Could COVID-19 Finally Kill the EU?
The fallout from COVID-19 might result in the disintegration of the European Union while the flight to safe havens like the USD is yet another headache for the financial markets to stomach, according to Tony Nash, CEO of Complete Intelligence.
Produced by: Michael Gong
Presented by: Roshan Kanesan, Noelle Lim, Khoo Hsu Chuang
BFM: So for more on global markets right now, we speak to Tony Nash, CEO of Complete Intelligence. Welcome to the show, Tony. Now U.S. markets closed down sharply again last night, erasing all gains from the time President Trump was elected. So what’s your outlook for markets? Is it still too early to buy?
TN: Gosh I don’t know. Actually, we don’t really know if it’s a really good time to buy. At this point, it’s really hard to catch that kind of falling knife. But what we don’t see is a V-shaped recovery. We think we’re in the zone where the fall may start slowing down. But we believe the equity markets will trade in a pretty low range for the next couple of months. And that’s because we’re not really sure of the economic impact of the slowdown in the West.
This COVID-19 is a government-driven recession that countries have lawfully gone into. So a lot of the recovery has been how quickly the fiscal stimulus is put into the hands of consumers and companies, and how quickly those individuals will get back to work.
BFM: Well, oil continues to fall last night to record lows with the Brent at $26 per barrel. What’s your view on oil? I know you are seeing the stock market. We do not know where the bottom is. But for oil, are we hitting the bottom yet?
TN: We may not be, but we’re pretty close. Our view is that crude will bounce once the Saudi-Russia price standoff is resolved. So we actually see crude moving back into the 40s in April.
But after that, we expect a gradual fall back into the low 40s to the high 30s in May. So, you know, we’ll see the next several months’ prices will be depressed. And we think it’s going to be quite a while before we see oil at 50 bucks again.
BFM: Yeah, Tony, you would have seen the stock futures point in green, obviously quite buoyed by the ECB’s whatever-it-takes policy. In Asia this week, four central banks are meeting. I’d like to go off a piece of possible talk about Australia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia. Our central banks are expected to meet this week. What do you expect them to do in terms of responding to the market turmoil?
TN: So it can’t just be central banks. I think central banks will do whatever it takes. But you really have to get finance ministries involved because, again, this is a government-induced recession.
Governments have demanded that people stay at home due to COVID-19. They’ve demanded that places of business close. And so until finance ministries and treasury departments get involved to get money in the hands of consumers and companies, we’re in a pretty rough place and there’s a lot of uncertainty.
So I think the central bank activity is fine. But I think getting a fiscal stimulus out there right now and not waiting is what they need to do. The US is talking about doing something in mid-April, that is just not good enough.
We have to get fiscal stimulus out right now because the governments have brought this on. The markets did not bring this on. The governments brought this recession on.
BFM: Yeah, Tony, obviously the helicopter money is going beyond the conceptual stage right now. But from a fiscal standpoint, how many central banks in Asia can afford, you know, the financial headroom to pay these helicopter money solutions?
TN: Well, whether they can afford it and whether they need to afford it are two different questions. And so I think we have real issues with a very expensive U.S. dollar right now.
Dollar strength continues to pound emerging market currencies. And emerging markets and middle-income markets may have to print money in order to get funds in the hands of consumers and companies.
So I think you have a dollar where appreciation continues to force the dollar strength. And you also have middle income and emerging market countries who may have to turn on printing presses to get money into the hands of consumers. So I think for middle income and emerging markets, it’s a really tough situation right now. The dollar, I think, is both a blessing and a curse for the U.S. But the U.S. Treasury and the Fed have to work very hard to produce the strength of the dollar.
There is a global shortage of dollars, partly because it’s a safety currency, partly because of the debt that’s been accumulated in U.S. dollars outside of the U.S.. And if those two things could be alleviated, it would weaken the dollar a bit. But the Treasury and the Fed are going to have to take some drastic measures to weaken the dollar.
BFM: Well, how much higher do you think the green buck can go?
TN: It can be pretty high. I mean, look, it depends on how panicked people get. And it depends on how drastic, I’d say, money supply creation is in other markets.
I think there are real questions in my mind about an environment like this and around the viability of the euro. The EU is in a very difficult place. I’m not convinced that they can control the outbreak. I think they have a very difficult demographic position. And I don’t think Europe within the EU, have the fiscal ability to stimulate like it is needed. The ECB cannot with monetary policy, wave a magic wand and stimulate Europe.
There has to be fiscal policy, and the individual finance ministries in every single EU country cannot coordinate to the point needed to get money into the hands of companies and individuals. So I think Europe and Japan, actually, have the most difficult times, but Europe has, the toughest hole to get out of economically.
BFM: It really sounds like Europe has its work cut out for it at this point. What do you think? What could we see coming out of Europe in terms of any fiscal policy? Or will this pressure the EU, put more pressure on the EU?
TN: ECB doesn’t really have the mandate for fiscal policy, so they would have to be granted special powers to develop fiscal policy solutions. It has to be national finance ministries in Europe that develops that.
So the ECB can backup as many dump trucks as it wants, but it just doesn’t have the power for fiscal policy. So, again, our view is that there is a possibility that the Euro and the EU actually break up in the wake of COVID-19.
This is not getting enough attention. But the institutional weakness in Europe and the weakness of the banking sector in Europe is a massive problem and nobody is really paying attention to it.
BFM: Do you think this has been a long time coming?
TN: Oh, yeah. I mean, look, we’re paying for the sins of the last 20 years right now. And for Asia, you know, Asian countries and Asian consumers and companies have taken on a huge amount of debt over the past 20 years to fund the quote unquote, “Asian Century.” And I think a lot of Asian governments and countries will be paying the price over the next six months. The same is true in Europe. But the institutions there are very, very weak.
The U.S., of course, has similar problems, not because the U.S. dollar is so dominant, the U.S. can paper over some of those sins, although those problems are coming from the U.S. as well.
So, again, what we need to think about is this: The people who are the most affected by COVID-19 are older people. Those people are no longer in the workforce generally, and they’re no longer large consumers, generally.
OK. So all of the workforce is being sidelined or has been sidelined in Asia, is being sidelined in the West now, and consumption is being delayed for a portion of the population that is no longer consuming and is no longer working.
And so getting the fiscal stimulus out is important because those people who are contributing to the economy can’t do anything, right?
So and this isn’t to say we’re not caring about the older populations. Of course, we all are. But it’s a little bit awkward that the beneficiaries of this economic displacement are largely people who are not contributing to economies anymore.
BFM: All right. Tony, thank you so much for joining us on the line this morning. That was Tony Nash, CEO of Complete Intelligence.