This is my annual review of the year just gone and preview of the New Year. It is intended to give you a global overview of what I think are the most important economic events and themes that occurred in 2021 and the ones to look out for in 2022. I hope you find this both informative and useful!
Watson’s Yearly is a document that will change as 2022 progresses. Although it won’t be 100% live 100% of the time, I will – along with my team – endeavour to update the content throughout the year so that it will be relevant whenever you pick it up! As far as I am aware there is no other document like this that functions in this way, so I hope that it is something that you will find useful. I don’t expect you to read Watson’s Yearly in one sitting (it is pretty long!), but I think it would be best used by dipping into it whenever you can! It would definitely be worth checking back regularly to see what’s changed – but I will also keep you updated on changes in Watson’s Weekly.
*** CONTENTS ***
(If you want to skip to a particular section, please click on the appropriate heading below)
Section 1: Introduction
Section 2: The Review of 2021
Section 3: Preview of 2022
Section 4: Country-by-country overview for 2022
Section 5: Themes for 2022
Section 6: Conclusions
I thought I’d kick off proceedings for the latest edition of Watson’s Yearly with a few quotes! Who said the following during the course of 2021 (answers below)?
- “What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine. I am so filled with emotion about what just happened.
“Everybody in the world needs to do this… It’s extraordinary, extraordinary.”
- “Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting.”
- “If we didn’t care about fighting harmful content, then why would we employ so many more people dedicated to this than any other company in our space – even ones larger than us?”
- “…prenez un grip about this about this and donnez-moi un break because this is fundamentally a great step forward for global security”
- “We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside./ We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another./ We seek harm to none and harmony for all.”
- “Read the standing orders! READ THEM AND UNDERSTAND THEM!”
What a year!!! 2021 was anything other than uneventful, that’s for sure!
(Quotation answers: 1. William Shatner (aka Captain Kirk) to Jeff Bezos when he came back to earth after his Blue Origin flight in October, 2. Allegra Stratton, former Spokesperson to the PM, 3. Mark Zuckerberg in his 1,300 memo to employees, responding to whistle-blower Frances Haugen’s allegations, 4. Boris Johnson to a frustrated Emmanuel Macron in reponse to France’s reaction to having a major order of submarines cancelled as part of the new AUKUS defence tie-up, 5. 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman reading her poem “The Hill We Climb” at Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, 6. Vice-chairman of Handforth Parish Council Aled Brewerton to Jackie Weaver in the now-infamous Zoom meeting from Hell 🤣)
THE REVIEW OF 2021
Here’s my preview of what proved to be an extremely eventful 2021! The monthly entries here are a short version of the Watson’s Monthly editions – so if you want to know more, please click on the appropriate links! I thought it would also be a good idea this year to include a Covid timeline that identifies how lockdown and vaccine policies have changed because they have had a major effect on the economies.
- BIG PICTURE NEWS: It was an explosive start to the year as Trump tried to hang on to power and rioting broke out on Capitol Hill. Biden still got the job and Trump was cancelled by Facebook and Instagram while Parler, the app that rioters used to communicate was cut off at the knees by Amazon, Apple and Google.
- IN EUROPE, EU vaccine distribution came in for heavy criticism, particularly as vaccine rollout had been going quite well in the US and UK.
- IN THE UK, BoJo announced a lockdown of schools and the CEO of Pimlico Plumbers caused a kerfuffle by saying that he would be implementing a policy of “no jab, no job” for new starters.
- IN MARKETS, Chinese markets reached their highest level since the 2008 crash and Redditors drove the share prices of GameStop, AMC Entertainment and Blackberry to sky-high levels. Things got so frenzied that platforms like Robinhood that had powered the activity suspended trading activity, much to the frustration of all the retail investors.
- IN CRYPTO, despite taking a lot of flak from the FCA and the ECB along with increased scrutiny from the US Treasury Department Bitcoin tested the $40,000 barrier.
- IN THE AUTOMOTIVE SECTOR, Stellantis came into being as the Fiat Chrysler/Peugeot Citroen merger went live as the new entity “Stellantis”, becoming the world’s third biggest car maker by sales. This came at a tricky time for the industry as car sales continued to hit rock bottom in the US and UK, largely thanks to the ongoing shortage of semiconductors. Tesla was riding high in China with its Shanghai-produced Model Y, but in the US it was facing a major recall because of a defect in its touch screen.
- IN VEHICLE CHARGING, Shell bought Ubitricity, the biggest on-street car charging company in Europe.
- IN REAL ESTATE, it was a story of mixed fortunes as UK residential property continued to go bananas as mortgage approvals hit a 13 year high, according to the latest Bank of England figures. On the other hand, in commercial property (particularly with office space), companies were looking at ways of downsizing given the ongoing trend for working from home.
- IN FINANCIALS, banks with exposure to trading and advisory businesses, like Bank of America and Goldman Sachs etc. saw huge boosts in profit due to trading activity and deal-making in general.
TO SEE THE FULL VERSION OF THIS MONTH, PLEASE HIT THIS LINK
JANUARY’S COVID POLICY/NEWS TIMELINE:
- AMERICAS, US – Jan 15th Trump said he’d lift the travel ban on Brazil and most of Europe (including the UK) from Jan 26th
- EUROPE, FRANCE – Jan 16th France imposed a 6pm curfew as its death toll hit 70,000
- EUROPE, GERMANY – Jan 12th Merkel warned that Germany’s hard lockdown could go on for another 8-10 weeks, Jan 19th Germany extended its national lockdown until Feb 14th, Jan 29th Germany imposed a ban on travellers from the UK, Ireland and Portugal
- EUROPE, SWITZERLAND – Jan 13th Switzerland closes down all non-essential shops and pushes WFH
- UK – Jan 4th England enters third national lockdown, schools close and people are allowed to leave their homes once a day for exercise for at least the next six weeks, Jan 14th the UK bans flights from various South American countries including Argentina, Brazil and Chile, Jan 27th the UK imposes compulsory hotel quarantine for travellers coming from “high risk” countries. Anyone looking to leave the UK will need a written declaration proving their need to travel
- NEWS – Jan 21st Pfizer slashes vaccine deliveries to some European countries by up to 50% in some countries, Jan 22nd AstraZeneca announced there would be delays to initial vaccine deliveries to the EU due to production problems, Jan 26th AstraZeneca said that it would prioritise delivery of vaccines to the UK over the EU because it signed contracts with the UK first, Jan 28th Europe faces shortages of vaccines as supplies of the Moderna vaccine will be lower than expected in February, Jan 29th the EU authorises AstraZeneca vaccine for use on over-18s, Jan 30th Germany threatens laboratories who don’t deliver to the EU on schedule with legal action.
- IN THE US, The US House of Representatives passed a massive comprehensive $1.9tn stimulus package to help the economy that included things like increases in the minimum wage, $1,400 direct payments, an extension of unemployment insurance and $350bn for state and local governments.
- IN EUROPE, things got increasingly nasty regarding vaccines as the EU’s poor vaccine distribution strategy led to a number of countries buying vaccines from China and Russia in frustration. Europeans then, one by one, slagged off the efficacy of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and said they wouldn’t be recommending it. In the meantime, the Russian Sputnik V vaccine showed a 91.6% efficacy rate in a peer review. Former ECB president Mario Draghi became Italy’s new Prime Minister after being invited to do so by the Italian president Sergio Mattarella following the previous PM Giuseppe Conte’s failure to form a government.
- IN THE UK, tensions with Europe increased as Europe sought to enforce a border between Great Britain and the island of Ireland to stop vaccine exports.
- IN MARKETS, Japan’s Nikkei sailed through 30,000 for the first time since 1990 and the whole retail trading frenzy continued before Robinhood and others were hauled up to answer before Congress.
- IN COMMODITIES, the oil price reached pre-Covid levels by breaching the $60 a barrel level while oil major BP announced that it had paid £900m for rights to build wind farms in the Irish Sea. Prices of raw materials and crops continued to rise thanks to countries stocking up and restricting exports.
- IN CRYPTOCURRENCY, Bitcoin breached $50,000 and almost hit $60,000 as the world’s first Bitcoin ETF (the snappily-titled Purpose Investments Bitcoin Exchange Traded Fund) started trading in Toronto.
- IN THE AUTOMOTIVE SECTOR, chip shortages continued to cause production cuts, JLR committed to becoming a 100% electric brand by 2025 and Tesla announced recall in the US of 135,000 cars, which is a lot considering that last year the company shipped just under 500,000 vehicles globally.
- IN IPO AND M&A DEVELOPMENTS, Bumble had a successful IPO while the latest figures showed that the UK had its fastest start to M&A deals since the 2008 financial crisis! In specific deal news, Kraft Heinz sold Planters Peanuts to Hormel Foods for $3.35bn as part of its plans to cut debt levels. US regional bank M&T Bank bought People’s United Financial in a $7.6bn deal, Goodyear bought rival Cooper Tire for $2.8bn and LVMH bought a 50% of Jay-Z’s Armand de Brignac champagne company and Allied Universal Security Services bought G4S for £3.8bn.
TO SEE THE FULL VERSION OF THIS MONTH, PLEASE HIT THIS LINK
FEBRUARY’S COVID POLICY/NEWS TIMELINE:
- EUROPE, GERMANY – Feb 6th Germany announced it would extend its lockdown until the 7th March.
- EUROPE, SWITZERLAND – Feb 24th Switzerland says it will ease lockdown from Mar 1st with the opening of shops, museums and libraries.
- UK – Feb 13th PM Boris Johnson announces optimism that his roadmap out of lockdown on Feb 22nd will include a relaxation of restrictions, Feb 22nd the government announces a four-stage plans to get England out of lockdown over the coming months. Schools are to reopen and outdoor socialising with one person will be OK from Mar 8th
- NEWS – Feb 1st the EU tightens travel restrictions from those outside the bloc, only allowing in those from countries with very low case numbers and very few are allowed to leave, Feb 2nd trials show that Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine has a 91.6% efficacy rate, Feb 25th 80% of AstraZeneca’s vaccines in the EU sit unused due to the hatchet job the Europeans did
- BIG PICTURE NEWS, this was the month when a ship got stuck in the Suez Canal and caused all kinds of chaos for months! It was actually released much earlier than had originally been feared, but this put very tight supply chains out of synch. I bet the pilot of that vessel won’t try three-point turns again in a hurry!
- IN THE US, Biden’s $1.9tn stimulus became law, the Fed committed to near-zero interest rates until at least 2024 and jobless claims fell to pre-pandemic levels.
- IN CHINA, manufacturing had a very strong bounce-back in Q1, reaching pre-Covid levels.
- IN EUROPE, the EU launched a legal action against the UK at the European Court of Justice re Northern Ireland because the UK eased trading conditions for Northern Irish businesses post-Brexit without consulting Brussels. Europe accused the UK of banning exports of vaccines and vaccine ingredients, but they then backtracked on this. After slagging it off, both the French and the Germans approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in the over-65s.
- IN THE UK, Rishi Sunak announced the UK Budget, which was pretty much spend now, tax later.
- IN IPO AND M&A NEWS, the massive deal flow continued with Asian tech groups being particularly active in raising money. Companies such as Coupang (South Korea), Didi Chuxing (China), Megvii (China), ByteDance (China), Grab (Singapore), Tokopedia (Indonesia), Zomato (India) and Kakao Bank (South Korea) were among those either doing IPOs or making moves to do so. Interestingly, SPACs did a whopping $109bn-worth of transactions globally in February in 50 deals and the volume of deals done in Q1 was the most since 1980! IPOs this month saw mixed performances with Roblox having a strong market debut with its share price rising by over 54% versus the issue price – and South Korean e-tailer Coupang, which saw its share price shoot up by 41% on its first day of trading. Trustpilot had a solid first day of trading on the London Stock Exchange on its debut, seeing its share price climb by a respectable 16% in complete contrast to Deliveroo’s flotation disaster on the last day of the month!
- IN AUTOMOTIVE NEWS, loads of car manufacturers committed to an EV future and dealerships in America are pouring serious money into upgrading their facilities to accommodate EVs, despite the fact that EV sales currently make up only 2% of overall sales. Meanwhile, Motor Fuel Group (which runs petrol stations under the BP, Shell, Murco, Texaco and Shell brands in the UK), said that it was going to spend over £400m on chargers that could add 100 miles of range in under 10 minutes. VW said that it was planning on building six new battery factories in Europe by 2030 and Panasonic announced that it was reducing its reliance on Tesla to make batteries compatible with other vehicles – a historic moment, considering how closely the two companies had worked up until now. Re the cars themselves, Tesla announced a record number of deliveries in Q1, more than double the number they did in Q1 2020 but there was some bad news for Tesla because military personnel and employees of some state-owned enterprises in China were banned from driving Tesla’s cars because of security fears.
- IN CONSUMER AND RETAIL-RELATED NEWS, figures showed that Britons paid back a ton of debt under lockdown, but are now spending. Asda has seen a 400% increase in sales of BBQ and garden furniture and the Entertainment Retailers Association is saying that we are spending record amounts on fun and games (!) as consumers are generally feeling more optimistic! Morrisons fell out of the FTSE100 and M&S announced it would demolish its Marble Arch store.
TO SEE THE FULL VERSION OF THIS MONTH, PLEASE HIT THIS LINK
MARCH’S COVID POLICY/NEWS TIMELINE:
- US – Mar 8th health officials say fully-vaccinated Americans are allowed to gather with other fellow-vaccinated citizens indoors without masks or social distancing.
- EUROPE, ITALY – Mar 2nd Italy shuts down schools and puts restrictions on businesses in areas worst hit by the latest Covid variant.
- EUROPE Mar 10th-12th Austria, Estonia, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Latvia, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Italy, France, Portugal, Slovenia and Cyprus all suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Mar 18th European Medicines Agency says the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe to use and say that taking it is better than not taking it! Countries including Germany, Italy and France resume use, but the PR damage has been done! Mar 19th EC president Ursula Von der Leyen warns AstraZeneca over the reduced supply of vaccines, Mar 21st Germany and Austria extend the deadline of their lockdown measures, Mar 26th Germany announces travel warnings for various EU countries.
- MIDDLE EAST, SAUDI ARABIA – Mar 5th the country announces plans to relax restrictions, including the opening up of entertainment venues from Mar 7th.
- UK – Mar 25th emergency Covid restrictions are extended for another six months.
- IN THE US, retail sales shot up by 9.8% in March and jobless claims fell, which helped US stock markets hit record highs. For instance, the S&P500 broke the 4,000 mark for the first time ever this month, powered by tech stocks, expectations of massive economic stimulus and a successful vaccine rollout in the US.
- IN CHINA, China’s GDP shot up by a whopping 18.3% in Q1 vs Q1 in 2020, but this fell short of market expectations.
- IN THE UK, the latest stats from the ONS show a return to economic growth as retailers saw rising sales and manufacturing saw an uptick on rising car production. A survey by YouGov and the CEBR showed that consumer confidence was at its highest level since 2018 and business confidence is also up.
- IN CRYPTOCURRENCY, Bitcoin breached the $63,000 level and America’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange, Coinbase, had a dramatic debut on the NYSE where it shot up initially and then fell below its offer price by the close.
- IN VACCINES NEWS, Pfizer announced a 60% price increase for supplying the EU with vaccines. India gave emergency approval for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine as case numbers continued to grow.
- IN CONSUMER AND RETAIL-RELATED NEWS, non-essential shops were opened on April 12th in the UK and Barclaycard figures showed that spending increased to levels 15% above pre-Covid heights in their first week of opening. The latest report from Deloitte showed improvements in every measure of consumer confidence on both a year-on-year basis and a quarter-on-quarter basis. Meanwhile, in the US, the staff shortages in casual dining restaurants are so acute that they are offering all sorts of signing bonuses and incentives! Luxury brands such as LVMH, Gucci-owner Kering and Hermès put in very strong performances and consumers are also spending money on cars (according to car dealership Pendragon), houses (HMRC data showed a frenzy of transactions as people tried to beat the Stamp Duty holiday deadline), going to the gym (according to PureGym) and Toys (according to US toymaker Mattel). Amazon announced stellar results!
