So far vaccine is at least a year away from what I have heard. The situation is getting worse everywhere outside China. At the end of the day, once vaccine for the mass is successfully-developed and a few more deaths, the world could be back to business again but no one will forget where we are now for generations. Yes, we have heard there will be huge economic impacts. Among those, I see rising household debt, rising unemployment, rising SME and small corporation bankruptcies, rising hedge and mutual fund redemptions and failures, and rising non-performing assets in banks.
But here let’s talk about the impact a bond strategist like myself hardly say in fixed income research which is supposed to be about money. In my view, even with an effective vaccine for the mass, COVID19 is here to stay with us and here are the social impacts which will impact the world we know of forever:
Noone is taking cleanliness for granted anymore. In the past, many men do not wash hands after finishing their businesses in rest rooms. That will change. We could see more people getting more cautious around personal hygiene. Serving spoons and mouth covering after coughing will be the norm in Asia while westerners may learn to wear more masks and take showers at the end of the day before bedtime. I used to think coughing without covering mouth in a confined space should be illegal. Now is the time to see that. Any materials close to our bodies such as pillows or jackets that cannot be washed or disinfected effectively may be out of fashion.
Social distancing will become a norm and that will increase the cost of doing businesses. A tour group may request a medical certificate from a tour purchaser. A space inside a waiting room in a ferry terminal will have to be bigger. A retail store may need to have more space in Hong Kong and that means higher rent for retailers. Government could come in to regulate social distancing and that will reduce the profit margin of any entrepreneur dealing with crowds. Music events will have to rethink and perhaps more artists need to find a better way to commercialize their music.
Besides the personal habit changes, I see more hygiene products becoming everyday’s life. Face masks and alcohol gel will be in more demand. More technology will be introduced to increase public hygiene. (Self-disinfecting bars in the subway, more robots to disinfect and to navigate in crowded areas, etc.)
Countries around the world and multinational development banks around the world will put in unprecedented amount of money to make sure the world is more supplied with medical equipment. The World Bank has issued “Pandemic” bonds before on the eve of Ebola outbreak and we will see this type of bonds again and in a more creative way. Perhaps COVID convertibles?
In this crisis, politics has shown it does not help and only specialists save lives. In many countries around the world, we have seen missteps by politicians and we believe the respect for specialists (i.e. doctors) has skyrocketed. This virus could change the way politicians are elected. Instead of putting politicians in key government positions. Specialists are more suitable to handle crises just like this COVID-19.
Virus is democratic in the sense that it does not discriminate and hit everyone rich or poor, black or white or brown or yellow. However, the virus cure is not. We have learned that to suppress the infection rate, we not only need a good decision maker but also respectful and obedient decision takers. Like it or not, when it comes to COVID-19, there is not much time for debates and criticism, it is all about the whole community pulling together and simply do what the specialists (i.e. doctors) say. Too much debates just like in Italy or the US burns precious time otherwise used to stop the virus from spreading further. I do believe many will respect science a bit more. That said, more scientific and less faith-based government could be in fashion and that is not a bad trend, in my view.
Rural migration back in vogue
Cities are now dangerous. A migration back to rural areas is in the work and that should benefit the rural development. COVID-19 spreads more in the cities and we have seen migration into the rural area. As we believe this virus will be here to stay, there will be city dwellers who will settle and help develop rural areas.
Rising social gap
Low interest rate and government bond purchase program will benefit big corporation while lower class and blue collars will have to wait at the mercy of big corporations to keep employment steady. In fact, we could see big corporation hoarding cash or liquid investments (as a result of abundant liquidity and low funding cost) when investment environment is still not enticing. In essence, monetary stimulus does not help SME, middle class, and lower class that much. Only those who can borrow (the rich and the better credit) can take advantage of government programs while those who cannot get less money from banks and only wait for the rich to create jobs. Just like the past QE, the income gap will widen even further.
Social inequality will also be amplified as a result of widening income and opportunity inequality. Face it that social distancing is easier for the rich than for the poor and the poor will suffer a lot more. This will create the sort of social unrest and resentment toward the rich post-crisis. I am not saying that socialism could be more popular but government will have to take care of the poor better to avoid the unrest.
COVID19 will bring the best of us to unite as a human being, not country’s person or citizen. We are one entity against the virus and any ignorance will basically keep the virus alive to come back to infect. In a way, COVID-19 will help us all realize how vulnerable we human are and how similar we are regardless of nations or races. I believe many will work together at the end to fight the virus.
The virus has forced many of us to stay home and go back to live with our families for an extended period of time. That fosters the relationships and I believe we as a human race will come back stronger.
COVID-19 has forced shoppers to do more on-line shopping. Some may not have shopped online or shopped online often. Once you shop on-line, your shopping behavior will change, in our view, and that will change the consumer behavior forever.
On-line work collaboration
COVID-19 forced many to work from home. Just like on-line shopping, many will get used to collaborating on-line through many applications available.
A rush into 5G
The use of smartphones will be more amplified. Many countries will rush into 5G after this COVID-19 outbreak. Perhaps, the suspicion on Huawei will fade away in light of the necessity to ramp up the internet connection.
Respect for East Asia
Western countries now look toward Japan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China on how these countries handled further COVID19 infection. This is a credibility crisis for the west and many of the world population will grow respect for East Asia and that could translate into more influence in the world by these countries, especially China, post-crisis and perhaps better credit ratings for East Asia than the western countries in a longer term.