Hedge Clippings | 25 January 2024
Among the various dates and events either celebrated or lamented around this time of the year there is one that may not make the headlines given tomorrow's anniversary of the landing of Captain Arthur Philip taking first place.
Today, the 25th of January, is the fourth anniversary of the first reported case of COVID-19 in Australia. Co-incidentally this week Scott Morrison also announced his retirement from federal politics. Whatever else one thought about him, his initial handling of the pandemic was swift and decisive (some will argue possibly divisive as well!). He won't go down in history as one of our more successful Prime Ministers, but Australia's record of 920 deaths per million of population position it at 108 in world rankings for COVID deaths, and 39th in cases per million which allows for debate from both sides of the "who liked Scomo" debating team.
Interestingly, when researching the above statistics, China was way down the bottom of the list at number 221 out of 229 countries, with just 4 deaths per million from COVID, which seems about as reliable and credible as their economic reporting.
China is facing multiple headwinds: Inflation is -0.3% YoY and PPI is -2.7% indicating low consumer demand. The property market is "soft" at best - some would call it a disaster, - and the collapse of the Zhongzhi Enterprise Group, a wealth manager which was regarded as one of China's largest shadow banks, owing RMB 220-260 billion (USD 36bn) and stating that it is "severely insolvent" won't help consumer confidence.
On the trade front, China's trade with the US fell 11.6% in 2023, while trade with Russia increased by 26%. Meanwhile, it has yet to be seen what effect the shipping problems in the Gulf of Aden, and the longer voyage around the Cape of Good Hope will have on China's trade with Europe.
Having driven global growth for the past two decades or more, and exported deflation over the same period, China's change of fortunes have yet to play out on the world's economies.
Turning to US politics, it seems a re-run of the 2020 Trump-Biden election battle is now almost a certainty, provided each reach Tuesday November 5th (Melbourne Cup) deadline unscathed - Trump from the various legal challenges he's facing, and Biden from his advancing age. As we noted last week, in a country with a population of over 330 million, it's amazing neither party can come up with an alternative.
One interesting view we heard this week is that each candidate provides the best reason to vote for the other: Trump has a strong following among his supporters, but is polarising to say the least. Not only will his presence entice many democrats to actually vote, but there's a risk that some disaffected republicans will also turn out to vote - but against him.
That could also cut both ways - there has to be genuine concern about Biden's age and abilities given the prospect of an 86 year old being in the White House at the end of his second term.
Meanwhile, enjoy Australia's national holiday - whatever you want to call it, and however you want to spend it.
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