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Weekend reading: Whoops, there goes the economy

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What caught my eye this week.

The graph of this week’s GDP forecast from the Office for Budget Responsibility looks like something from a comic book:

Great Recession? “Pah!” says Covid-19. “Hold my drink…”

That’s not an economic projection – that’s the punchline to a three-panel cartoon.

Of course the hope is that like a sack full of garden manure dropped onto a trampoline, what goes down must surely bounce up again. And it will. But how?

Will we see a V-shaped recovery? A U-shaped recovery? Maybe a W-shaped start-stop affair? Or even a Nike Swoosh?

The idea is to pick the letter of the alphabet that best fits how you expect the graph to go over the next few months.

Personally, I think it’ll probably be more like a Chinese character, darting up and down all over the place.

Modern economies are fabulously complex, and switching ours off wholesale will have broken numerous connections. When we restart, some areas will fly but others will be literally waiting for parts.

China tried to reboot its big factories first, but then discovered most of them relied upon smaller suppliers. So they were switched on, too – but then they found workers had nowhere to eat, because the street canteens hadn’t yet been allowed to reopen.

Britain on pseudo-FIRE

We’ve got plenty of time to think about all this, what with lockdown officially extended for “at least” another three weeks.

Indeed it seems that many Britons have become more reflective now their alarm clocks have stopped buzzing and they’re working within sight of their gardens and kids.

It’s bemusing to me to read articles or hear podcasts in which people gush about how proud they are to be managing to work from home.

Apparently it’s a revelation to many that the technology is available, and that people will get on with work without the clattering distraction of an office or the time suck of a commute.

Fifteen years ago I co-founded a company that eventually grew to dozens of employees and scattered contractors. We never had a central office and ran the thing using Skype, Gmail, and early on Google Spreadsheets.

We’d meet fancy clients in a London member’s club to avoid awkward questions. But mostly we plotted strategy around our dining room tables, and then beavered away in our homes.

It seems this is fairy story stuff for many workers. I’ve written before that I believe more things will stay the same than change post-Covid-19.

But maybe I’ve been presuming too much?

Sky News reports that only 9% of people want life to return to normal after lockdown:

The survey found that 61% of people are spending less money and 51% noticed cleaner air outdoors, while 27% think there is more wildlife.

Others say that having glimpsed the freedom of working from home, many won’t want to go back:

“Once they’ve done it, they’re going to want to continue,” said Kate Lister, president of consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics.

She predicts that 30% of people will work from home multiple days per week within a couple of years.

Lister added that there has been pent-up demand by employees for greater work-life flexibility, and that the coronavirus has made their employers see the light, especially as they themselves have had to work from home.

Indeed some are already anticipating a rearguard action from The Man and His Minions, who are presumed to be desperate to keep us in our (work)place and on the hedonistic treadmill.

In a widely-shared Medium article, Julio Vincent Gambuto celebrated the global lockdown:

The treadmill you’ve been on for decades just stopped. Bam!

And that feeling you have right now is the same as if you’d been thrown off your Peloton bike and onto the ground: What in the holy fuck just happened?

I hope you might consider this: What happened is inexplicably incredible.

It’s the greatest gift ever unwrapped. Not the deaths, not the virus, but The Great Pause.

It is, in a word, profound.

But Gambuto predicts capitalism won’t stand for it.

“We are about to be gaslit in a truly unprecedented way,” he says, using the neologism for manipulating somebody into doubting their own sanity.

Lock heeding martians

While of course I’m breezily doing as directed – it’s not a big weekday change for me, to be honest – I do have mixed feelings about the full lockdown strategy, as we’ve been discussing in the Monevator comments over the past few weeks.

Sweden, for instance, has no mandatory lockdown and yet far fewer deaths per million citizens, as cited in the links below. Indeed different countries are as figuratively all over the map with their Covid-19 pandemics as they are on the globe. It seems there’s a lot going on we don’t yet understand.

But all that aside, I’ve been moved by seeing the lockdown in action in London.

When China shut-up Wuhan, the few over here who were paying attention wondered whether we could ever manage anything similar in the individualist West. I admit I had my doubts.

Yet with no coercion and minimum fuss, the vast majority of us have followed the government’s strictures and it’s a little wonderful.

Out on my daily walk, every time someone steps off the pavement into the car-less road to give me space before I can do the same for them, I almost want to hug them. (Oh the irony!)

The London air is clean to breathe. You really can hear birds sing.

Even as the economy craters. Even as Romanian workers are being flown in to pick fruit because the farming industry still can’t find British workers to do it, despite a million more jobless than last month. And not even Covid-19 can slow down Brexit.

Irony indeed.

Have a philosophical weekend!