- IN AUTOMOTIVE-RELATED NEWS, Hyundai reported strong Q1 results due to strong demand for SUVs and its premium cars but Mini, Jaguar Land Rover and Renault all announced halts in production due to chip shortages and chipmaker Intel said that prospect for a resolution to this situation is still pretty distant. Tesla posted great Q1 results as revenues shot up by 74%, but it seems that that was mainly thanks to selling 10% of the Bitcoin it bought in February plus money from the emissions credits sold to other car companies so they could hit their emissions targets!
- IN TECH NEWS, Microsoft and Google had booming profits, Apple’s earnings helped it to head in the direction of a $3tn valuation and Facebook’s supremacy in advertising powered its revenues to new heights. Alibaba had an expensive start to the month, though, as it was slapped with a $2.8bn fine, but this only represents about 4% of Alibaba’s revenues.
- IN FINANCIALS NEWS, HSBC moved virtually all of its top management to Hong Kong as it gravitates towards China for the future. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Bank of America all posted strong results thanks to advisory fees raked in from deals, as did HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Lloyds Bank. Meanwhile, British investment bank Peel Hunt announced a joint venture with Santander, later adding that it was considering an IPO.
TO SEE THE FULL VERSION OF THIS MONTH, PLEASE HIT THIS LINK
APRIL’S COVID POLICY/NEWS TIMELINE:
- US – Apr 30th US bans non-citizens to come into the country from India.
- EUROPE – Apr 22nd the EC asks US states to potentially take legal action against AstraZeneca over its failure to meet its contractual obligations over the delivery of its vaccines, Apr 26th EU launches legal action against AstraZeneca with the backing of all 27 EU member states, Apr 29th EU legislators approve a bloc-wide “EU Covid Certificate” that lets holders travel freely in the ‘zone
- EUROPE, FRANCE – Apr 1st France bans drinking alcohol outdoors and shuts down schools as case numbers rise, Apr 17th France announces a strict 10-day quarantine for incoming travellers from Brazil from Apr 24th, Apr 29th France announces plans to relax its Covid curfew from 7pm to 9pm from May 19th.
- EUROPE, GERMANY – Apr 7th Chancellor Merkel calls for a short national lockdown as cases rise, Apr 10th Merkel warns that the country’s hard lockdown could last for another 8-10 weeks.
- EUROPE, TURKEY – Apr 26th Turkey announces a full lockdown from Apr 29th.
- UK – PM Boris Johnson confirmed that the relaxation of the UK lockdown will proceed as planned on Apr 12th.
- IN THE US, inflation rose by an above-consensus rate of 4.2% in April versus the previous year.
- IN CHINA, although the Producer Price Index (PPI) increased at its fastest pace since October 2017, manufacturing growth is slowing down. Retail sales figures were also underwhelming, which is not great because consumer spending is an important economic driver.
- IN JAPAN, economic output fell in Q1 as the coronavirus state of emergency hit consumer spending.
- IN EUROPE, the European Commission revised its GDP forecasts and thinks that the bloc is going to bounce back faster than expected.
- IN THE UK, the Bank of England raised its estimate for UK GDP growth for 2021 to 7.25% (the fastest GDP growth rate since WW2!) from the previous estimate of 5%, due to successful vaccine rollout and easing of restrictions.
- IN COMMODITIES, a major US pipeline (Colonial Pipeline) was hacked by a group called DarkSide which led to petrol stations running dry as people were panic-buying petrol sending it up to $3 a gallon, its highest level for seven years! It turns out that the company eventually paid the hackers and supply came back online. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s food price index – which shows that the prices of staples including sugar, cereals and meat – hit a new high after increasing for 11-months straight.
- IN CRYPTOCURRENCY, Bitcoin tanked because of one of Elon Musk’s tweets and China reiterated that it did not recognise crypto tokens as a valid method of payment. Biden put more pressure on the cryptocurrency by announcing that any transfers of Bitcoin worth over $10,000 would have to be declared to the IRS. Meanwhile, an MD at Goldman Sachs quit his job because he’d done so well from his Dogecoin investment!
- IN VACCINES NEWS, the Serum Institute of India has extended the ban on vaccine exports until the end of the year in order to take of its own.
- IN AUTOMOTIVE-RELATED NEWS, Ford suspended production due to chip shortages but German chipmaker Infineon thinks that the supply shortage will improve this summer. UK second hand car prices are continuing to rise due to the chip shortage affecting the sale of new cars and ongoing demand from people who don’t want to commute by public transport any more (or at least for the near future).
- IN CONSUMER AND RETAIL-RELATED NEWS, In the UK, Dixons, PC World and Carphone brands will disappear to be rebranded Currys by this October and Dixons Carphone will also change its name to Currys plc on the London Stock Exchange.
- IN REAL ESTATE NEWS, the UK residential property market continues to boom, according to Knight Frank, but building materials prices are going up as the latest figures show that average prices of all building materials and components has increased by almost 8% year-on-year.
- IN IPO AND M&A NEWS, SPACs appear to be coming off the boil at the moment as companies are seeing their SPAC-backed peers endure stock price cratering and tough earnings calls with investors. Amazon ended the month by announcing its purchase of MGM for $8.45bn in a bid to give its media offering a considerable boost!
- IN TECH NEWS, it seems like Clubhouse has lost momentum, but it may well get it back as it has gone from being iOS-only to now being on Android! About time!
TO SEE THE FULL VERSION OF THIS MONTH, PLEASE HIT THIS LINK
MAY’S COVID POLICY/NEWS TIMELINE:
- ASIA, JAPAN – May 28th Japan extends Tokyo’s state of emergency for 20 days.
- ASIA, SINGAPORE – May 14th Share prices fall in the Singapore stock market on the announcement of new rules restricting gatherings and public activities.
- EUROPE – May 11th EU opens another court case against AstraZeneca for failure to deliver supplies of its vaccine, May 19th EU says it will allow fully-vaccinated UK holidaymakers entry to the bloc, May 20th EU allows the use of Covid-passes to enable tourism across the bloc over the summer, May 26th EC seeks a court order to compel AstraZeneca to deliver more vaccines to the bloc.
- EUROPE, FRANCE – May 26th France imposes strict quarantine on travellers coming from the UK due to concerns over the Indian variant.
- EUROPE, ITALY – May 8th Italy says it will lift all quarantine restrictions on travellers from European countries and the UK
- UK – May 2nd Liverpool holds a test event – a music festival – for 5,000 people to see whether a mass event would accelerate the spread of the virus, May 7th England announces a “green list” of 12 countries OK’d for travel from May 17th.
- NEWS – May 7th the WHO approved the Sinopharm vaccine from China, making it the 5th vaccine to get their approval.
- BIG PICTURE NEWS, this month saw the G7 finance ministers meeting to decide a minimum global corporate tax rate. The latest US Bureau of Labor stats showed producer prices rising at their fastest rate since 2010 and the latest official US inflation figure of 5% showed the sharpest rise for 13 years!
- IN CHINA, imports grew at their steepest rate for a decade due to ongoing demand for raw materials.
- IN EUROPE, Eurozone inflation exceeded its target according to the latest Eurostat figures, so it has now breached the 2% level at which the ECB usually gets twitchy about raising interest rates.
- IN THE UK, inflation overshot the Bank of England’s 2% target for the first time in two years but the Bank of England kept interest rates unchanged.
- IN COMMODITIES, oil prices continued to rise despite OPEC agreeing to increase production, so options traders were betting on $100 a barrel prices in greater numbers. Meanwhile, the UK and Norway completed construction of the world’s longest subsea cable.
- IN CRYPTOCURRENCY, Chinese officials continued to crack down on crypto mining activities shortly after Chinese Police did a massive mid-week raid involving 1,100 arrests in 23 regions and cities in a crackdown on money-laundering and Bitcoin mining. El Salvador became the first country to make an official declaration that Bitcoin would be legal tender.
- IN IPO AND M&A NEWS, SPACS seem to be losing steam as data from Refinitiv shows that fees earned by US banks from SPACs have fallen dramatically in the last two months, when they accounted for just 4.5% of overall investment banking fees versus the 22.5% of fees raked in over January and February. Chinese ride hailer Didi Chuxing floated on the New York Stock Exchange on 30th June. However, the joy was short-lived as you will soon see.
- IN EMPLOYMENT, CONSUMER AND RETAIL NEWS, Nationwide’s latest figures show that UK house prices are rising at their fastest rate since 2014 and conveyancing fees have been more than doubling in the face of massive demand.
- IN RETAIL NEWS, Gap said that initially that it wouldn’t renew the leases of 19 of its UK stores – but then went further to announce that it would close all of its stores in the UK and Ireland and just go online.
- IN FINANCIALS NEWS, Jack Ma’s Ant Group finally managed to gets its finance licence from China’s regulators and has made moves to share the data it has harvested over the years. Visa announced the acquisition of Swedish fintech Tink for €1.8b. Nordic payment groups in Norway (Vipps), Denmark (MobilePay) and Finland (Pivo) announced plans to merge in order to give themselves more scale to take on the likes of Apple, Google, Alibaba and PayPal.
- IN TECH NEWS, Facebook became a trillion-dollar company this month as it won an antitrust lawsuit against the Federal Trade Commission. French competition regulators fined Google €220m for antitrust abuse in advertising and Amazon announced the advent of Amazon Sidewalk, which uses customers’ broadband accounts to create a mini network that can be accessed by other Amazon devices and side-steps mobile phone companies! This is all about Amazon’s desire to push forward the Internet of Things and it will use devices as a “bridge” to gadgets that are out of their own WiFi range.
- ELSEWHERE, Lego came up with a new eco-friendly brick. It said that it has found a way to make about ten 2×4 stud Lego bricks from a 1-litre PET bottle that have the requisite “clutch power” of its existing bricks. At the moment, it uses about 2kg of petroleum per 1kg of ABS plastic granules that it uses in 80-85% of its bricks.
TO SEE THE FULL VERSION OF THIS MONTH, PLEASE HIT THIS LINK
JUNE’S COVID POLICY/NEWS TIMELINE:
- EUROPE, FRANCE – Jun 5th France says it will tourist from the UK in if they’ve been double-jabbed, Jun 17th Disneyland Paris opens up once more as France’s tourism industry reawakens.
- EUROPE, GERMANY – Jun 11th Germany said it will lift its virus travel warning for tourists to most countries from Jul 1st, Jun 17th Germany said it will open up again to non-EU nations who have been vaccinated, Jun 23rd Merkel said that travellers coming from the UK should be quarantined whenever they arrive in the EU on fears about the Delta variant. Jun 25th Germany brings in strict travel restrictions on travellers coming in from Russia and Portugal to help reduce the spread of the Delta variant
- EUROPE, SWITZERLAND – Jun 23rd Switzerland said it will end most of its Covid-restrictions by the weekend
- UK, ENGLAND – Jun 8th Vaccine passports will be used for the first time at UK sporting events for England’s Euro 2020 group games taking place at Wembley, Jun 14th England delays the relaxation of Covid restrictions by four weeks, Jun 16th MPs approve regulations to postpone the easing of lockdown restrictions to Jul 19th, Jun 26th Sajid Javid is made Health Secretary following Matt Hancock’s resignation following his illicit snogging
- AFRICA, SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa imposes new Covid restrictions including the closure of schools and a curfew to stop the spread of the Delta variant.
- BIG PICTURE NEWS, this month started with 130 countries signing up to an agreement to impose a global 15% minimum corporate tax rate. The plan is for implementation in 2023. This month also saw the advent of “health passes” in France that were needed to enter bars, restaurants, shopping centres and long distance trains. “Vaccine passports” also became a legal requirement for the first time in England to enter certain places with large numbers of people. Meanwhile, the latest OECD figures showed that inflation across the world’s leading nations rose at the fastest pace since 2008, keeping the pressure firmly on the world’s central banks regarding their strategy on interest rates as a way to curb continued price rises.
- IN THE US, inflation rose at the fastest rate since August 2008, up by 5.4% vs consensus of 4.9%.
- IN CHINA, exports shot up by 32.2% in June vs the previous year –way above expectations of 23%. However, China’s GDP growth rate slowed down but this was in line with expectations given that Q1’s growth rate of 18% was clearly unsustainable!
- IN EUROPE, the EU moved its inflation target from “close to, but below, 2 per cent” to 2% while the latest data from Eurostat showed that EU house prices rose at their fastest pace since 2007.
- IN COMMODITIES, after faffing around, OPEC eventually settled on raising production by 400,000 barrels of oil per day. Meanwhile, coffee prices look set to rise in shops due to the effects of the worst drought in Brazil in a hundred years and anti-government protests in Colombia which stopped exports earlier this year.
- IN CRYPTOCURRENCY, the world’s #1 cryptocurrency exchange, Binance, had its European payment network suspended.
- IN ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS, there were some massive floods in Germany, Austria and Belgium this month and Angela Merkel said that “We have to up the pace in the fight against climate change”. The German government pledged €200m in flood aid in addition to the €250 promised by regional governments to help in one of the country’s biggest natural disasters for the last 100 years.
- IN RETAIL NEWS, the latest BRC figures showed that UK retail sales rose at the fastest rate in Q2 since at least 1995.
- IN TECH NEWS, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said it was investigating the newly-listed Didi Chuxing for violating laws on the collection and use of customer data – which sent the company’s share price down by 20%. Rivals Caocao, T3 Chuxing and Meituan all upped their game to take advantage of their biggest rival being on the naughty step. The CAC will now impose checks on all overseas listings, saying that Chinese companies with over one million users will have to pass a security review before listing. Chinese authorities killed their $100bn edu-tech industry at a stroke by decreeing that any company teaching the national curriculum would no longer be allowed to make profits, raise capital or list on overseas stock exchanges – nor will they be allowed to accept foreign investment!
- IN FINANCIALS NEWS, British PE firm Bridgepoint had a strong market debut as its share price shot up by almost 30% on its first day of trading on the London Stock Exchange. Wise (the company-formerly-known-as-Transferwise) had a successful debut in London as well. Conversely, Robinhood’s IPO was pretty rubbish as it share price fell below its flotation price, which itself was at the bottom end of the range. Apple announced that it was teaming up with Goldman Sachs to provide a “Buy Now, Pay Later” service to be called “Apple Pay Later”, which should get Klarna worried.
- IN TRAVEL INDUSTRY NEWS, the double-jabbed in England are now allowed to enjoy quarantine-free travel. There’s continued confidence in the UK staycation space as Center Parcs said that it would be developing a new UK site in West Sussex, near Crawley.
- ELSEWHERE, there were mixed fortunes in streaming – as Netflix reported one of its weakest ever quarters for new subscribers while HBO Max announced an increase in the number of subscribers.
TO SEE THE FULL VERSION OF THIS MONTH, PLEASE HIT THIS LINK
JULY’S COVID POLICY/NEWS TIMELINE:
- AMERICAS, US – Jul 19th US citizens are advised not to travel to the UK, which is moved classification to “very high” risk.
- AMERICAS, CANADA – Jul 16th Canada says it wants to open its borders to the fully vaccinated by September.
- ASIA, JAPAN – Jul 8th organisers of the Olympics announce a spectator ban.
- EUROPE, FRANCE – Jul 28th France announces plans for a health pass for use in cafes and travel from Aug 9th.
- ENGLAND, UK – Jul 5th England confirms plans to relax all rules on face masks and social distancing on July 19th, Jul 13th London mayor Siddiq Khan says face masks will continue to be mandatory on TfL services after Jul 19th, Jul 19th England removes almost all Covid restrictions including social distancing, July 22nd workers from 16 key sectors in the UK won’t have to isolate if they get pinged by the track and trace app.
- IN ASIA, South Korea raised interest rates from 0.5% to 0.75% in order to rein in rising household debt and property prices.
- IN COMMODITIES, Aluminium prices continue to rise and mining company BHP announced it was going to shift its stock market listing from London to Sydney.
