Want to know what would be the wildest news event of the year?
It would be if literally nothing happened, and so all the news channels, websites, and newspapers took the day off.
24/7 news channels broadcasting silent studios and empty desks.
Newspapers distributing notices that read ‘Come back tomorrow’.
Partisan political news websites redirecting to kitten videos.
Alas, human nature and the media business model means such a serene moment will never happen.
There will always be a lead disaster to talk about on the nightly news and front page of a newspaper.
There will always be clickbait in our Facebook feeds tempting us into a vortex about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket.
Life without Covid-19
Of course, since the novel coronavirus hit Europe in February, there’s only been one thing preoccupying the news bulletins.
From the initial infections, the rapid spread, and the deaths, to flattening the curve, hopes for a vaccine, and disappointment over treatments – day after day.
But imagine if the new virus coming out of China in early 2020 had followed another script: a fortnight of panic, a few hundred cases, and a false alarm.
In such a world we’d be seeing other dramas unfolding in the news.
Here are my top five candidates for the lost crises of 2020.
Deal or No Deal Brexit
The wrangling over Britain’s decision to leave the European Union seemed like the story that wouldn’t die – but then a virus killed it. Viewing figures may now be on the floor, but the Brexit soap opera continues. Far from the oven-ready deal Boris Johnson promised in the General Election, we’re told that while both sides see progress and concessions being made, No Deal looms larger than ever.
Fishing rights, as best I can tell, are what might yet sink a sensible agreement. If it weren’t for Covid-19, we’d know down to the last lobster.
From renewed trade wrangles with the US – with the two swapping verbal jabs and ordering each other’s consulates to close – to China’s controversial new security laws imposed on Hong Kong, it’s easy to imagine China would be front page news in the business papers in any normal year.
The oil slip
Okay, perhaps this wouldn’t be daily news. But I suspect when historians look back at this period, they may see the beginning of the end of oil.
First OPEC and the Russians knocked the price of oil down, and it stayed down thanks to Covid-19. For a brief (mostly symbolic) moment, certain oil price contracts went negative! So much for Peak Oil…
Alternative energies, especially solar, are making a transition to a low-carbon economy look like something to be wished for rather than feared. Electric carmaker Tesla has skyrocketed to a $285 billion valuation, ahead of its fossil-fuelled rivals. 2020 is about more than a virus.
Record low interest rates
Again, the trend to lower interest rates is longstanding – and again the most recent lurch into deep negativity across the globe was driven by the economic response to the global pandemic. Even so, if we weren’t preoccupied with the health crisis, I think we’d all be spending more time wondering what it means that individuals, governments, and companies can borrow money at near-zero interest rates – and that we can’t get much return on our savings unless we leave safer assets like cash and bonds to buy into risky and expensive-looking shares.
Warren Buffett has called interest rates the equivalent of gravity in the financial markets, after all, and we’re effectively now living in a weightless world. I believe this will have big consequences for what happens over the years ahead.
US presidential election
One man has personified the politics of the past few years. Yes, Donald Trump has been in the headlines since before he took up office – but in 2020 he’s had to share the limelight with the pandemic that might yet prove his undoing.
Trump looms large in my list. He led the US’s aggressive posture with China, he’s been at the centre of the Covid-19 storm, he argued for lower and then higher oil prices, and he castigated his own Central Bank about interest rate policy.
I found myself wanting to write ‘for good or ill’ with all those, incidentally, which is what makes the US Presidential Election – 100 days away as I write – so polarising, as well as critical beyond his domestic electorate. Trump’s opponent Joe Biden could be expected to build bridges with global allies where Trump has rocked them. Markets might also welcome a reduction in political risk. It’s hard to remember share prices didn’t always move on Tweets from the White House.
An immune response
When we consider how these stories might have preoccupied pundits and investors had the pandemic not put them in the shade, we see how the headlines used to explain – or worse, predict – market moves are probably less critical than many of us suppose.
Remembering the news will happen – and it will probably be bad – whatever is going on in the world can help vaccinate investors with a healthy scepticism.
The post 5 other things going on besides Covid-19 appeared first on The Motley Fool UK.
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