From Monevator

How diversification is working during the coronavirus crisis – Monevator

Another strong Covid-19 discussion followed last week’s links [Use ‘Next Comments’ at the bottom of each tranche of 50 comments to read through all 120+]Monevator

From the archive-ator: How to spot a bear market bottom – Monevator

News

Note: Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view you can click to read the piece without being a paid subscriber. Try privacy/incognito mode to avoid cookies. Consider subscribing if you read them a lot!1

IMF head: dire recession forecasts may be too optimistic – BBC

UK economy losing £2bn every day in deepest slump since the Great Depression – ThisIsMoney

Government extends furlough scheme until end of June – GOV.UK

Bank of England tells lenders to ‘get on with’ Covid-19 business loans – Guardian

How coronavirus almost brought down the global financial system – Guardian

Morgan Stanley: In a post-Covid-19 world, employers will have to pay workers more [Search result]FT

Products and services

Price of high-demand food bought online rises sharply – Guardian

NS&I cancels plans to cut Premium Bonds prizes and variable savings rates – Which?

Pension transfers under lockdown [Search result]FT

Sign-up to Freetrade via my link and we can both get a free share worth between £3 and £200 – Freetrade

Home electricity consumption now peaks at 1pm; data suggests we’re having early nights AND late mornings – ThisIsMoney

Marcus cuts its easy-access rate, after £17bn pours in from savers – are top rates headed below 1%? – ThisIsMoney

Open a SIPP with Interactive Investor by 30 April and pay no SIPP fee until April 2021, saving you £110 – Interactive Investor [Affiliate link]

Unusual homes for sale [Gallery]Guardian

Comment and opinion

The virus broke the stock market weighing machine – Advisor Perspectives

Downturns this deep can take a long time to recover from, financially and mentally – Schroders

Larry Swedroe: Stop being bewildered that the market has bounced back – it’s not the economy – T.E.B.I.

Should the state pension triple lock be axed to help pay coronavirus bill? – ThisIsMoney

Robo advisers are easier to blame – Klement on Investing

Covid-19 and the equity markets – Albert Bridge Capital

Post-retirement calculator updated [US parameters, but interesting]Engaging Data

Portfolio tracking spreadsheet: v2.0 release notes [Tool]Fire V London

What is the average net worth, adjusted for age and education [US but interesting]Of Dollars and Data

Naughty corner: Active antics

A bull’s view in a China shop – Sum Zero

Will investment trust dividends hold up? – IT Investor

The S&P 500’s CAPE Ratio says the US market is still expensive – UK Value Investor

Have small value stocks become a bargain? – Morningstar

High Yield in the Covid Crash: Risky, but potentially very rewarding – Bond Vigilantes

How working from home has slowed down Wall Street’s trading pros – New York Times

Rob Arnott: Why the stock market hasn’t even got cheap yet [Video]YouTube

Jason Calacanis on ‘intelligent risk’ and angel investing [Podcast]Farnham Street

The unprecedented stock market impact of Covid-19 [Research, PDF]NBER

Covid-19 corner

(Click to enlarge)

The Covid-19 reproduction number is falling below 1 in several key hot spots – Epiforecasts

Tim Harford: why we fail to prepare for disasters [Search result]FT

Critics question Swedish approach as coronavirus death toll reaches 1,000 [Really? It should also make them at least question our approach then, given Sweden has no lockdown and is seeing about one-third fewer deaths per million citizens]Guardian

Market up after Gilead’s Covid-19 treatment Remdesivir shows promise in leaked report – CNBC and Stat

Owner directors ‘come out of this with nothing’ due to lack of government support – BBC

Ten reasons to doubt the Covid-19 data – Bloomberg

UK is [supposedly] set to restart contact tracing – Guardian

Nine out of 10 dying of Covid-19 had existing health issues, on average three of them – BBC

Our pandemic summer [US but relevant]The Atlantic

Nursing home residents make up nearly half of Belgium’s coronavirus deaths – Brussels Times

Locked and loaded – Bennallack

China outbreak city Wuhan raises death toll by 50% – BBC

Why is there a flour shortage in the UK? – CBBC

You Clap For Me Now: meditation on racism and immigration in Brexit Britain [Video]YouTube

Kindle book bargains

Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester – £0.99 on Kindle

Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course by Gordon Ramsay – £0.99 on Kindle

Remote: Office Not Required by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried – £0.99 on Kindle

Side Hustle: Build a Side Business and Make Extra Money by Chris Guillebeau – £0.99 on Kindle

Coronavirus government briefing mini-special

A study of the increasingly bizarre backgrounds of Matt Hancock’s video briefings – Independent

Hancock is channelling James Blunt, Raab looks terrified – Marina Hyde

Little Brother is watching you [Images]Guardian and Steve Bell

Off our beat. Ish.

“Anybody can do this game” – a pretty funny (NSFW) three-week day trading diary  [Video] – Jason Portnoy via Twitter

I always feel crabby too after a long flight [Video, funny] – via Twitter

And finally…

“Wisdom comes to us when it can no longer do any good.”
– Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

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  1. Note some articles can only be accessed through the search results if you’re using PC/desktop view (from mobile/tablet view they bring up the firewall/subscription page). To circumvent, switch your mobile browser to use the desktop view. On Chrome for Android: press the menu button followed by “Request Desktop Site”. []

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