- IN SUPPLY CHAINS, a record surge in Covid cases in Vietnam forced many factories to close down. Vietnam produces a great deal of clothing and footwear for global brands including Adidas and Nike and the latest shutdowns have, once again, highlighted a heavy reliance on Asia in terms of manufacturing. Supply chain issues persist, though, in the UK and Germany. It’s hurting Germany more, though, because its economy is more exposed to manufacturing. There’s still a shortage of lorry drivers, so M&S and John Lewis are among those offering extra incentives like pay rises and joining bonuses.
- IN TECH NEWS, the Great Crackdown of China continued and ed-tech companies (like New Oriental and TAL Education) that were hit hard by the new restrictions started to cut jobs. Tencent tried to be proactive in appeasing authorities by tightening existing restrictions on minors playing Honor of Kings but it started to work directly with them to limit minors’ online game time. Meanwhile, the government bought shares in TikTok owner ByteDance. Outside China, Facebook announced the new virtual office app Horizon Workrooms, but it was also hit by a new antitrust suit from the US Federal Trade Commission.
- IN AUTOMOTIVE NEWS, there were solid performances from Stellantis, GM and Toyota this month, but both VW and Toyota had to make production cuts because of chip shortages and Geely warned of further “uncertainty” as well. It was a tricky month for Tesla as the US road safety body, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), launched an investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot system after a series of crashes. Tesla also reported a fire at a major battery installation in Australia that was due to be operational this summer, but this will now be delayed. GM recalled all 69,000 Chevvy Bolts it sold between 2017 and 2019 following cases of batteries combusting. Clearly, this isn’t the sort of “living on the edge” that car buyers are generally looking for!
- IN FINANCIALS NEWS, Square bought Aussie BNPL giant Afterpay in a $29bn all-share deal, which is likely to shake things up in the world of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL). Revolut introduced a new feature called Payday, which is basically a payday loan facility and Lloyds Bank announced plans to become a landlord, aiming to provide 50,000 homes for rent. Robinhood’s share price shot up after superstar investor Cathie Wood of Ark Invest took a punt on the trading app as it started offering options trading!
- IN RETAIL NEWS, Amazon became the world’s biggest retailer outside China as its sales overtook those of Walmart – and it announced plans to roll out department stores. Retail sales lost momentum overall in the US but retailers such as Walmart and Target saw sales strengthen. Walmart said that it will be offering the use of its delivery platform to 3rd parties and Morrisons’ management switched from recommending the takeover bid from Fortress to original bidder Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, who upped their original offer.
- ELSEWHERE, Raleigh, which is one of the world’s oldest bike manufacturers, announced plans to start making e-cargo bikes as demand for alternative “greener” delivery vehicles increases. Talking about bike-related things, Peloton announced that it was going to cut the price of its flagship product – its exercise bike – by $400. It was also interesting to see that OnlyFans said that it would ban sexually explicit content in preparation for an upcoming IPO, but then it reversed this decision as it no doubt came to the conclusion that it needed porn more than it needed banks!
TO SEE THE FULL VERSION OF THIS MONTH, PLEASE HIT THIS LINK
AUGUST’S COVID POLICY/NEWS TIMELINE:
- ASIA, CHINA – Aug 4th China restricts domestic travel to stop spread of the virus.
- ASIA, AUSTRALIA – Aug 22nd Australia imposes strict lockdown restrictions until at least 70% of the country is fully vaccinated.
- EUROPE, GERMANY – Aug 1st huge numbers of protesters gather in Berlin to protest against Germany’s Covid restrictions.
- EUROPE, FRANCE – Aug 9th France’s controversial health pass comes into effect after much wrangling.
- UK – Aug 31st UK government announces plans to bring in vaccine passports for nightclubs and other such venues from the end of the September.
- IN CHINA, manufacturing activity slowed down for first time since April 2020 according to the Caixin manufacturing purchasing managers’ index thanks in part to the government’s efforts to limit energy consumption and cut carbon emissions.
- IN JAPAN, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga resigned, apparently to take responsibility for the country’s poor response to the coronavirus.
- IN EUROPE, Norway voted the social democrats into power and then Olaf Scholz’s SPD won the German election by a whisker. Also, German inflation surged to a 13-year high of 3.4% and the Dax index announced that it was going to expand the number of its constituents from the current 30 constituents to 40 after consultation with a big number of companies and financial institutions.
- IN THE UK, the OECD’s latest report showed that the UK’s economy grew at the fastest rate among developed countries in Q2. The UK government took over Southeastern’s train network after finding a £25m hole in the company’s accounts. Also, Furlough ended this this month and some parts of the country with big exposure to one industry or company were expected to suffer particularly acutely.
- IN COMMODITIES, Aluminium prices hit a 10-year high as China production fell due to a crackdown on electricity consumption. China produces over 50% of the world’s aluminium and its aluminium production hub of Guangxi cut production to 80% of normal levels. It went even higher, though, after a military coup in Guinea! Guinea is the world’s second biggest producer of aluminium.
- IN CRYPTOCURRENCIES, El Salvador debuted bitcoin as legal tender this month but it had a tricky start as the government had to take its digital wallet app for storing the cryptocurrency offline due to server problems! Meanwhile, South Korea’s financial regulator, set a September 24th deadline for foreign and local crypto exchanges to register as legal trading platforms in an act that could wipe out two-thirds of the country’s crypto exchanges as 40 out of the main 60 operators are unlikely to be able to meet the conditions!
- IN CHINA CLAMPOWN NEWS, Beijing intervened in Ant’s Alipay making it help to create a separate loans app. Beijing is going to unravel Alipay, the superapp owned by Ant Group, to make a separate app for the company’s highly profitable loans business. The Chinese authorities are now clamping down on the real estate sector and Evergrande got increasingly concerned, for good reason! In gaming, China decided to limit gameplay to three hours per week and Alibaba decided to suck up to the government by giving them large sums of money to further “common prosperity”.
- IN SUPPLY CHAIN NEWS, Wetherspoons ran short of some brands of beer while Nando’s and McDonald’s also reported other shortages of things like chicken (!) and milkshakes. Ikea is experiencing shortages in furniture! A recent survey by the European Commission showed that a record one in three EU furniture makers said that they’d experienced supply problems.
- IN IPO AND M&A NEWS, British broker Peel Hunt had a solid market debut at the end of the month. In terms of specific deals this month, Canadian Pacific’s $31bn deal for Kansas City Southern went through, creating a single railway connecting Canada and Mexico via the US; Intuit agreed to buy Mailchimp for about $12bn in cash and stock to strengthen its array of customer services; European tech giant Prosus put in an all-cash offer for Indian payments platform BillDesk for $4.7bn and Kape bought ExpressVPN for almost $1bn in one of the biggest ever tech deals for a British firm in order to boost its cybersecurity capability.
- ELSEWHERE, Britishvolt became a “unicorn” in its latest funding round. It is aiming to be able to make a huge number of battery packs and provisional deals lined up with a number of major car manufacturers.
TO SEE THE FULL VERSION OF THIS MONTH, PLEASE HIT THIS LINK
SEPTEMBER’S COVID POLICY/NEWS TIMELINE:
- AMERICAS, US – Sep 20th US said it will allow fully-vaccinated passengers from UK and EU to travel to the US from November.
- ASIA, JAPAN – Sep 27th Japan says that its state of emergency will be lifted in all regions from the end of September.
- EUROPE, ITALY – Sep 15th Italy says it will make its Covid-19 “green pass” compulsory for certain workers in order to “encourage” more vaccine uptake.
- UK – Sep 5th the vaccine minister announced that vaccine passports will be mandatory for mass events and big venues by the end of September, Sep 12th Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that plans for Covid-19 passports in the UK are being scrapped, Sep 18th half-term holiday bookings jump up by 200% after England’s travel restrictions were lifted.
- IN THE US, inflation rose higher than market expectations, reaching levels seen over the summer, which were themselves the highest for 10 years! Grocery prices were a major driver.
- IN CHINA, GDP growth is slowing down, according to official figures but still grew by 4.9% in Q3 though. This was due to a cooldown in the property market and ongoing energy shortages. The country blocked beef imports from Brazil, which is a nightmare for Brazil because the country is the world’s biggest exporter of beef. China stopped imports initially because of a few cases of mad cow disease, but although Brazil later gave the all clear, the Chinese kept the ban in place.
- IN EUROPE, German parties started three-way talks on a coalition led by Olaf Scholz’s SPD with the FDP and Greens to form a coalition government.
- IN THE UK, the IMF downgraded its GDP growth forecasts for the UK economy in its latest World Economic Report, saying that rampant inflation is going to hamper our recovery. Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak unveiled the least Conservative-like Budget a Conservative government has come up with in living memory, as it was a high tax, high-touch state plan not normally associated with the “Big Society”, low tax hallmarks of a Conservative government under more “normal” circumstances.
- IN CRYPTOCURRENCIES, a bitcoin ETF, called the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF, started trading this month. The market saw this as another move towards the mainstream, which led to Bitcoin breaking through $65k while Facebook launched a digital currency wallet.
- IN SUPPLY CHAIN NEWS, fuel shortages are likely to carry on for a while longer as the Petrol Retailers Association reported that 20% of forecourts in London and the South East were still out of fuel versus 8% across the rest of the country.
- IN AUTOMOTIVE NEWS, General Motors announced plans to double revenues to $280bn by 2030 thanks to sales of EVs. Also, LG Chem compensated it for the recall it had to carry out for its Chevrolet Volt. Meanwhile, Tesla posted a third consecutive quarter of profits, and later in the month became a $1tn company. Foxconn unveiled its first EV (yes – the very same Foxconn famed for putting iPhones together!).
- IN CONSUMER AND RETAIL-RELATED NEWS, car and home sales fell in China because the shortage of semiconductors has hit car sales and China’s crackdown on debt has made people twitchier about getting caught up in developers with dodgy finances. Talking of dodgy developers, Evergrande’s shares got suspended, which prompted fears of further defaults in other companies in this massively indebted sector.
- IN RETAIL NEWS, Amazon launched its first 4 star outlet in the UK and Morrisons got a new owner (Clayton, Dubilier & Rice), but the bidders had to pay a fat premium for the privilege.
- IN SOCIAL MEDIA NEWS, Facebook fielded a lot of questions following damaging revelations about putting profits ahead of ethics from ex-employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen and if that wasn’t bad enough, Facebook, Insta and Whatsapp broke down– all at once! It changed its name to Meta in order to reflect its future focus to be a player in the metaverse. LinkedIn shut down in China, but I don’t think anyone was surprised. There aren’t any more big US social media companies left in China now!
- IN IPO AND M&A NEWS, WeWork had a good debut on the NYSE just two years after its previous attempt fell apart in disastrous fashion. Although it wasn’t M&A per se, Klarna and Stripe announced a tie-up which will enable more retailers in the US, UK and Europe to add Klarna as a payment option more easily.
- ELSEWHERE, Netflix announced strong figures and the company has a pretty good pipeline going into the end of the year. Squid Game’s success clearly helped!
TO SEE THE FULL VERSION OF THIS MONTH, PLEASE HIT THIS LINK
OCTOBER’S COVID POLICY/NEWS TIMELINE:
AMERICAS, US – Oct 15th US announces plans to lift restrictions for travellers who are fully vaccinated from 8th November.
AMERICAS, BRAZIL – Oct 19th a draft inquiry report recommends that President Bolsonaro face murder charges for his (mis)handling of the pandemic.
ASIA, INDIA – Oct 1st India says that Britons will have to undergo a 10-day quarantine on arrival in the country.
ASIA, AUSTRALIA – Oct 10th Sydney comes out of lockdown, Oct 15th the government announces that its outbound travel ban will be lifted from Nov 1st, Oct 17th Melbourne announces that it will lift is stay-at-home order this week, Oct 21st Melbourne ends its sixth lockdown.
EUROPE, RUSSIA – Oct 21st Moscow announced a one-week lockdown as Covid deaths rise, Oct 28th Russia tightens restrictions as cases continue to increase.
EUROPE, GERMANY – Oct 11th lateral flow tests cease to be free from this day.
EUROPE, FRANCE – Oct 15th Covid tests cease to be free from today unless prescribed by a doctor.
UK – Oct 4th – England’s confusing “traffic light” classification system for travel is scrapped and replaced by a single “red list”, Oct 6th UK relaxes guidance to avoid non-essential travel to 32 countries, Oct 7th England’s travel “red list” is cut to just seven countries, Oct 14th UK government announces lateral flow tests will replace PCR test for travellers coming to England.
- BIG PICTURE NEWS, everything seemed to be going reasonably well when the Omicron variant got a lot of coverage right at the end of the month and share prices of travel industry stocks fell sharply as many countries immediately shut down borders and imposed movement restrictions.
- IN THE US, inflation reached its highest level since 1990! At 6.2% it is getting more and more difficult to ignore.
- IN CHINA, manufacturing slowed down for the second month in a row and factory gate inflation (= prices charged my manufacturers to wholesalers) rose at the fastest rate for 26 years.
- IN JAPAN, the LDP won the election, which isn’t exactly a surprise as the party has been in power pretty much continuously since WWII!
- IN EUROPE, Germany’s Olaf Scholz announced a three-way coalition comprising of the Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals against the backdrop of ongoing subdued business confidence and consumer confidence.
- IN ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS, COP 26 started in Glasgow on October 31st and everyone seemed to be trying to look good without promising too much. Banks were criticised for talking about being kind to the environment on the one hand and then lending to the fossil fuel industry on the other. The likes of Barclays, Deutsche and BNY Mellon came in for criticism for having such double standards. The UK government faced a North Sea dilemma as the government’s Oil and Gas Authority is going to have to rule on whether Shell and Siccar Point Energy will be allowed to start drilling in the Cambo oilfield 80 miles north-west of the Shetland Islands by the end of the year.
- IN ENERGY NEWS, there was a record surge in gas prices as Russia didn’t pump gas to Europe for a short period but then it did, causing relief all round. Germany delayed approval for the Nord Stream 2 project, which didn’t go down well in Russia.
- IN INFLATION NEWS, Brazil’s inflation rate edged above 10% mark for the first time in over five years but Turkey’s rate of inflation was even worse at 20% and President Erdogan is cutting rates and not increasing them because he is one of the only leaders in the world that believes cutting interest rates helps to curb inflation! UK inflation hit 4.2% in October– up from 3.1% in September and above market expectations. The UK looked like it was on the cusp of increasing interest rates, but it didn’t pull the trigger in the end!
- IN AUTOMOTIVE NEWS, automakers did not back a COP26 pledge to end sales of emissions-producing cars in “leading markets” by 2035 and globally by 2040. Rivian Automotive had a very successful market debut – and it soon became bigger than VW despite the fact that it only plans to produce 1,200 vehicles this year!!! The US charging network got a major boost from President Biden’s new infrastructure bill as he has earmarked $5bn to expand EV highway charging. Elon Musk stirred things up (when doesn’t he??) by asking his Twitter followers whether he should sell some of his shares to pay a tax bill – and then duly sold some.
- IN CONSUMER NEWS, Alibaba observed a weakening in Chinese consumer spending and announced that it was having to make big cuts to its sales forecasts as a result.
- IN THE UK, consumer confidence continued to wane, according to the latest YouGov poll which reflects concerns about rising prices, bills etc. but high street spending is actually going up, according to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium.
- IN FINANCIALS NEWS, private equity firm Carlyle decided to walk away from its bid for Metro Bank. Klarna bought Pricerunner for £91m to enhance its offering and functionality and in a landmark development, BTS NFTs are going to be a thing as Hybe, BTS’s music label, has agreed a deal to use South Korea’s biggest crypto exchange Upbit, to sell NFTs related to the band, giving them another revenue stream.
- IN IPO AND M&A NEWS, it was quite an exciting month for notable IPOs as “ethical” shoe brand Allbirds had a strong debut on the NASDAQ as its share price shot up by 95% on its first day! On the other hand, India’s biggest IPO failed as fintech company Paytm saw its share price fall by 27% on its market debut. Johnson & Johnson became the latest conglomerate to announce a split after the likes of Toshiba and General Electric did the same thing recently and GE in particular is fielding a lot of interest from private equity firms keen to get their hands on its assets.
