or rather: insubordinate) for his liking.
So, if these two authoritarian populists go for central banks, what are their chances of bringing them under their rule?
The first year of the new decade begins with markets in a much more exuberant mood than at the beginning of 2019. Some of the world’s most important stock markets reached record highs in the last month of 2019 — but do investors feel that markets have peaked?
So Boris, as he likes to be called, hopes he can reassemble a disjointed Britain. Under his benign leadership families that were torn apart by violently differing views on EU membership can be restored to harmony and domestic bliss.
The 29 million-odd people WHO DID NOT VOTE TO LEAVE THE EU in the 2016 referendum are to be dragged out willy-nilly to satisfy the 17.4 million who voted to leave. This is widely hailed as democracy.
Brexit rules the waves (which, incidentally, can only be used in future to transport goods at the cost of a hell of a lot more paperwork, restriction and delay). We will be poorer in the future than we would have been as EU members. Even the would-be leavers are forced to concede this.
Sentiment in the markets ahead of the UK election is eerily similar to that before the referendum on European Union membership in June 2016. Complacency seems to have the upper hand, so if the election result is a surprise, expect a sharp readjustment.
The central banks’ “extraordinary” and “non-conventional” measures are now more than a decade old and they are still going strong.
If initially they were only supposed to last for a few years after the financial crisis of 2007-2009 until things “went back to normal”, this expectation was quietly dropped once it became clear that the extraordinary had become ordinary.
But as these measures continue, their toxic side effects are increasing. They may in fact be contributing to the sluggishness of the world economy and to the lack of productive investment, rather than counteracting them.
Of all the fears sweeping the markets right now, perhaps the most worrying is the fear of a debt crisis in the corporate sector.
Warnings about corporate debt rising to unsustainable levels are intensifying, at a time when interest rates are at record lows and even Greece joined the club of negative-yield sovereign debt issuers.