Markets were still reeling yesterday following the turmoil on Monday due to fears over coronavirus, and we are not out of the woods, either in terms of the health crisis or as investors.
No one, not even the world’s leading epidemiologists, knows how this is going to unravel.
What we do know is that coronavirus threatens the globalisation on which modern economies like the UK are predicated.
Outbreak: Chinese medics work in a hospital in Wuhan, the town at the centre of the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak
We take for granted that we live in a world where people, capital and goods can travel freely, though because of the inequalities and social tensions globalisation has created, it has come under serious challenge.
Brexit can be seen as an assertion of national identity and self-determination by voters who see themselves as British first and global citizens a distant second.
President Trump’s trade war with China and the protectionist thinking behind it represent a similar backlash.
As the French finance minister Bruno Le Maire says, coronavirus is a ‘game-changer’ for globalisation.
Never mind Huawei, it has put a focus on our reliance on China not only for car parts but also for even more important supplies such as the ingredients in medicines. Monsieur Le Maire has a point.
China accounts for a third of global trade, or around ten times more than at the time of Sars.
The virus has highlighted the dependence of many firms on long, complicated supply chains.
Factory closures in China will hit companies in the UK, as will the closure of borders or the imposition of checks. In the longer term, it’s possible that this, along with environmental concerns, will prompt executives to simplify supply chains.
In the short run there is likely to be severe disruption and there is little the Bank of England can do to alleviate it, because cutting interest rates and the usual measures have no effect on supply problems.
Economic damage is already being done. The Italian towns on lockdown are in the most productive northern regions and shutting them down, even temporarily, could tip the struggling economy into recession.
That in turn, will hit the eurozone. And there is a noticeable lack of information on coronavirus in Africa, where China has invested heavily. Hold tight.
Has Gina Miller gone too far in her role as consumer champion and leader of the ‘True and Fair’ campaign?
She isn’t known for shying away from publicity but her attack on the appointment of Andrew Bailey as Governor of the Bank of England is something to behold.
Her report rhetorically raises questions over whether his lack of performance should have led to him being held to account for misconduct in public office, to public censure, to resignation or even to prison. Steady on!
There’s more. Her allegation that he is not ‘fit and proper’ to be Governor is very serious.
The fit and proper tests in financial services examine a person’s honesty and other matters including the veracity of the qualifications they claim to have. In Bailey’s case these are not in doubt.
He does of course have a case to answer about his tenure at the Financial Conduct Authority.
The list of debacles with which Miller berates him – Woodford, LCF et al – is not new but is no less embarrassing for that, as is the revelation yesterday of a data breach of individuals’ personal details.
This newspaper has been highly critical of the FCA under Bailey when merited, and we will continue to be so when he takes over as Governor.
He is rarely praised for the things he did right – reforms of the consumer credit market, which capped the costs of payday loans, have been a big benefit to vulnerable consumers. But Miller selected an easy target.
No matter who is in charge, running a City watchdog is all brickbats and no bouquets.
Daniel Loeb, the billionaire with his sights on the Prudential, has a yacht called Samadhi, which is a Buddhist term for being in a state of meditative enlightenment.
Possibly after meditating on the furious reaction to the idea the Pru should decamp from the London stock market, he has decided he would let the insurer keep its UK listing if it likes, after a split of its Asian and US businesses. Nice of him.
Loeb does, however, still want the Pru to ditch its London HQ, which he reckons cost £200million a year, though we are not enlightened on how that was worked out, or how much could be saved.
Time to meditate a bit more.
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