TO SEE THE FULL VERSION OF THIS MONTH, PLEASE HIT THIS LINK
NOVEMBER’S COVID POLICY/NEWS TIMELINE:
AMERICAS, US – Nov 8th the US travel ban was lifted from today.
EUROPE, AUSTRIA – Nov 19th Austria became the first European country to make vaccinations mandatory. It also announced its fourth nationwide lockdown.
EUROPE, GERMANY – Nov 19th Bavaria announced that its Christmas markets would be cancelled and local lockdowns are to be imposed.
EUROPE, ITALY – Nov 24th Italy announced stricter vaccination rules denying the unvaccinated access to venues including cinemas, restaurants and sporting events and making vaccination mandatory for all school staff, police and the military.
UK – Nov 4th the UK becomes the first country to approve an oral antiviral pill to ease the effects of Covid, Nov 26th UK suspends flights from six African nations due to concerns over the new variant, Nov 27th UK announces face coverings to be compulsory on public transport and in shops. Also, all new arrivals to the UK will have to isolate until they get a negative PCR result.
- BIG PICURE NEWS, in response to the spread of the Omicron variant, BoJo announced Plan B restrictions which prompted the CBI to downgrade UK GDP growth forecasts for this year and next – as well as backlash from businesses who were badly affected by the new rules. Pubs and restaurants were being hit by cancellations etc., jobsite Adzuna saw a meaningful drop-off of job vacancies in the sector and the whole hospitality industry called for more help from the government. BoJo experienced a major backlash from his own party and only managed to get approval for Plan B measures thanks to support from Labour MPs when it came to the vote. INFLATION was a major topic of conversation as well this month!
- IN THE US, the Fed saw its steepest rise in inflation in almost 40 years, which prompted Fed chief Jerome Powell to hasten the scaling back of monetary policy and then the subsequent signalling of rate rises to come in 2022.
- IN EUROPE, Eurozone inflation hit 4.9% in November, which was way higher than forecasts, putting even more pressure on the ECB – but Germany’s rate was even higher! It hit 6% – its highest rate since 1992!!! Meanwhile, Turkey’s president Erdogan cut interest rates again to combat inflation – the exact opposite of what everyone else thinks he should do – whilst simultaneously hiking the minimum wage by 50%!
- IN THE UK, the Bank of England surprised the market by raising interest rates to curb inflation that had, yet again, hit new highs.
- IN ENERGY AND OIL NEWS, the US made a Nord Stream threat (that it would demand a halt in the use of the gas pipeline) in an attempt to stop Russia from invading Ukraine. EDF suffered a major setback as faults were discovered at one of its nuclear power plants, which led to them shutting down four reactors. OPEC+ stuck with the previously agreed oil supply increase rather than retaliate for last month’s mini-assault by various countries led by the US, putting their pooled reserves on the market. Interestingly, Shell walked away from the Cambo project in the North Sea as, ostensibly, it was getting impatient about waiting to get the go-ahead to drill in this oilfield.
- IN EMPLOYMENT NEWS, it was an important week for employees this week as a group of Starbucks employees voted to get unionised, something that could spread, IMO, not only within Starbucks itself but also beyond. The European Commission decided that gig company workers will, by default, be treated as employees rather than contractors and legislation to this effect will apply to all such companies who operate in the European Union.
- IN RETAIL NEWS, US retailers said that they were experiencing a Christmas boom in sales while European apparel retailer (and owner of Zara, Massimo Dutti etc.) Inditex unveiled record results. Bars and restaurants also saw a lot of action and Franco Manca owner, Fulham Shore, announced it had exceeded its targets. Watches of Switzerland said it had run out of Rolexes – and had to restock between August and the end of October – Frasers Group was so confident about its performance that it launched a share buyback and Screwfix is planning on continuing to surf the DIY wave. Tesco has decided to use the vast trove of data it has collected over the years via its Clubcard to diversify into advertising.
- IN REAL ESTATE NEWS, Evergrande continued to suffer this week as its stock cratered while the government moved in to take increasing control, leading its share price to record lows.
- IN M&A NEWS, US private equity firms just can’t get enough of UK assets as Fortress bought Punch Pubs. Rentokil announced plans of its biggest-ever deal in buying US rival Terminix for $6.7bn in cash-and-shares and National Express announced plans to buy Stagecoach as both struggling bus companies try to survive. The combined group would be worth around £1.9bn. On the other hand, Cineworld was left reeling from getting slapped with a massive fine because it walked away from its proposed purchase of Canadian cinema operator Cineplex. It now has to pay £722m to Cineplex, but is planning to appeal. Ouch.
- ELSEWHERE, the Big Four accountancy firms posted their best financial performance since the collapse of Enron in 2002, mainly thanks to their advisory businesses and all those massive deals! Jaguar and Porsche bought into BNPL for repairs via a start-up called Bumper – so rather than having to pay a massive bill on credit card, car owners will be able to split the payments.
TO SEE THE FULL VERSION OF THIS MONTH, PLEASE HIT THIS LINK
DECEMBER’S COVID POLICY/NEWS TIMELINE:
- ASIA, CHINA – Dec 13th the state media announces the country’s first case of Omicron in Tianjin.
- ASIA, AUSTRALIA – Dec 23rd Australia reintroduces strict Covid restrictions after a surge in cases. It made indoor mask-wearing, QR code check-ins and capacity limits at large venues mandatory.
- AMERICAS, BRAZIL – Dec 11th the Supreme Court ruled that proof of vaccination must be provided by visitors as soon as they enter the country.
- EUROPE, GERMANY – Dec 2nd Germany says it will ban unvaccinated from non-essential shops and events from February, Dec 18th the country banned travel from UK to Germany, with a few exceptions.
- EUROPE, FRANCE – Dec 6th France outlines plans to close night clubs for four weeks.
- EUROPE, ITALY – Dec 14th Italy pushed out the deadline for its state of emergency until 31st March 2022.
- UK – Dec 7th PM Boris Johnson advises WFH from Dec 13th, Dec 14th MPs in England back the government’s Plan B which tightens movement and mask wearing requirements, Dec 20th BoJo warns about the possibility of further restrictions depending on how Omicron spreads, Dec 21st BoJo confirms that NO new restrictions will be put in place in England before Christmas, Dec 26th Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland reintroduce tighter restrictions but England does not, Dec 29th data released by UK Health Security Agency says that over 90% of community cases in England are Omicron.
- NEWS – Dec 10th the UK Health Security Agency predicts that Omicron will be the main variant of Covid in the UK by mid-Dec, Dec 18th London’s Mayor, Siddiq Khan, announces a “major incident” in London due to the number of rising infections.
PREVIEW OF 2022
Here’s a quick preview of 2022. I’ve tried to include major central bank meetings, conferences and major elections to look out for. I’ve also included big sporting events (some of them can actually have a meaningful economic impact!). Although you might think that this sort of thing looks out of place in a document like this, I wanted to include such events because a lot of people plan their year around them – and it can also help you to remember when things happened over the year! Let’s hope that at least the majority of these things can happen when they are supposed to!
- Central Banks: interest rate meetings European Central Bank (ECB) Jan 21st, BoJ Jan 21st, US Federal Open Markets Committe (FOMC) Jan 27th .
- Events: The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement comes into effect for Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Japan, Laos, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam on Jan 1st. World Economic Forum (was supposed to be Jan 17th -21st, but has been postponed until the early summer due to Omicron. It’s where world leaders, corporate titans and celebs talk about world issues whilst drinking loads and skiing), CES (aka the Consumer Electronics Show) Jan 5th – 7th. This is a massive annual tech event where companies go to show off their new gadgetry. These days, car companies also go there to show off their wares.
- Elections: Italian Presidential election Jan 24th.
- Sports: Tennis – Australian Open, Jan 17th-30th.
- Central Banks: Bank of England (BoE) Feb 4th.
- Conferences: Mobile World Congress (MWC) Barcelona Feb 28th-Mar 3rd – sounds boring but it’s the largest mobile telephony event in the world and we’ve still got a lot of 5G stuff to think about!
- Events: Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Platinum Jubilee at 70 years on the throne.
- Sports: Winter Olympics in Beijing Feb 4th-Feb 20th, Rugby – Six Nations Feb 5th-Mar 19th, NFL – Superbowl, Los Angeles Feb 13th, NASCAR – Daytona 500 Feb 20th.
- Central Banks: ECB Mar 11th, FOMC Mar 17th, BoE Mar 18th, Bank of Japan (BoJ) Mar 19th.
- Elections: South Korea Presidential election Mar 9th, Hong Kong Chief Executive election March.
- Sports: Horse racing – The Cheltenham Festival Mar 15th – 18th, F1 – Bahrain Grand Prix Mar 18th-20th, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Mar 25th-27th, Cricket – 2022 Women’s Cricket World Cup Mar 4th-Apr 3rd.
- Central Banks: ECB Apr 22nd April, BoJ Apr 27th, FOMC Apr 28th.
- Elections: France Presidential election Apr 10th and 24th.
- Sports: Rowing – The Boat Race Apr 3rd (that one between Oxford and Cambridge Universities), Horse racing – The Grand National at Aintree Apr 9th, F1 – Australia Grand Prix Apr 8th-10th, Italian Grand Prix Mar 22nd-24th, Golf – The Masters 2022, Augusta Apr 4th-10th.
- Central Banks: BoE May 6th.
- Sports: Football – FA Cup Final May 14th, Horsey stuff (jumping over things, getting muddy etc) – Badminton Horse Trials May 4th-8th, F1 – Miami Grand Prix (first one ever!) May 6th-8th, Spanish Grand Prix 20th-22nd, Monaco Grand Prix May 27th-29th, Cycling – Giro D’Italia May 7th-29th, Tennis – French Open May 16th-Jun 5th. IndyCar: 2022 Indianapolis 500.
- Events: Eurovision Song Contest in Turin May 10th-14th, Opera – Glyndebourne May 21st-Aug 28th, Gardening – Chelsea Flower Show May 24th-28th.
- Central Banks: BoE Jun 4th, ECB Jun 10th, FOMC Jun 16th, BoJ Jun 18th.
- Events: Apple’s WWDC Jun 6th (or 13th). This is the event where Apple likes to show off new gadgets and innovations.
- Sports: Tennis – Queen’s Club Jun 13th-19th, Wimbledon Jun 27th-Jul 10th, F1 – Azerbaijian Grand Prix Jun 10th-12th, Canadian Grand Prix Jun 17th-19th, Horse racing – Royal Ascot Jun 14th-18th.
- Central Banks: BoJ Jul 16th, ECB Jul 22nd, FOMC Jul 28th.
- Events: Farnborough International Air Show Jul 18th-22nd. This is where Joe Public goes to watch lots of amazing aerobatics etc., where airlines get the chequebook out to buy some planes and airforces go to buy fighters etc. It only takes place every two years and was postponed because of Covid.
- Sports: Football – UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 in England, Rowing – Henley Royal Regatta Jun 28th-Jul 3rd, F1 – British Grand Prix Jul 1st-3rd, Austrian Grand Prix Jul 8th-10th, French Grand Prix 22nd-24th, Hungarian Grand Prix Jul 29th-31st, Polo – Gold Cup Final Jul 17th (apparently, this is one of the top three polo competitions in the world along with the US and Argentine Opens), Cycling – Tour de France Jul 1st-24th, Horse racing – Glorious Goodwood Jul 26th -30th, Commonwealth Games 2022, Birmingham Jul 28th-Aug 8th.
- Central Banks: BoE Aug 5th.
- Sports: Sailing – Cowes Week Jul 30th-Aug 5th, F1 – Belgian Grand Prix Aug 26th-28th, Tennis – US Open Aug 29th-Sep 11th, Cycling – Vuelta a Espana Aug 12th-Sep 4th.
- Central Banks: ECB Sep 9th, FOMC Sep 22nd, BoJ Sep 22nd, BoE Sep 23rd.
- Sports: F1 – Italian Grand Prix Sep 9th-11th, Russian Grand Prix Sep 23rd-25th, Singapore Grand Prix 30th Sep-2nd Oct, Japanese Grand Prix Sep 7th-9th September).
- Central Banks: ECB Oct 28th, BoJ Oct 28th Brazilian general election Oct 2nd, Events: G20 Summit, Bali Oct 30th-31st.
- Sports: F1 – US Grand Prix Oct 21st-23rd, Mexico Grand Prix Oct 28th-30th, Running – London Marathon Oct 2nd, Rugby – Women’s World Cup, New Zealand Oct 8th-Nov 12th.
- Central Banks: FOMC Nov 3rd, BoE Nov 4th Elections: US House of Representatives and Senate Nov 8th.
- Sports: Football – FIFA World Cup in Qatar Nov 21st-Dec 18th, F1 – Brazilian Grand Prix Nov 11th-13th, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Nov 18th-20th.
- Central Banks: FOMC Dec 15th, ECB Dec 16th, BoE Dec 16th, BoJ Dec 17th.
COUNTRY-BY-COUNTRY OVERVIEW FOR 2022
Here is a country-by-country guide to some of the key events to look out for over the coming year. This is designed to give you an overview of what to expect in some of the world’s major economies during the course of 2022. Clearly, I can’t put every country in this (it would take me too long – I am only one guy, after all!) so I decided to cover the G20 countries plus a few others for the purposes of this report. The “extra” countries in here are Spain (because it’s one of the biggest economies in Europe), Iran (because of its oil and the fact that it can be a supply swing factor depending on America’s prevailing attitude towards it) and Nigeria (because of its exposure to oil and its size).
Stats are from a mixture of publicly available sources and are intended to give you a good general picture: 2022 GDP forecasts are from The World Ahead 2022, 2021 GDP numbers are from from the Christmas Double Issue of The Economist while all other statistics are from www.tradingeconomics.com. They are correct to the best of my knowledge at the time of publication. Opinions are my own. Changes refer to when the stats changed – and not necessarily what period they covered (there might be a lag, e.g. the change was announced in January but actually refers to the figures in November).
NB: Comments and statistics will be updated over the course of the year on a regular basis to keep this document “live” (or as live as possible!). Changes in statistics are taken to be when the numbers came out, not for the month that they are reflecting e.g. China’s unemployment rate for December 2021 went up to 5.1% but we only knew that in January, so the amendment will be recorded thus:
5%, 5.1% (Jan). This happens because there is a delay between when the stats are compiled and when they are released.
I am being assisted in this section, for the first time ever this year, by my fantastic team of Watson’s Daily Ambassadors, who help to keep this as up-to-date as we can for you. Andrew Spencer, Apolloniya Vlaslova, Elif Beste Güll, Hamsi Kumar, Ines Pinheiro, Alina Kazmi, Leanne Thyme, Mhairi Sinclair and Xenia Baranova have all made valuable contributions!
