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Ever hopeful of a change in sentiment, it feels the New Year has started the same way 2020 ended, with everyone’s daily lives seemingly governed by Covid-19.
Despite the vaccination programme now underway, it will be some time before life returns anywhere close to normality. This is much the case for office workers and many have not been back to the office in over nine months. Working from home and online ‘virtual’ meetings have become normal practice. While many companies have been pleasantly surprised at how well their business models have adapted to remote working, there are certain sectors where some staff presence in an office is essential.
Prior to Covid-19 turning us into home workers, many of us worked in modern office buildings that don’t have windows that open. Instead, the flow of fresh air is determined by a centrally controlled heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. Since the arrival of Covid-19, the rush to improve air quality has ‘gone through the roof’.
We all breathe out CO2, but studies show that if the amounts are even slightly raised, this can impair a person’s thinking and decision making. It is estimated that it can take only 45 minutes for brain activity to be impaired when three people are sitting in a mid-sized conference room. This might explain why I have been accused of ‘nodding off’ in meetings. For those who have had a similar experience we now have scientific research in our defence – it was our work colleagues’ fault for expelling too much hot air!
What this all suggests is that companies that are involved in installing and maintaining office air quality could enjoy healthier times themselves. Before Covid-19 most office air conditioning replaced the air in the building every 20-30 minutes. However, with Covid-19 the recommendation is to increase that to every 10-15 minutes. Property companies may need to upgrade office ventilation systems.
Remember ‘Hands, Face, Space’ and open windows as replacing stale air in a room with fresh air from outside can significantly reduce the chances of people being infected. Mind you opening the window in summer is fine but more challenging in the winter when it is -2C outside!
Talking of hot air, Boris Johnson has delivered Brexit but the Conservative lead in the latest polls over Labour has evaporated due to the government’s shambolic handling of the Covid-19 crisis.
Happy New Year, Boris!
What have we been watching?
Lots more television as more lockdown measures were re-imposed across the UK.
There were quite a few significant developments over the festive break. The number of Covid-19 cases and lockdown measures make for depressing reading and suggests a challenging first quarter of 2021, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The Oxford/Astra Zeneca Covid-19 vaccine was authorised for emergency supply in the UK by the MHRA. Astra Zeneca aims to supply millions of doses in the first quarter of 2021 as part of an agreement with the government to supply 100 million doses in total. The doses can be administered with an interval of 4 and 12 weeks. This vaccine is a game changer in that it can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions for at least six months within normal healthcare settings. The challenge will now be a logistical one given the scale of the vaccination programme and the pressure on the NHS from the latest spike in Covid-19 cases.
The UK and EU agreed a Brexit trade deal at one minute to midnight! This has subsequently been rushed through both the EU and UK parliament. Yes, this is a ‘thin Brexit deal’ concentrating on traded goods with little on financial services and the City of London, a key part of the UK economy. While there will inevitably be some short-term logistical disruption a ‘thin deal’ is better than ‘no deal’ and should remove uncertainty for many UK businesses. Sterling moved above $1.36 on these developments.
The handover by President Donald Trump to President elect Joe Biden has been far from helpful. Has Donald Trump completely lost the plot? He has asked Georgia’s Secretary of State to find enough votes to overturn his defeat! Nonetheless, US politicians have managed to approve the $900bn Covid-19 support package. However, there was considerable wrangling over the amount allocated to lower income households with Trump wanting up to $2,000. The $600 distribution agreed should add over 1.5% to US GDP in the first quarter of 2021 and help prevent a double-dip recession.
Factory activity in China slowed slightly in December as Chinese exports were impacted by fresh lockdown measures in key European and US markets. Nonetheless, China is expected to be the only country to have avoided recession in 2020 and manufacturing activity indicators remain in positive territory.
Geo-political tensions remain to the fore as we head into 2021. China accused America of staging a show of force as two US navy warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait. Meanwhile, the US announced that it will impose additional tariffs on French and German products as part of the long-running dispute over subsidies for aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing. In addition, China and the European Commission have agreed a ‘Comprehensive Agreement on Investment’ which will give each other’s businesses greater access to their respective markets. This appears to have been rushed through by China ahead of Joe Biden being sworn in as President as he will no doubt be expected to work alongside allies such as the EU to manage relations with China over issues such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and technology.
Meanwhile, a reminder of the power of the Chinese authorities. According to international media reports, Chinese billionaire and founder of Alibaba Jack Ma is suspected ‘missing’ weeks after his public remarks criticising state regulators. China’s authorities suspended the flotation of Alibaba’s financial arm, Ant Group in November. According to US media reports its was Chinese President Xi Jinping himself who pulled the plug on the flotation.
Finally, managing money is always challenging and Brexit has provided many twists and turns over the last four and a half years but thankfully the uncertainty is now behind us. The City of London does face new challenges due to a ‘thin Brexit deal’ but London traders can take heart from the fact that whatever your woes may be, there is always someone out there much worse off than you. For example, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is reported to have recently arrested and even executed some currency traders as economic reforms go into reverse.
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This publication is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon. The opinions expressed here represent analysis by an Alpha Portfolio Management representative at the time of preparation and should not be interpreted as investment advice.
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