Preparing for the 'New Normal'

John Sio

Posted at Apr 30 2020 08:39 PM

As countries appear to have reached the peak of this invisible enemy called COVID-19, we take a moment and look at how the markets have reacted, how countries and various industries are gradually preparing for the new normal, how you and your businesses can also prepare and manage risks and act on opportunities that come with it.

As of the time of writing, there has been 3 million coronavirus cases globally with 206,000 people dying from it. The Philippines has 8,212 cases including 558 deaths, as of April 29. It is highly likely that everyone has a family, friend, neighbor and/or colleagues who may have the virus and some of whom may have tragically passed away. Our hearts go to each and every one of those who have been affected by this dreadful pandemic. 

People fall in line to buy goods at a public market in Mandaluyong on April 14, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

We also strive to balance our assessment in concluding that it could have been a lot worse – I am no medical expert and I am in no position to assess when was the right time for leaders to have acted. For those who stayed at home, washed their hands diligently and dutifully complied with the rules such as the social or physical distancing put in place, thank you. To individuals who worked amidst the dangers to provide essential services, thank you. But the biggest appreciation goes to our healthcare frontliners who put their lives on the line… Maraming Salamat, Merci, Gracias, Danke, Gamsahabnida!

The extraordinary nature of COVID-19 meant unprecedented steps had to be done. National lockdowns, in various shapes and forms, were instituted. Economies were shut down. The world, as we knew it, was brought to a standstill.

Unfortunately, this meant business of all sizes have had to shut down or moved towards a skeletal workforce, leading to millions becoming unemployed within such a short timeframe across the globe. The question is no longer whether we will have a recession but rather, how dire will it be. 

EASING THE LOCKDOWN AROUND THE WORLD 

Whilst all countries are striving to safeguard each and every life, Congressman Wes Gatchalian who chairs the Trade and Industry Committee in the House of Representatives puts it rationally that “Our country needs to balance the health concerns brought about by this pandemic and the concerns of both the consumers (demand) and industries (supply) of the trade and industry sector… A balance between the two must be sought.”. 

His view is shared by many world leaders from a few of the largest economies as follows: 

  •  China 

Having been the first location that the pandemic hit, the lockdown on Wuhan has ended after 76 days. It is interesting to note how it will again be the first to take steps towards the new normal, despite allegations made by the USA of inaccurate COVID-19 reporting. 

  • Switzerland 

The country is adopting a three-phase exit strategy to open the economy. The first step is to allow hospitals to resume non-essential activity, and businesses such salons and massage parlors are to open as well. This will then be followed by consideration of opening schools for children of compulsory-school age, as well more non-essential shops and markets. The phase will result to opening of all schools and resumption of face-to-face teaching, as well as the re-opening of entertainment and leisure establishments. 

  •  Germany

The German government is planning to allow small retailers with shop floors no bigger than 800 sqm to re-open by the end of April, together with businesses such as car dealerships, cycling stores, and bookshops. In addition, the government is planning to mandate people who travel around cities to wear masks whilst in public in order to stop the spread of the virus. 

  • United States 

The US States of Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska have begun loosening lockdown orders. Georgia and Oklahoma started allowing salons, spas and barbershops to reopen while Alaska has allowed retail shops to open its doors to the public whilst restaurants can resume dine-in services. The state of New York, the worst-hit state in America, has started opening its golf courses albeit with strict social distancing measures. 

A depiction of the Grim Reaper appears at a busy intersection in Barangay Addition Hills, Mandaluyong City warning people to stay at home or risk catching the new coronavirus.

STAY AT HOME...AND BINGE WATCH?

The lockdowns have made technology-focused companies more important than ever. Not being able to go out for their shopping meant that people had to buy groceries and other essentials online with the giant retailer Amazon benefitting from this. 

Doing your groceries from the comfort of your couch gives one more time to spend on other things such as watching Netflix. This, together with the absence of live sporting events, saw Netflix increasing its viewership by almost 16 million globally in the first quarter of 2020 alone. 

Amazon and Netflix shares are up by 22.66% and 31.54%, respectively, since the start of the year compared to the S&P 500 being 16% lower because of the ongoing economic depression.

The measures have also resulted in people working remotely on a full-time basis, with Zoom becoming a widely-used app to stay in touch remotely, the beginning of the end for the use of cash and lots of time spent on Tiktok!

INTO THE UNKNOWN

Due to the unprecedented circumstances and the uncertainty it brings, the largest companies in the world have withdrawn their guidance on how they believed their companies will perform for the year, with the regulators sharing this view taking into consideration that the last global health crisis on a comparable scale would be the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. However, the world is completely different now. 

So far, China has confirmed that its GDP has seen a decline of 6.8% in Q1 2020, its first decline in 40 years as jobs and manufacturing outputs decline. The US GDP also declined in Q1 by 4.8%, with job-loss claims growing by the millions. 

The Eurozone economy is expected to decline by 5.5%, with hard-hit countries such as Spain and Italy looking to the EU for support. Without such support, Italy and Spain will probably suffer the same fate that Greece faced not so long ago. 

As governments around the world are offering disaster relief and economic stimulus measures through increased borrowing, it is expected that taxes will increase one way or another as opposed to introducing austerity measures with the hope of recovering sooner rather than later. 

OPTIMIZING OPPORTUNITIES

Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit. - Napoleon Hill 

  • Self-Improvement 

Take this time to take stock on the things you can improve or achieve – perhaps you can learn to cook, learn a new language or write that business plan for the side project you’ve been itching to do. 

If you run a business, whether it’s a multi-million-dollar company or an up-and-coming start-up, you can review your processes and ensure that any further cost-saving is explored and achieved. The landscape will become even more competitive than it has ever been.

  • Stock Market 

There are varying opinions on what type of recovery will take place – whether it is a U, V or W-shaped recovery. With the energy sector down by 45%, finance and banking sector down by 33% and discretionary spending (including airlines, cruises, hotels and even Starbucks) down by 25%, it can truly be a scary time to invest. 

However, with a long-term mindset, proper research and selection of high-quality companies, the current situation can result to double-digit gains when clarity on the direction of travel of the economy is attained (which can be in less than a year!). Markets, after all, have historically rebounded after periods of significant devaluation. 

  • Real Estate 

The London housing market, considering the attractive rental yields it can offer and relatively stable prices, are projected to fall by as much as 13%. With the right knowledge and negotiating skills, this can be viewed as a discount and a buying opportunity. 

Just like the rest of the world, no one truly knows what will happen next. All we can do for now is prepare for the new normal, don’t panic, wash your hands and stay at home!


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About the author:
 
John Sio is a UK-recognized chartered accountant with over 15 years of experience. He is a director of Castle Consulting Group Limited, a leading London-based and Filipino-owned consulting firm providing business and tax advice to the Filipino diaspora in the UK.

You may contact him via email [email protected]
 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.