- United States of America – Population: 329m, Unemployment:
3.9%, 4% (Jan), 3.8% (Feb), 3.6% (Mar), 3.5% (Jul), Interest Rate: 0.25%, 0.5% (Mar), 1.0% (May), 1.75% (Jun), 2.5% (Jul), Inflation Rate: 7%, 7.5% (Feb), 7.9% (Mar), 8.5% (Apr), 8.3% (May), 8.6% (Jun), 9.1% (Jun), 8.5% (Aug), 2021 actual GDP growth: 5.5%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 3.8%, Leader: Joe Biden (President). Overall: Biden will be reaching the midpoint of his term in office by the time the elections for Congress are held in November and they will no doubt reflect voter opinion on how he’s done his job at that point. The balance of power is quite fragile and it’s likely that his Democratic Party will lose seats even if the economy bounces back. If that happens, the remainder of his term may get increasingly rocky if he tries to push through any more controversial policies. UPDATE Feb 4th – Jay Powell was making increasingly loud noises about raising interest rates to tackle rampant inflation, so everyone and their dog is betting on a March rate rise at the very least. Biden took credit for a surge in employment over January, but he’s doing a 💩job overseas (TBH, he’s not exactly covering himself in glory back home either). His clumsy efforts at wading in over the Russia/Ukraine/Europe/NATO thing going on at the moment have proved to be useless so far. UPDATE Feb 9th – the US had its biggest annual increase in inflation for 40 years! As with most other countries, this was due to rising rents, electricity and food prices. Also, it seems that US companies looking to raise money are increasingly opting for private equity rather than going for flotations given the increasing volatility in stock markets. UPDATE Mar 9th – the US (along with the UK) is banning Russian oil (although the EU isn’t going along with this). It’s all part of the rollout of sanctions in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, the US formally rejected a suggestion from Poland to take possession of some old fighter jets and transport them to Ukraine to help them fend off the Russians. Biden has also slapped sanctions on oligarchs and their family members in a bid to stop money leaking back to Putin, but although the optics are good re smug-looking oligarchs appearing to get their collective come-uppance, it’s not clear how much this is actually affecting anything because you would have thought any oligarch worth their billions would have had an escape strategy sorted ages ago. UPDATE Mar 24th – Apple is preparing a hardware subscription service for iPhones that could come into force by the end of this year! It will allow customers to pay via monthly payments. UPDATE Apr 1st – Biden ordered the “historic release” of 180, barrels of oil from its emergency stockpile to help ease oil prices and announced that it would slap fines on domestic oil companies who did not increase drilling. Also, 38 US companies are taking part in the trial of a four-day week being led by 4 Day Week Global for six months. The idea behind this is for employees to work 80% of the time for 100% of the pay whilst maintaining 100% productivity. UPDATE Apr 3rd – Egg prices are rising due to a bird flu outbreak. Over 17m birds (about 3% of the US flock) have been culled to contain it. UPDATE Apr 6th – Biden announced US, UK, Australia co-operation on the development of hypersonic weapons – something that China is thought to be more advanced on. UPDATE Apr 7th – Amazon is facing a shareholder vote calling for an independent audit on the treatment of its warehouse workers, the first time investors will get to vote on something like this. UPDATE Apr 13th – US inflation hits a 40-year high. 50bps interest rate hikes here we come!
- Canada – Population: 38m, Unemployment:
5.9%, 6.5% (Jan), 5.5 (Feb) 5.3% (Mar), 5.2% (May), 5.1% (Jun), 4.9% (Jun), Interest Rate: 0.25%, 0.5% (Mar), 1% (Apr), 1.5% (Jun), 2.5% (Jul), Inflation Rate: 4.7%, 4.8% (Jan), 5.1% (Feb), 5.7% (Mar), 6.7% (Apr), 6.8% (May), 7.7% (May), 9 % (Jun), 9.1% (Jun), 9.4% (Jul), 8.1% (Aug), 7.6% (Aug), 2021 actual GDP growth: 5%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 4.2%, Leader: Justin Trudeau (Prime Minister). Overall: Trudeau’s Liberal Party is still in a weak position despite having triumphed in a snap election in September 2021. His risky move in calling an election in the midst of the pandemic has not paid off and he does not have a majority in Parliament. He is expected to continue to push for fighting climate change and reducing childcare costs. UPDATE Feb 11th – carmakers have had to shut down plants in both the US and Canada temporarily because truck drivers protesting against Covid vaccine mandates have been blocking key border crossings and disrupting the flow of auto parts and other goods. “Freedom Convoy” protests in Ottawa last moth have spread and the consequences of those protests are now spreading further afield. UPDATE Feb 15th – Canadian PM Justin Trudeau had to invoke emergency powers in order to break protests against mandatory Covid vaccinations. The powers give the federal government broad authority to do things like ban public assembly and travel. He did add that the military would not be called in to deal with vehicle blockades that are on border crossings with the US. The invocation of emergency powers has caused a lot of controversy. The drama continues…UPDATE Feb 28th – Canada announced that it would ban imports of crude from Russia. Sounds good, but TBH, Canada doesn’t really buy that much oil from the Russians anyway (Canada is the world’s fourth biggest oil producer), so this is more symbolic than anything. UPDATE Mar 31st – Canada’s top court, the Supreme Court, slapped Richard Vallières with a $7.3m fine for stealing 3,000 tons of maple syrup in what has become known as the “Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist”. Along with accomplices, he stole from a central Quebec warehouse, replacing the syrup with water in the barrels and then selling it on. Fun fact: Quebec is the world’s #1 producer of maple syrup. UPDATE Apr 7th – Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has proposed a two-year ban on foreigners buying property who aren’t permanent residents, foreign students or workers. This is intended to address the affordability crisis in Canadian property (average prices are now 9x household income after they have climbed 20% over the last year) and would work in conjunction with special taxes levied on foreign buyers. Trudeau had promised to tackle housing affordability in his election campaign last year. Although raising interest rates is expected to take some of the heat out of price rises, it will also make it harder for potential Canadian buyers to get their foot on the property ladder particularly because many rely on five-year mortgages rather than longer term 25-year ones common in the UK and US.
- Argentina – Population: 45m, Unemployment:
8.2%, 7% (Mar), Interest Rate: 40%, 42.5%, 44.5% (Mar), 47% (Apr), 49% (May), 52% (Jun), 60% (Aug), 69.5% (Aug), Inflation Rate: 50.9%, 50.7% (Feb), 52.3% (Mar), 55.1% (Apr), 58% (May), 60.7% (Jun), 64% (Jul), 71% (Aug), 2021 actual GDP growth: 9.5%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 2.9%, Leader: Alberto Fernández (President). Overall: The relative weakness of Fernandez’s left-wing coalition government is likely to continue given Argentinians’ increasing frustration with skyrocketing inflation and rising levels of poverty. It suffered a battering at the midterm congressional elections in November and there are ongoing negotiations with the IMF to get more money. UPDATE 13th Jan – Argentina has been suffering with very hot weather, which has been damaging crops. This is bad because it is the world’s top exporter of processed soy and second largest in corn. UPDATE Feb 4th – Argentina and China have signed an agreement to build Argentina’s fourth nuclear power station. They are also discussing a five-year investment plan worth an initial $35bn that will be used for other major energy and infrastructure projects. UPDATE Feb 6th – Argentina joined China’s Belt and Road initiative, which was originally launched in 2013. The two nations signed $23.7bn-worth of agreements that will cement investment, trade, infrastructure and anti-Covid initiatives in an effort to bolster the Argentinian economy and generate jobs. UPDATE Mar 22nd – Argentina became Latin America’s #1 in plat-to earn crypto games and is #5 globally. They are doing this to supplement income that is increasingly being eaten up by ridiculous inflation levels. UPDATE Mar 25th – the IMF have signed a new $44bn programme with Argentina to provide more funds to the country after two years of talks, buying some time for the government although Argentina is not out of the woods yet!
- Brazil – Population: 212m, Unemployment:
11.2%, 11.1% (Apr), 10.5% (May), 9.8% (May), 9.3% (Aug), 9.1% (Aug), Interest Rate: 9.25%, 10.75% (Feb), 11.75% (Mar), 12.75% (May), 13.25% (Jun), 13.75% (Aug), Inflation Rate: 10.06%, 10.38% (Feb), 10.54 (Feb), 11.3% (Apr), 12.13% (May), 11.73% (Jun), 11.89% (Jun), 10.07% (Aug), 2021 actual GDP growth: 4.8%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 1.8%, Leader: Jair Bolsonaro (President). Overall: Bolsonaro has his eyes firmly on the presidential elections next year but it seems that left-wing predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is waiting in the wings to take his place, despite all the corruption convictions he has collected over the years! Bolsonaro has already said that he will ignore the result if he doesn’t win (!) and he has already been criticised for basically buying votes by doling out welfare cheques to the poor. It’s interesting to note that although he had been seen to be the country’s first “social media president” – using WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to great effect to win the election in 2018 – recent remarks and actions have led to Big Tech groups clamping down on the spread of misinformation and it is possible that he could be permanently banned from Meta-owned platforms – just like Donald Trump. Brazil managed to execute a successful auction of deep sea oil prospects in December 2021 and it went really well – in stark contrast to when it tried to do this back in 2019, when it all went wrong. The auction raised $2bn in much needed fees for the government. This was a rare win for Bolsonaro in his economic agenda. In terms of individual companies to watch out for this year, it’s worth following Nubank – the world’s biggest standalone digital bank! UPDATE Feb 3rd – a new trade protocol between the US and Brazil came into force governing regulatory practices and anti-corruption measures. UPDATE Feb 10th – according to a report by Bain & Co, the value of M&A in Brazil reached its highest level since 2010! IPO and M&A activity was powered by decent liquidity and a low interest rate. Consolidation was particularly active in health, energy, transport and retail sectors. UPDATE Mar 18th – Following president Bolsonaro’s appeals to his supporters to swap over to Telegram, the Brazilian Supreme Court decided to block the messaging app due to its susceptibility to false news. Google and Apple were asked to block Telegram on their operating systems as part of the ruling. UPDATE Apr 14th – Brazilian state-controlled oil major Petrobras appointed a new chief exec after the two previous chiefs were sacked within a year by President Bolsonaro. The company has taken a lot of flak because of rising fuel costs. Interestingly, the immediate predecessor had angered Bolsonaro because he refused to keep diesel and petrol prices artificially low, something that “Tropical Trump” didn’t like because he wants re-election in the October election!
- Mexico – Population: 126m, Unemployment:
3.7%, 3.5% (Jan), 3.7% (Feb), 3.0% (Apr), 3.3% (May), 3.4% (Aug), Interest Rate: 5.5%, 6% (Feb), 6.5% (Mar), 7% (May), 7.75% (Jun), 8.5% (Aug), Inflation Rate: 7.36%, 7.07% (Feb), 7.28% (Mar), 7.45% (Apr), 7.68% (May), 7.65% (Jun), 7.99% (Jun), 8.15% (Aug), 8.7% (Sep), 2021 actual GDP growth: 6.1%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 2.8%, Leader: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (President, aka “AMLO”). Overall: AMLO has come under fire for a less-than-rapid rollout of Covid vaccinations and tepid fiscal response to the pandemic. However, the opposition to his left-wing Morena Party is not popular and it looks likely that he will be supported by strong majorities in both legislative chambers. UPDATE Feb 3rd– workers at a General Motors factory in Mexico voted overwhelmingly to have a new and independent union which could potentially prompt a broader shake-up in labour relations in the whole manufacturing industry. Bluntly put, this is likely to add more costs if this it all becomes more unionised and comes at a time when Mexico’s automotive industry is attracting more money due to its proximity to the US market. UPDATE Apr 11th – President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) won a recall referendum with almost 92% of the vote – but only 18% of the electorate turned up to vote on whether he should see out the rest of his six-year term. 40% are needed to make the result binding, but he was obviously bigging up his “victory”. Funnily enough, he said he would look to lowering this 40% figure in future by changing the law! He has approval ratings of 60% and, in his first three years in office, he introduced big budget cuts and broadened social programmes for old people and young jobseekers. He also poured money into a few “key” projects, such as an oil refinery a 1,400km tourist train ride and a new airport for Mexico City. Economic recovery has been slow, though, as AMLO has had to deal with rising homicide rates and clashes with the US on energy reform. It seems that he held this vote in order to boost his popularity.
- China – Population: 1,444m, Unemployment:
5%, 5.1% (Jan), 5.3% (Feb), 5.5% (Mar), 5.8% (Apr), 6.1% (May), 5.9% (Jun), 5.5% (Jun), 5.4% (Aug), Interest Rate: 3.7%, 3.65%, Inflation Rate: 1.5%, 0.9% (Feb), 1.5% (Apr), 2.1% (May), 2.5% (Jun), 2.7% (Aug), 2.5% (Sep), 2021 actual GDP growth: 7.9%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 5.3%, Leader: Xi Jinping (President). Overall: President Xi Jinping is likely to continue with his “common prosperity” policies and pursuit of increasing self-reliance in areas like agriculture and tech with no sign of improvement of relations with the West. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – the trade deal struck between 15 Asia-Pacific countries – will go live in H2 2022. It is the deal that China is very much at the centre of and is the one that replaced the proposed TPP, which was negotiated by Obama and thrown out by Trump. UPDATE Jan 22nd – China had a rough ride this week as its GDP growth rate slowed to its slowest rate in 18 months and cut its policy interest rate for the first time in two years. The country is being ultra-cautious ahead of the Winter Olympics in closing down roads and suspending plane train and bus services – none of which is great for economic growth. UPDATE Jan 25th– China launched a month-long campaign to sanitise online content over the lunar new year festival via its Cyberspace Administration of China internet regulator. Officials were told to clear up “illegal content and information” as part of the “common prosperity” drive and this has even stretched to naming and shaming celebs who have given up Chinese citizenship etc. and cutting out too much bling, materialism and superstition. UPDATE Feb 4th – China is backing Russia’s opposition to NATO expansion (now there’s a surprise) as they both slag off the US in talks at the Winter Olympics. They also announced a number of new agreements including a new gas supply deal. This is the first time, however, that China has explicitly opposed an enlargement of NATO. UPDATE Feb 9th – China’s ZTE is making big advancements in the design of semiconductors and is using advanced 7nm tech to build processors for its 5G telecoms base stations. It looks like the US blacklisting of ZTE may yet backfire as the company ups its own capabilities. UPDATE Feb 10th – Tencent has been approved by the UN to lead a project looking into the creation of a framework for NFTs and would be the world’s first UN-approved standards for NFTs. An initial draft is to be completed by the end of this year. UPDATE Feb 11th – China has stopped importing beef, dairy and beer from Lithuania in response to the latter allowing Taiwan to set up an embassy in its capital Vilnius in November last year. The embassy bears the name “Taiwan” rather than “Chinese Taipei”, and they didn’t like that. This could stir things up with the EU which is looking into taking action against China for unfairly discriminating against member states. UPDATE Mar 16th – Chinese EV manufacturer BYD announced price rises on its cars due to increases in material costs, just one day after Tesla increased theirs (for the second time in the space of one week!). UPDATE Mar 17th – China’s cyberspace regulator is putting together new rules to protect minors that will force companies who engage in online gaming, livestreaming, audio and video to have a “youth mode”. Also, the Cyberspace Administration of China said it will “rectify” companies who manage social media influencers as part of plans to clean up cyberspace. UPDATE Mar 31st – China’s CNOOC is aiming to raise $5.5bn next month in what is likely to be China’s 10th biggest listing and will use the proceeds to fund more oil and gas extraction to make it less reliant on the West. UPDATE Apr 2nd – Pearl River Delta, a unit of troubled property developer China Evergrande, reported that construction had restarted at 95% of Evergrande’s projects as at late March. UPDATE Apr 12th – the Shanghai lockdowns are really hitting the economy hard, but the authorities have now come up with a roadmap out of lockdown. Cargo ships are still queuing up outside the world’s biggest port and rising Chinese energy bills are squeezing household budgets.
- Japan – Population: 126m, Unemployment:
2.7%, 2.8% (Feb), 2.7% (Mar), 2.6% (Apr), Interest Rate: -0.1%, Inflation Rate: 0.6%, 0.8% (Jan), 0.5% (Feb), 0.9% (Mar), 1.2% (Apr), 2.5% (May), 2.4% (Jul), 2.6% (Aug), (2021 actual GDP growth: 2.1%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 3%, Leader: Fumio Kishida (Prime Minister). Overall: Kishida won the Liberal Democratic Party leadership election in September as previous leader Yoshihide Suga stepped down shortly after the Olympics. He followed that up with winning the general election and proceeded to fill his Cabinet with pro-Abe ministers (remember that predecessor Shinzo Abe had to step down because of health reasons – not beceause he was unpopular). He unveiled a major $383bn stimulus package in November in a bid to boost consumption but then the Bank of Japan signalled in December that it would be scaling back its emergency economic support programme, in line with other major economies’ recent moves to tighten monetary policy. Japan is getting increasingly twitchy about China and Taiwan and has increased defence spend as a result. Japan and Australia signed a major defence agreement at the beginning of January that will facilitate military co-operation between the two countries as China throws its weight around more in the Indo-Pacific. UPDATE Feb 9th – Japan said that it would divert some of its LNG supplies to Europe in a move to show solidarity with western allies in its stance on Ukraine. This came as a result of a request from the US. Several carriers are already on their way and should hit Europe sometime this month, with more to come. This sort of move has never happened before. UPDATE Feb 13th – A Japanese start-up called Kyoto Fusioneering announced plans to make Japan’s first nuclear fusion power plant within the next five years. UPDATE Feb 15th – Japan is looking at ending quarantine and the requirement for self-isolation for fully vaxxed and boosted travellers coming into Japan from countries where cases aren’t increasing at a rapid rate. Very strict controls were put in place in November (pretty much no foreign travellers were allowed in) thanks to the Omicron outbreak but it now looks like these will be lifted in March. As things stand at the moment, only 3,500 travellers are allowed into Japan per day and all Japanese and non-Japanese have to isolate for at least seven days after entering the country, vaxxed or no-vaxxed. The lifting of restrictions will mean that 5,000 travellers will be allowed in per day, which would bring it back to pre-Omicron levels, but that would still be way short of the 80,000 per day in 2019. UPDATE Mar 10th – Japan wholesale inflation (the prices companies pay each other for their goods and services) for February rose at its fastest annual pace since 1985, showing that inflationary pressures were gathering momentum even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. UPDATE Mar 16th – Massive earthquakes hit Japan causing more damage, yet again, in the same northeastern Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures hit by the 2011 earthquakes. They reached an “upper 6” on Japan’s 7-point seismic intensity scale and there were a lot of power outages. UPDATE Mar 17th – the earthquakes derailed a bullet train and two major motorways were closed while some factory operations by companies like Toyota temporarily suspended production. UPDATE Mar 18th – Japan’s rate of inflation rose by the fastest rate in two years, mainly thanks to rising energy and food costs. UPDATE Mar 22nd – the government announced major stimulatory measures with record amounts being spent on social security and defence. Meanwhile, real estate prices rose for the first time for two years and Covid restrictions were lifted on bars and restaurants nationwide. UPDATE Apr 6th – it turns out that, over the first quarter, the yen has been the world’s worst performing currency versus the dollar apart from the rouble! Japan’s ridiculously low interest rate is coming under increasing focus, but other reasons for the weakness include Japan’s continued dependence on imported food and energy. UPDATE Apr 14th – the entire Tohoku bullet train is now back “on track” just one month after the earthquakes.
- South Korea – Population: 52m, Unemployment:
3.8%, 3.6% (Feb), 2.7% (Mar), 2.8% (May), 2.9% (Jun), Interest Rate: 1.25%, 1.5% (Apr), 1.75% (May), 2.25% (Jul), 2.5% (Aug), Inflation Rate: 3.7%, 3.6% (Jan), 3.7% (Feb), 4.1% (Apr), 4.8% (May), 5.4% (Jun), 6% (Jun), 6.3% (Aug), 5.7% (Sep), 2021 actual GDP growth: 4.1%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 2.7%, Leader: Moon Jae-inYoon Suk-yeol (President) . Overall: Moon’s liberal Minjoo Party’s majority in the legislature is likely to be chipped away at by conservative People Power Party (PPP) opposition in 2022 as the latter tap into general frustration with slow vaccination rollout at the March presidential elections. This means that Minjoo’s spending plans could be limited by the PPP’s fiscal conservativism, so although the economy is likely to recover in 2022, it isn’t likely to do so at a rapid clip. UPDATE Jan 22nd – Carmakers Geely and Renault will start to make vehicles in South Korea as Geely tries to spread the number of global partnerships. UPDATE Feb 7th – South Korea is abandoning its much-praised test-and-trace system as the country faces a surge in the number of Omicron cases. The country said that it will now concentrate its efforts on the elderly and vulnerable. UPDATE Mar 9th – Conservative opposition candidate Yoon Suk-yeol managed to win South Korea’s presidential election in a campaign tainted by corruption. Yoon only entered into politics last year and managed to oust rival Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party by less than 1%. It is thought that Yoon will be less friendly to China and North Korea than his predecessor and cosier with the US. He has a strongman image and is seen to be a political outsider. UPDATE Mar 17th – South Korea became the world’s biggest hotspot for new coronavirus cases just as the government is making moves to relax pandemic restrictions. The country now accounts for around 20% of new Covid cases worldwide, according to stats by Worldometer. UPDATE Apr 5th – South Korea’s inflation hit its highest level for a decade as supply challenges hit hard. This will put the Bank of Korea under more pressure to raise interest rates to curb inflation.
- India – Population: 1,347m, Unemployment:
6.6%, 8.1% (Feb), 7.6% (Mar), 7.8% (Apr), 6.8% (Jul), 8.3% (Aug), Interest Rate: 4%, 4.4% (May), 4.9% (Jun), 5.4% (Aug), Inflation Rate: 5.59%, 6.01% (Feb), 6.07% (Mar), 6.95% (Apr), 7.79% (May), 7.04% (Jun), 7.01% (Jun), 6.71% (Aug), 2021 actual GDP growth: 9.2%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 7.8%, Leader: Narendra Modi (Prime Minister). Overall: The popularity of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has taken a dent due to the government’s response to the pandemic which could adversely affect seven state elections that are due to take place in 2022. This is likely to weaken the party’s influence in the upper chamber and public protests against farming reforms will also hit them hard. However, economic growth has been pretty good and could well be helped further by strong exports, government investment and low borrowing costs. However, India very much remains a two-tier economy with about 20% of its citizens doing OK while about 40% of citizens can’t even afford a packet of biscuits. Equalising this massive divide and quelling the agricultural sector’s backlash could limit India’s immediate growth potential and prove problematic in forthcoming elections. UPDATE Feb 2nd – a new highly transmissible Omicron variant, BA.2, is spreading and is thought to be a cause of the third wave of infections. Also, India said it would be launching a digital rupee during the course of this year AND that there are plans to slap a 30% tax on income from digital assets (e.g. trading or transferring cryptocurrency/NFTs etc.). UPDATE Feb 7th – the “nightingale of India”, Lata Mangeshkar, died aged 92 and the country announced a two-day period of national mourning. Nationwide protest was also sparked by a school in the state of Karnataka which banned the wearing of the “hijab” in classrooms. It also attracted the attention of the Pakistani government and Malala Yousafai. Religious tensions heightened and could influence state elections in the region next year. Also, the state of Uttar Pradesh is to hold state elections which could reflect voter sentiment on how PM Modi’s party is doing at the moment. UPDATE Mar 1st – there was a huge story in India about the death of an India medical student who was killed by the shelling in Kharkiv when he left the bunker he was in to buy food. Stories are also emerging about racism in Ukraine as there are suggestions that white natives are getting preferential treatment regarding getting out of the country. Lots of people are getting a bit antsy about rising oil prices as well given that India is the world’s third biggest consumer of oil (behind the USA and China). China imports the vast majority – about 85% – of its oil from about 40 countries. At the moment, India can rely on a fairly big cushion of $633bn of foreign reserves to absorb some of the pain of higher oil prices. It is also interesting to note that Modi is still a supporter of Russia. Bluntly speaking, India needs Russia for energy imports and fertiliser while Russia needs India to get around western sanctions. Despite what’s going on in Ukraine at the minute, India continues to remain loyal to Russia and abstained from a UN resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion. UPDATE Mar 26th – China’s Finance Minister made a surprise trip to India – the first since troop clashes (and deaths) on the Himalayan border in 2020 soured relationships badly. UPDATE Mar 31st – the Indian government announced a natural gas price of more than double the existing price. They will be the highest prices ever paid to Indian gas producers but consumers won’t feel it too keenly because the share of power produced by gas is low. Also, although the cost of fertiliser will go up, the government already subsidises this so the effect of this will at least be delayed in the “real” economy. UPDATE Mar 30th – Citigroup agreed to sell its Indian retail business to local bank Axis Bank for $1.6bn as part of Citi’s strategy of withdrawing from underperforming markets. UPDATE Apr 11th – Abu Dhabi’s International Holding Company (IHC) announced a $2bn investment in companies in the Adani Group (a conglomerate that’s comprised of all sorts of businesses including mining, power generation, renewables, infrastructure etc.). This comes very shortly after India and the UAE signed a trade deal. India is the UAE’s second biggest trading partner. UPDATE Apr 16th – India’s government is encouraging the move into EV batteries by giving companies subsidies as part of a $2.38bn pot earmarked for this purpose. Recipients so far include Ola, Reliance and Hyundai Motor while Mahindra & Mahindra and Larsen & Toubro have applied.
- Australia – Population: 26m, Unemployment:
4.6%, 4.2% (Jan), 4% (Feb), 3.9% (May), 3.5% (Jun), 3.4% (Aug), Interest Rate: 0.1%, 0.35% (May), 0.85% (Jun), 1.35% (Jun), 1.85% (Aug), 2.35% (Sep), Inflation Rate: 3%, 3.5% (Jan), 5.1% (Apr), 6.1% (Jul), 2021 actual GDP growth: 3.8%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 2.2%, Leader: Scott Morrison (Prime Minister)Anthony Albanese (Prime Minister, won election 22nd May). Overall: Scott Morrison is currently hanging on by a thread as his coalition government is weakening and his popularity amongst women is waning due to his weak response to sexual conduct allegations within government. It is also possible that the electorate that lauded its initial response to the pandemic will turn against him as later draconian measures have proved to be unpopular. UPDATE Feb 3rd – there’s a food supply crisis going on at the moment in Western Australia due to flooding in South Australia which has washed out over 300km of railway that brings food and other produce into Western Australia from the east coast. The floods are a one-in-200-year weather event. Major supermarket chains, including Coles and Woolworths, were forced to introduce buying limits on some products. The Trans-Australian Railway is 100 years old and runs for almost 2,000km from Port Augusta in South Australia to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and is the world’s longest straight track! UPDATE Feb 10th – according to BetaShares, Australia’s ETF total assets shot up by 44% last year in the biggest ever one-year expansion (impressive when the global average of 28.5% growth over the same time period) as many younger investors are starting to use ETFs to build up their investment portfolios. UPDATE Mar 2nd – just two years after those terrible bushfires ravaged the country, floods ravaged Australia’s east coast. Australia’s two biggest insurers (Insurance Australia Group and Suncorp) are now on track to exceed their annual budget for natural disasters by hundreds of millions of dollars as a result. UPDATE 11th April – an Aussie election was announced by Scott Morrison, the first PM to last a full term since 2007. It’ll be on May 21st, but party members have been less than flattering about his character!
- Indonesia – Population: 270m, Unemployment:
6.49%, 5.83% (May), Interest Rate: 3.5%, 3.75% (Aug) Inflation Rate: 1.87%, 2.18% (Jan), 2.06 (Feb), 2.64% (Apr), 3.47% (May), 3.55% (Jun), 4.35% (Jun), 4.94% (Jul), 4.69% (Sep), 2021 actual GDP growth: 3.1%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 5%, Leader: Joko Widodo (President). Overall: Widodo’s response to the pandemic has been disappointing and it’s likely that he will try to distract attention by renewing his campaign on fighting corruption. Slow vaccine rollout will limit upside for the economy and opposition parties will be jockeying for position as Widodo will not be able to contest a third term in 2024 elections. Despite this, Indonesia should continue to muddle through as it supplies the world’s seemingly insatiable demand for raw materials. UPDATE Jan 22nd – That said, it suddenly announced a coal export ban at the beginning of 2022 in order to make sure the country could meet its own needs (it had been suffering from power outages) but then lifted it for 139 companies a few weeks later after being satisfied it had enough. UPDATE Jan 25th – Indonesia’s Financial Services Authority warned that financial firms won’t be able to deal in crypto assets following a massive uptick in crypto asset trading over the last year. UPDATE Jan 30th – Indonesia’s new capital, to be called Nusantara, is causing controversy during the ongoing move from Jakarta on Java to East Kalimantan Province on Borneo at the centre of the archipelago due to negative historical connotations. It is moving its capital because the land is sinking as sea levels are rising, overpopulation and the aim to redistribute wealth more evenly. UPDATE Feb 10th – Indonesia agreed to an $8bn deal with France to buy fighter jets and submarines. The government is also looking at spending an additional $100bn over the next three years as it looks to bolster its capability in an increasingly tetchy Asian region, particularly in the South China Sea. Also, Foxconn is to manufacture EVs and batteries in Indonesia from Q3 as part of the country’s efforts to become a regional hub for EVs. Indonesia’s biggest crypto assets digital exchange, Tokocrypto, is going to launch a crypto-community hub in Bali in order to take crypto to mainstream audiences. Having seen a photo of the place, it does look like a glorified coffee shop, but maybe this could be the start of something. UPDATE Mar 29th – Indonesia is finding super-cheap oil from Russia too tempting and “filling its boots” as a result. UPDATE Mar 31st – Britishvolt has made a deal with Indonesian conglomerate Bakrie Group to develop a plant that can produce nickel compounds that they can use in their batteries. UPDATE Apr 2nd – the government has decided to delay the implementation of its carbon tax by three months in order to avoid putting even more pressure on budgets at a time when prices are rising. It was supposed to come into force on April 1st. This tax doesn’t sound too onerous, however, because we are talking about $2.1 per metric ton versus $49 in France, for instance! UPDATE April 4th – around 41% of Indonesians between 18 and 75 with an annual income of over $14,000 own crypto assets, according to a report by crypto exchange Gemini. This makes them among the top “owners” of crypto assets in the world. They seem to be doing this as a hedge against inflation.
- UK – Population: 67m, Unemployment:
4.2%, 4.1% (Jan), 3.9% (Mar), 3.8% (Apr), Interest Rate: 0.25%, 0.5% (Jan), 0.75% (Mar), 1.0% (May), 1.25% (Jun), 1.75% (Aug), Inflation Rate: 5.1%, 5.4% (Jan), 5.5% (Feb), 6.2% (Mar), 7% (Apr), 9% (May), 9.1% (June), 9.4% (Jul), 10.1% (Aug), 2021 actual GDP growth: 6.7%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 5.6%, Leader: Boris Johnson (Prime Minister). Overall: BoJo’s plans to “build back better” were scuppered by the year-end emergence of the Omicron variant. There was also distraction in abundance regarding a party-that-wasn’t held last year at the Party HQ that many say will weaken BoJo’s clout. Fears of another cancelled Christmas and New Year abated as infection numbers didn’t warrant it in the end but this came as little comfort to the leisure industry which saw bookings and takings vanish overnight. UPDATE Jan 19th – BoJo is looking precarious but is hanging on just about. It looks like he’s trying to shift attention by announcing the lifting of Plan B restrictions, which is being applauded by businesses, less so by doctors etc. There’s talk of more “partygate” revelations, but we’ve got to wait until next week to get the official report. UPDATE Feb 4th – BoJo has been hanging on by a thread after a drip-feed of negative news. He also managed to drag Kier Starmer into controversy (which was a cheap shot and not actually true), preside over a number of senior resignations whilst also considering a major reshuffle. The release of the Sue Gray report kept on getting delayed and delayed until it was released in limited form – but it didn’t paint a flattering picture of what’s going on behind the scenes at number 10. UPDATE Feb 10th – BoJo announced intentions to end the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive Covid test one month ahead of schedule. This came to light at the same time as the ONS announced a rising infection rate. There was also a lot of talk this week about the possibility of a windfall tax on oil and gas companies considering how well they’ve been doing and how much everyone’s utilities bills are going to go up by. However, this was batted away by the government and condemned by the industry. UPDATE Apr 4th – Over 3,000 workers at 60 companies across the UK are going to take part in an experiment with running a four-day week from June to December (see the April 1st entry above in the US for the same experiment!). UPDATE Apr 12th – the UK’s GDP growth rate is slowing down and consumer confidence has fallen to a record low, according to the British Retail Consortium’s latest figures.
- Germany – Population: 83m, Unemployment:
5.2%, 5.1% (Feb), 5% (Mar), 5.3% (Jun), 5.4% (Jul), 5.5% (Aug), Interest Rate: 0%, 0.5% (Jul), Inflation Rate: 5.3%, 4.9% (Jan), 5.1% (Feb), 7.3% (Apr), 7.4% (May), 7.9% (Jun), 7.6% (Jun), 7.5% (Jul), 7.9% (Aug), 2021 actual GDP growth: 2.7%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 4.2%, Leader: Olaf Scholz (Chancellor). Overall: The economy is now being led by a three-party coalition with Olaf Scholz at the head. He’s presiding over a stuttering economy, whilst trying to corrale the demands of three parties and a manufacturing sector that has been hugely hit by supply chain problems and rising energy prices. After 16 years of Merkel at the helm, Germany’s future is more uncertain as the EU’s biggest economy tries to navigate tricky waters with an untried-and-untested government in charge. UPDATE Jan 22nd – in the whole Ukraine/Russia/Europe/NATO thing it seems that President Putin has managed to split the newly-minted three-way coalition with the Green Party being at odds with Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats leaning more towards Russia, muddying the waters in terms of a unified stance against the potential invasion of Ukraine. UPDATE Feb 8th – Olaf Scholz refused to get fully on board with the US’s stance that it would “bring an end” to Nord Stream 2. This disunity is a gift for Putin! UPDATE Mar 1st – Germany made a massive shift in its defence policy when it announced it would increase military spending from 1.53% of GDP to 2% in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. UPDATE Mar 15th – Germany bought 35 F-35 fighter jets from America’s Lockheed Martin just two weeks after Scholz said he’d increase his defence spending. UPDATE 31st March – Germany’s inflation hits a 40-year high of 7.3%, mainly thanks to the massive jump in energy prices. Germany and Austria are now talking about the possibility of gas rationing. UPDATE Apr 14th – the pressure continues to mount on Berlin about the fact that its continued purchase of Russian gas is effectively bankrolling Putin’s war machine. Some say that cutting off supplies could cost the German economy €220bn.
- France – Population: 67m, Unemployment:
8.1%, 7.4% (Feb), 7.3% (May), 7.4% (Aug), Interest Rate: 0%,0.5% (Jul), Inflation Rate: 2.8%, 2.9% (Jan), 3.6% (Feb), 4.5% (Mar), 4.8% (May), 5.2% (Jun), 5.8% (Jun), 6.1% (Jul), 5.8% (Aug), 2021 actual GDP growth: 6.7%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 4%, Leader: Emmanuel Macron (President). Overall: Despite Macron’s waning popularity (certainly versus his popularity in the immediate aftermath of the last election) he looks likely to get a second term at the next elections that will be held on 10th and 24th April. Unpopular reforms to pensions and unemployment payments will have to wait until the next term, but you do wonder whether he will be able to push them through given that he failed to do so this terms despite having a massive majority. If he manages to get re-elected, he will be the first French president to do so for 20 years! UPDATE Jan 19th– French carmakers are objecting to new rules that will come into force in March that will force them to include phrases like ““for short journeys, walk or take a bike when possible”, “consider carpooling” and “take public transport for your daily journeys” in adverts. Given that the country has three domestic carmakers, this does sound like they are shooting themselves in the foot! Is this Macron trying to “buy” the green vote?? UPDATE Jan 28th – the number of jobseekers fell to their lowest level in Q4 since the end of 2012. Also, France recorded its fastest annual growth for 52 years. UPDATE Feb 10th – Macron outlined plans to build at least six new nuclear reactors in France over the next few decades at a cost of about €50bn. He also said that France would look into ways of extending their current 40-year lifecycle to over 50 years.
- Italy – Population: 60m, Unemployment:
9.2%, 9% (Jan), 8.8% (Feb), 8.5% (Mar), 8.3% (May), 8.1% (Jun), 7.9% (Sep), Interest Rate: 0%, 0.5% (Jul), Inflation Rate: 3.9%, 4.8% (Jan), 5.7% (Feb), 6.7% (Mar), 6.5% (Apr), 6% (Apr), 6.8% (Jun), 8% (Jun), 7.9% (Jul), 8.4% (Aug), 2021 actual GDP growth: 3.7%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 4.4%, Leader: Mario Draghi (Prime Minister). Overall: The government put together by Mario Draghi after he was drafted in by president Sergio Mattarella is likely to stay in power until its term ends in June 2023. However, the far-right Brothers of Italy (FDI) are gaining in popularity to the extent that they have overtaken fellow right-wingers Northern League to become the country’s most popular party. She could potentially become Italy’s first female Prime Minister – and she could be in a particularly strong position if Mario Draghi were to take over from Sergio Mattarella… UPDATE Jan 19th – it’s all kicking off as Draghi looks in pole position to take over the role as president, but it seems that wily old goat Silvio “bunga bunga” Berlusconi is throwing his hat in the ring as an alternative presidential candidate. UPDATE Jan 30th – 80 year old Mattarella ended up staying on as President for another term, leaving Draghi in the Prime Minister post which caused a huge sigh of relied all round because there’s no-one good enough to replace the PM. Investors had been jumpy at the prospect of yet another Italian political debacle if Draghi had vacated the post of PM, so this was a decent outcome. UPDATE Mar 2nd – Italy’s GDP growth for 2021 came in above expectations. Meanwhile, the country is just about to receive the first €21bn tranche of the EU’s Covid recovery fund, of which it will be the biggest recipient. UPDATE Apr 9th – Italian PM Mario Draghi is signing up to a new gas supply deal with Algeria in an effort to reduce the country’s dependence on Russian fuel, which currently accounts for 40% of total consumption. The good news here is that Algeria is not only Italy’s second biggest supplier – the Trans-Mediterranean pipeline that carries gas between the two countries via Algeria is only operating at two-thirds capacity, meaning that it’s going to be relatively easy to increase inflow.
- Spain – Population: 47m, Unemployment:
14.57%, 13.33% (Jan), 13.65% (Apr), 12.48% (Jul), Interest Rate: 0%, 0.5% (Jul), Inflation Rate: 6.5%, 6.1% (Jan), 7.6% (Feb), 9.8% (Mar), 8.4% (Apr), 8.3% (May), 8.7% (Jun), 10.2% (Jun), 10.8% (Jul), 10.4% (Aug), 2021 actual GDP growth: 4.4%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 5.9%, Leader: Pedro Sánchez (Prime Minister). Overall: Spain suffered particularly badly during the pandemic and its unemployment rate took a massive hit given the country’s reliance on the tourism industry. Sánchez did well to get his coalition government together but given that Spain was only just getting back on its feet a decade or so on from the financial crisis before Covid hit, it has a deeper hole to climb out of compared to most. EU recovery funds will be particularly welcome here to speed up any progress. UPDATE Jan 18th – Spain became the first country in the EU to have its regulator oversea crypto advertising. UPDATE Feb 4th– Spain’s Socialist-led government manage to fluke through parliamentary approval for labour reforms that needed to be passed in order to unlock some financial aid from the EU’s €800bn coronavirus recovery fund. Some idiot from the centre-right People’s Party voted in error 🤣 and the motion was passed by one vote! How ridiculous! The idea of this was to cut the percentage of the Spanish workforce on temporary contracts, which is way higher than the rest of the Eurozone at about 25%.UPDATE Feb 9th – Spain’s environment minister outlined what it wanted to do with its portion of the EU’s €800bn coronavirus recovery fund – a total of €140bn, which is actually more than the country has ever received since it joined the EU! The EU stipulates that countries using the money should spend at least 37% of it on climate action. UPDATE Feb 15th – the far-right Vox party had a big win in the Castile-Leon regional election after the People’s Party (PP) called a snap election. The original intention of the PP was to chase an absolute majority, but this plan backfired completely as Vox managed to triple its vote. A big problem for the PP is that many voters are moving over to Vox because of the clearer message it is portraying as opposed to the perception that the PP is just firefighting without purpose. Spain’s next general election is due by the end of 2023. Mind you, it could have been worse! PM Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Party lost five percentage points, seven seats and over 100,000 votes. UPDATE Mar 3rd – After a slow start, Spain has come out in support of Ukraine by supplying Kyiv with weapons despite objections from leftwingers. Spain’s telecoms giant Telefonica announced a decent set of results, adding that there needed to be consolidation in the sector. UPDATE Mar 9th – interestingly, Telefonica got what it wished for – consolidation – although it didn’t take part in it! Orange and MasMovil entered into exclusive talks to form a €19.6bn behemoth that would leapfrog Vodafone in terms of size in the market. It’s thought that this could prompt further consolidation in a fragmented sector. UPDATE Mar 24th – Spain tries to end the lorry strike as food shortages hit hard. Transport associations rejected the latest €500m aid package the government offered.
- Turkey – Population: 84m, Unemployment:
10.7% (Feb), 11.1% (Mar), 11.5% (May), 11.2% (May), 10.9% (May), 10.3% (Aug), Interest Rate: 14%, 13% (Aug), Inflation Rate: 36.08%, 48.69% (Jan), 54.44% (Feb), 61.14% (Apr), 69.67% (May), 73.5% (Jun), 78.62 (Jun), 79.6% (Jul), 80.2% (Sep), 2021 actual GDP growth: 8%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 3.6%, Leader: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (President). Overall: Well. Erdoğan continues unopposed as his Justice and Development Party enters into its third decade in power. Turkey’s president continues to go against widely-held economic wisdom in cutting interest rates to combat inflation (pretty much everyone else does the exact opposite) and foreign relations continue to worsen. It looks also like he is going to try and do a Putin/Jinping and extend his reign by changing the constitution to allow this if he’s re-elected in 2023. The economy is rebounding and should continue to grow, but this is likely to be at a more sedate pace in 2022. However, if inflation continues to run riot, will Erdoğan climb down and admit he got it wrong – or will he just turn to Russia or China for some ready cash to help shore up Turkey’s finances? UPDATE Jan 21st – Turkish citizens are trading in increasing numbers in cryptocurrencies due to the constant pressure on the lira. UPDATE Feb 4th – inflation rose from an already-astounding 36.1% in December to a quite-frankly-ridiculous 48.7% year-on-year in January mainly due to rising food and energy prices. Erdogan continues to stick his head in the sand and do the opposite of what everyone else in the world does to tame inflation. Everyone else increases interest rates, but he cuts them. Maybe it’s too early to tell whether his cunning plan is working, but I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on a positive outcome. No wonder citizens are trading crypto. They are just giving themselves the opportunity to buy into something that might give them extra spending power. UPDATE Feb 7th – story of the week was that Erdogan got Covid, but eventually he tested negative. In the meantime, some of those who did not wish him a speedy recovery and made comments on social media got themselves arrested thanks to a law banning insults against the president. UPDATE Feb 25th – Turkey’s electricity prices are rising rapidly and Erdogan announced new measures to help low-income households pay their bills. The pressure is increasing on him to do something that works to take the heat out of skyrocketing inflation, but the opposition doesn’t seem to be in any real shape to take Erdogan on. UPDATE Apr 5th – Turkey’s inflation hit a 20-year high of 61% thanks to rising energy and food costs (and, presumably, President Erdogan’s one-man crusade against inflation by cutting interest rates). Turkey imports virtually all of its oil and natural gas supplies. UPDATE Apr 7th – Turkey has stopped the trial of 26 Saudis accused of murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi which seems to have coincided with a lifting of the unofficial embargo of goods from Turkey. As I said before, Turkey imports all of its oil, so I guess that, in the current environment, Erdogan had to choose practicality over morals (not that the halting of the trial and easing of relations with Saudi Arabia have officially been linked). UPDATE Apr 14th – Turkey stuck with its interest rate at 14% despite inflation standing at 61%. What is Erdogan doing?!? F all it seems!
- Russia – Population: 146m, Unemployment:
4.3%, 4.4% (Feb), 4.1% (Mar), 3.9% (May), Interest Rate: 8.5%, 9.5% (Feb), 20% (Feb), 17% (Apr), 14% (Apr), 11% (May), 9.5% (Jun), 8% (Jul), Inflation Rate: 8.4%, 8.73% (Feb), 9.17% (Mar), 16.7% (Apr), 17.8% (May), 17.1% (Jun), 15.9% (Jun), 15.1% (Aug), 2021 actual GDP growth: 4.2%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 2.7%, Leader: Vladimir Putin (President). Overall: Russia seems to have come through volatile oil markets and foreign sanctions quite well and now has its foot on the throat of Europe with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and gas supplies that everyone is crying out for. The US is very much against Europe relying on Russia for gas supplies and Germany’s new chancellor appears to be more willing than Merkel was to lean towards the Americans. Tensions continue to increase with Russian military build-up on the Ukraine border and I suspect this is designed to get Putin and Biden to the negotiation table to hammer out some serious matters. UPDATE Jan 21st – Russia’s central bank is considering the outlawing of all crypto operations, according to a new 36-page report. This is serious considering that Russia is the world’s third biggest cryptocurrency miner! This didn’t hit Bitcoin initially, but it then fell sharply. UPDATE Jan 27th – palladium prices look set to rise whether Russia invades Ukraine or not as Russia it the world’s #1 producer. Given that 85% of the metal is used in catalytic converters for cars, this will be yet another headache for car makers. UPDATE Feb 10th – legislation is going through UK Parliament at the moment to expand sanctions on Russia in the event of an invasion of Ukraine. Also, Google was slapped with a fine after its antitrust watchdog said it had broken rules on the suspension and blocking of accounts on YouTube. The central bank increased the interest rate to 9.5%, the highest rate in the last five years! UPDATE Feb 16th – although Putin announced a small troop withdrawal from the Ukrainian border, ostensibly to show willing in negotiations, Nato’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said that the numbers of Russian troops being deployed there is actually rising. Moscow obviously denied this. The drama continues…UPDATE Feb 24th – Russia invaded Ukraine, but referred to it as a “special military operation”, marking a major escalation in the Russo-Ukraine war that started in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea. UPDATE Mar 9th – the sanctions continue to pile up. Luxury brands shut up shop, professional services firms including lawyers, accountants and management consultants pull out of Russia – and even McDonald’s abandons. Wheat prices reach record highs because current stocks may hit supply chain issues and Ukrainian farmers won’t be able to plant their crop because of the Russians – so that means a lack of wheat could go on for some time. Sberbank and VTB have had to pull out of Europe, Mastercard, Visa and Amex have pulled Russian operations while PayPal has now stopped working, SWIFT isn’t widely available and a lot of manufacturers have shuttered production at least for the time being. Russian banks are now switching to the Chinese UnionPay system to keep payments alive. In the meantime, Russia has banned Facebook and has restricted Twitter to make sure it keeps a lid on information. UPDATE Mar 31st – Russia has authorised retailers to import products without the trademark owner’s permission and Deputy PM Yuri Borisov said that all foreign leased aircraft in Russia after the termination of western leasing contracts (over 400 planes!) have effectively been confiscated. Putin has decreed that foreign buyers should pay for Russian gas in roubles or have their supplies cut. UPDATE Apr 6th – Intel became the latest western tech firm to suspend business in Russia. Also, Russian car sales since the invasion of Ukraine have fallen by almost 2/3rds, according to the latest data from the Association of European Business. UPDATE Apr 11th – Sberbank data shows that Russians cut spending by 9.7% at the beginning of April versus April 2021 as sanctions start to bite on ordinary people.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
- Saudi Arabia – Population: 35m, Unemployment:
6.6%, 6.9% (Jan), 6% (Mar), Interest Rate: 1%, 1.25% (Mar), 1.75% (May), 2.25% (Jun), 3% (Jul), Inflation Rate: 1.2%, 1.6% (Mar), 2% (Apr), 2.3% (May), 2.2% (Jun), 2.3% (Jul), 2.7% (Aug), 2021 actual GDP growth: 2.9%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 3.6%, Leader: King Salman bin Abdulaziz (King). Overall: Higher oil prices have worked out quite nicely for Saudi Arabia although it will no doubt continue its ongoing efforts to wean itself off oil revenues. This is likely to involve major construction projects – but in the meantime it will no doubt continue to benefit from ongoing oil demand. Even if US shale producers start to come back online to take advantage of the higher-for-longer oil price I would expect them to be more cautious than in the past when they over-did the cranking up of investment in projects. UPDATE Mar 9th – so far, the Saudis have been reluctant to produce anything over and above the pre-agreed quotas of oil production but it seems that the UAE is trying to broker something that might ease the current ridiculous situation. UPDATE Mar 22nd – State-controlled oil company Saudi Aramco said that it will spend more on oil production to keep up with rising demand. UPDATE Mar 31st – OPEC and its allies decided to ignore calls to increase production in a meaningful way and stuck with the previously agreed schedule of an extra 432,000 barrels in May. UPDATE April 15th – Elon Musk has questioned Saudi Arabia’s role in Twitter after Prince Alwaleed bin Talal tweeted his opposition to Musk’s offer of €43bn to buy the company, saying that it was too low. Musk tweeted “What are the kingdom’s view on journalistic free speech”. Ooh. Sucker punch!
- Iran – Population: 84m, Unemployment:
9.6%, 8.9% (Feb), 9.4% (Apr), 9.2% (Jun), Interest Rate: 18%, Inflation Rate: 35.2%, 35.9% (Jan), 35.4% (Feb), 34.7% (Mar), 35.6% (May), 39.3% (May), 52.5% (Jun), 54% (Jul), 52.2% (Aug), 2022 forecast GDP growth: 8.8%, Leader: Ebrahim Raisi (President). Overall: Although hardliners hold all the top jobs, Iranians are getting increasingly frustrated with high unemployment and inflation rates – to the extent that there are increasing fears of a brain drain. Still, President Raisi continues to try to hammer out a deal with the West after Trump put Iran out in the cold to rot after reimposing economic sanctions when he came to power. It will no doubt use the threat of nuclear escalation to squeeze out concessions from the West in order to try to boost its domestic economic fortunes (and it has already made moves to appease the West by letting the UN’s atomic watchdog reinstall cameras at one of its major nuclear facilities). UPDATE Jan 19th– President Raisi met President Putin this week in ongoing efforts to deepen relationships with Russia and China (presumably because things aren’t going well with the West at the moment). China has been Iran’s #1 trading partner since 2014 and is the main export destination for its oil. UPDATE Feb 10th – Germany’s foreign minister said that nuclear talks with Iran are reaching a “final phase”. Given oil prices at the moment, it would be interesting to see Iran being back in the fold and selling oil to the west once more. UPDATE Mar 16th – two detained British-Iranians, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were released and arrived back in the UK after years of imprisonment. UPDATE Apr 9th – Top Iranian officials reiterated their commitment to the peaceful use of its nuclear programme at a ceremony held in Tehran to mark its National Nuclear Technology Day. President Raisi said that peaceful developments in its domestic nuclear programme were “irreversible” and that his government would continue to support the programme.
- Nigeria – Population: 206m, Unemployment: 33.3%, Interest Rate:
11.5%, 13% (May), 14% (Jul), Inflation rate: 15.63%, 15.6% (Feb), 15.7% (Mar), 15.92% (Apr), 16.82% (May), 17.71% (Jun), 18.6% (Jun), 19.64% (Jul), 2022 forecast GDP growth: 3.3%, Leader: Muhammadu Buhari (President). Overall: Buhari’s having a nightmare with high inflation and unemployment rates. He continues to preside over a violent and unstable country and will have trouble keeping a lid on things until the next election in 2023. At least higher oil prices will help to boost finance, though. It will also be interesting to see how Nigeria’s digital currency – the eNaira – fares after its launch at the end of October 2021. It is Africa’s first digital currency but scepticism about the government could limit its widespread adoption. UPDATE Apr 15th – the US approved a $1bn sale of 12 AH-1Z Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria after having previously put it on hold because of possible human rights abuses by the Nigerian government.
- South Africa – Population: 59m, Unemployment:
34.9%, 35.3% (Mar), 34.5% (May), 33.9% (Jun), Interest Rate: 3.75%, 4% (Feb), 4.25% (Mar), 4.75% (May), 5.5% (Jul), Inflation Rate: 5.9%, 5.7% (Feb), 5.9% (Apr), 6.5% (May), 7.4% (Jul), 7.8% (Aug) 2021 actual GDP growth: 4.9%, 2022 forecast GDP growth: 2.4%, Leader: Cyril Ramaphosa (President). Overall: The economy has rebounded in 2021, but Ramaphosa continues to face corruption within the walls of power, a rickety power generation network and slow progress on vaccinations (although it has been more successful in getting older people vaccinated). A tricky year was topped off with the outbreak of the Omicron variant and Ramaphosa himself contracting Covid. Ramaphosa’s ANC continues to lose ground among a population disaffected by economic stagnation, unemployment and corruption. UPDATE Feb 10th – South Africa is preparing to lift its national state of disaster imposed to contain the Coronavirus pandemic and President Ramaphosa used a state of the nation speech to announce his intentions. He added that the government will extend the provision of a cash grant to the unemployed, introduced in the pandemic, by one year. UPDATE Mar 19th – South African president Ramaphosa surprised everyone when he said that he had been approached by Putin to act as a mediator in the Russian war with Ukraine. It was not the only African nation to refuse to condemn Russia’s actions as 16 others abstained from the UN vote while 8 were absent, making Africa the continent the most supportive of Russia. Eritrea went one further by voting against the UN resolution. UPDATE April 13th – over 250 people have lost their lives in severe flooding in the province of Kwazulu Natal, South Africa’s second most populous province. This makes it one of the worst natural disasters in the country’s history. Ramaphosa’s ANC is already facing criticisms for the lack of preparation. UPDATE April 18th – the death toll from the floods has now increased to 443 as the rains continue.
THEMES FOR 2022
Here we are again! This year, I thought I’d highlight four different areas which I think will be worth watching this year for interesting developments. I shall be revisiting this section frequently and so please come back and check in when you can! I will also alert you to changes in Watson’s Weekly in the appropriate section. As the year goes on, I will be updating this section whenever I come across new news and developments so you can see how these themes evolve. When I get to the end of the year, I will review this section and I will let you know how right or how wrong I have been!
- Buy Now Pay Later – this area of finance has been ripe for tighter regulation for quite some time IMO. The incredible success of Klarna has led to a number of rivals popping up as I think that being able to pay in instalments has struck a chord with many consumers. Even gnarly old players like Mastercard have decided to jump on the bandwagon – but then we have seen other players pop up like Bumper (a start-up that lets you pay car repair bills in instalments) and Fly Now Pay Later (a company that lets you spread the cost of your holidays). Although people have had access to credit cards for decades, it seems to me that they prefer paying back in regular increments via such companies. However, with the growth of such companies I think it is only right that regulators take a closer look to make sure they can cope with a rise in customer numbers. I thought that other areas that could do with the BNPL treatment would be building costs (“Build Now Pay Later”?) and vet bills (“Woof Now Pay Later”??). Regulators are cottoning onto the sector now. In December 2020, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority banned some of Klarna’s adverts for their encouragement of using credit to “improve people’s mood”, the Treasury launched a consultation into the BNPL market (the FCA estimated that £2.7bn was spent this way in 2020 but researchers have since said that this more than doubled last year to £5.7bn) that will lay the groundwork for an FCA consultation this year and, over in America, the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered Klarna, Affirm, Afterpay and Zip to provide details of their business practices due to concerns about debt and regulatory arbitrage. Klarna in particular sees itself as an “inherently lower-risk credit option”, but others are not so sure. UPDATE Feb 14th – the FCA announced that BNPL firms had updated terms which had previously allowed the termination, suspension or restriction of access to customer accounts whenever and for whatever reason. Changes had also been made regarding cancellation policies. It’ll be interesting to see what the government review comes up with given that concerns are increasing about the lack of credit checks and how much increased use of BNPL services will have on household budgets.
- Digital assets – which includes cryptocurrencies and other assets such as NFTs. I think that, with the advent of the digital yuan at the Winter Olympics in China, we are going to see a digital currency in action. Although virtually all central banks seem to abhor the idea of digital currencies (well, all apart from El Salvador who made it legal tender in 2021!), over 90% of them are actually experimenting with them and I suspect that they will be watching developments in China very closely to see if they can learn anything. I think that cryptocurrencies really need to be regulated, but no-one has stuck their neck out yet – but I really think that they are going to have to do so sooner or later, especially given how many lay people are involved in crypto these days. A Lord’s committee in Britain concluded recently that CBDCs (Central Bank Digital Currencies) were just too risky and were not needed, but I suspect that pressure will continue to at least make a token (no pun intended) effort to modernise! NFTs have exploded in popularity this year, and when you have Korean boy band BTS getting their own NFTs, you know that everyone is just going to have a go! NFTs are a hugely unregulated area and I think that so many people will be trying to make as much as they can before regulators come in and spoil the party. It may be that there has to be a big failure before central banks and governments take a hand, but I think that this really is an area worth watching. UPDATE Jan 22nd – Facebook/Meta is looking into enabling to users mint and sell NFTs as well as helping them to display their NFTs on their social media profiles. Twitter also announced a new feature for users of Twitter Blue (an enhanced paid-for service available in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia) which allows them to use NFTs as their profile pictures (they will appear as hexagons rather than standard circles). Twitter wants to be the home of all things NFT, blockchain, crypto discovery and education. It was also interesting to see that regulators in Spain and the UK are looking to crack down on dodgy crypto adverts. The FCA is also looking at a number of proposals to crack down on crypto and has a deadline for feedback of March 23rd with a view to the new rules to be implemented in the summer. UPDATE Jan 27th– Facebook’s Diem Association is winding down and is to be sold to Silvergate Tech Corp for around $200m. This closes a tumultuous chapter in Facebook’s history regarding cryptocurrency, but I am sure it will be back! UPDATE Jan 28th– digital asset trading group Genesis is now going to accept NFTs as collateral for loans and derivatives deals! The market for NFTs grew to $40bn last year and it is growing all the time. Given the volatility of NFTs, I think regulators really need to get involved to stop unwary punters losing out! UPDATE Feb 2nd– India announced intentions to launch a digital rupee sometime this year. The finance minister also announced plans to bring in a 30% tax on income from digital assets. UPDATE Feb 14th – the UK’s HMRC seized three NFTs as part of a fraud investigation along with other crypto assets. Subsequently it turned out that HMRC has opened over 20 criminal investigations involving cryptoassets such as Bitcoin as the number of tax fraud and evasion cases mount up. Over in America, the US Securities and Exchange Commission announced a settlement with crypto platform BlockFi where it fined it $100m for offering interest bearing accounts without registering them first as securities. It seems to me that the net is slowly drawing in. Will regulators around the world bring in a co-ordinated approach on how to deal with crypto assets or will it just be chaos for a while longer??
- Big tech – pressure has been building over the last couple of years (and particularly during the course of the pandemic) about US tech giants, how they harvest data and what they do with it. All of the big players have been hauled up in front of lawmakers and politicians but it seems that they have largely got away with their behaviour (although Facebook has come in for particular criticism and faced a number of fairly large fines as a result). I think that, as time goes on, US tech firms need to have at least some of their behaviour reined in before they just get too unwieldy (although we are maybe a bit late already!) but when you consider that we seem to be rushing headlong into the waiting arms of the metaverse, regulation now could help to set any future metaverse developments on a better course. UPDATE Jan 22nd– this week saw Microsoft announcing its biggest-ever acquisition – that of Activision Blizzard for $75bn. This catapults them up the rankings for gaming and puts them in a particularly good position for mobile/online gaming and, potentially, the metaverse. Although the two businesses don’t have huge overlaps, this could be a test for regulators and lawmakers regarding the combination of two major tech groups. Also, we saw that Facebook filed a number of patents for tech on biometric data, a virtual store, eye and face-tracking tech. If this all goes ahead, it could be that Facebook is entrusted with even more personal information than it has already – something that may make people nervous given the revelations last year of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. UPDATE Jan 26th– Microsoft took a bit of a battering in trading despite announcing a 20% increase in quarterly revenues as investors seem to be rotating out of growth stocks (which includes tech) and into value stocks (industrials and “safe” companies with more tangible assets). Nvidia also admitted this week that it might not be successful in its purchase of Arm Holdings. This would be a real victory for regulators IMO and it’ll be interesting to see whether this emboldens them to block further big acquisitions. You would have thought that they could change their arm at Microsoft/Activision Blizzard, but then again there aren’t really any major obvious overlaps there that could justify an outright rejection because I don’t think that their strengths are in the same area. UPDATE Feb 4th– This last week has seen a huge shift by investors out of tech stocks and Facebook in particular has suffered hugely as it admitted that it is losing momentum in terms of subscribers. It was also a testing week for Spotify as controversial podcast host Joe Rogan felt a backlash from aging musicians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell who withdrew their music from the streaming service in protest at a podcast where he hosted some anti-vaxxers. Spotify apologised, as did Rogan, but it brings into question content standards. Rogan said he’d try to be more balanced in future but, TBH, I think that his podcast has thrived on controversy. Without that I think Rogan is just a TV or radio chat show. This also caused Hipgnosis to think about its business model as it had paid Young $150m for his back catalogue – yet he was still able to pull his music from Spotify. If this sets a precedent as to who really controls the music, such funds deserve to see their valuations cut IMO. UPDATE Feb 16th: the UK’s Home Office is making moves to make big internet companies take more responsibility for the content on their platforms in the lead-up to the forthcoming Online Safety Bill. This Bill is going to be used to crack down on fraud, terrorism, fraud and other illegal activities carried out online.
- Reshoring of Chinese assets – we’ve seen China come down very hard on fintech like Ant Group at the end of 2020, which then morphed into a crackdown on games companies, education technology and then the massively indebted real estate sector (just ask Evergrande!). It’s all part of Xi Jinping’s pursuit of “common prosperity” and I don’t think he’s finished yet! When you consider just how angry the Chinese authorities were with ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing when it floated in New York, you can see why many other Chinese tech giants are cowering. The fact that such a big player had to make a huge climb-down, de-list and then re-list in Hong Kong shows you just how powerful Chinese authorities are and how important it is for the tech giants to play ball. Everyone else is worried and I think that all tech companies who don’t fit into the “common prosperity” theme – and especially companies who are hugely indebted – will continue to suffer and many others will at least be thinking or repatriating to China to avoid any future problems. UPDATE Jan 22nd– although this isn’t “reshoring” news per se, it is worth mentioning that both Evergrande and ByteDance are continuing to bend to Beijing’s will at the moment. Domestic homeowners continue to be prioritised over foreign investors as Evergrande continues to die the death of a thousand cuts and TikTok owner ByteDance disbanded its investment team. These sorts of actions will not go unnoticed at Chinese companies with significant operations outside China.
I shall continue to expand this section as the year goes on and further developments occur. Come back here from time-to-time – understanding how these developments pan out over the year will really help you! Don’t be a stranger!
What a year! If 2020 was the year when the whole world shut down, 2021 was all about recovery and, to some extent, reinvention. We started off with vaccine rollouts, but then had to deal with new variants as they popped up whilst simultaneously opening up the global economy. Some industries suffered but then staged huge turnarounds (e.g. advertising) but then there were others who recovered only to get hit once more by Covid variants (travel, aviation and hospitality, for instance). There were tremendous strides taken in electric vehicles but it was interesting to see how the disappointing performance of renewable energy sources led to nuclear power being discussed seriously once more. Some leaders, like Brazil’s Bolsonaro and France’s Macron, are looking to extend their terms in office – so I will be interested to see how they try to engage and befriend their respective electorates and win their votes. Chinese companies will continue to be a bit jumpy as authorities continue to wield their power and it will be fascinating to see whether the disappearance (or weakening) of Chinese companies in various countries will provide gaps that others can fill.
When all’s said and done, I think that 2022 could possibly be a year of great hope and possibilities as we move towards the tail end of what has been a terrible pandemic. Here’s hoping for a fantastic 2022! I’m not sure how confident Boris Johnson will be about his own future though…
All the best
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