I have had some not so subtle reminders that I haven’t penned any updates over the last little while. To be fair we had a bit going on. Queensland had to win an Origin series (how sweet was that?), Palaszczcuk had to win an election, the US had to elect someone older but probably slightly saner than Trump and China had to pick a fight with just about everyone!
At RFS we have welcomed Katherine Gibbs to the team and we’ve also had our second retirement. Rita Tardito has let us know she will be retiring at the end of the year – not realising that the ‘Making Work Optional’ tag we use was not meant to apply to staff! She will definitely be missed but we do wish her all the best. We are adding Donna Hearnshaw to the team in the New Year to fill this role.
2020 has been an interesting and challenging year. While we can talk about bush fires, Covid19, Australian state and United States elections, the real story is the impact of a rapidly changing world on the various generations and how that will play out in the coming years.
The Kunin quote, that “we see the world through the lens of all our experiences”, is very apt for the year we have just had and a lot of the team in here, at different times through the year, voiced their concerns for their future.
Arguably, the Covid19 year has been similar to living through a global conflict and for many under 45, it was definitely a new experience.
If you were born in the 30’s your ideas were formed by the Second World War and certainly we see the frugal habits from that generation still being practiced in their retirement.
Those born through the 40’s and 50’s saw the after effects of rebuilding, the onset of the cold war and coming to grips with a world of atomic and nuclear devastation. It is hard to believe that it is 75 years since that first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, August 6, 1945.
- On 25th June 1950, we saw the start of the Korean War when North Korean Troops pushed into South Korea and that conflict continued until 27 July 1953.
- Historically that looks like a relatively brief but savage conflict when you then compare it to the Vietnam war that started in Nov 1955 but then dragged on to 30 April 1975. The US joined it in 1961.
- We than had the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile crisis in 1961, Falklands 1982, the Gulf War 1990-1991, Afghanistan (2001 – 2014), Iraq again in 2003, and Isil in 2012 all the way to 2019.
While we have a long list of conflicts since Vietnam, I think these could be considered ‘remote’ actions that had little influence on our day to day lives unless of course you are close to, or in the military.
Covid19 was not the 1918 Spanish Flu but it was a global challenge and certainly in the early stages created a lot of fear and uncertainty.
In Australia, we really have been shielded from the health impacts that have been seen on other continents. Closed international borders and one of the world’s best health systems meant for the vast majority of Australians, Covid19 was an inconvenience more than life altering. There were certainly fatalities, especially in Victoria, but in Queensland many people still don’t know anyone who had Covid19.
Arguably the impact has been more on our perception of mortality and the understanding that the world can be a very hostile place.
This will very likely shape and change whole generations plans and we will continue to see its impacts for many years.
In July of this year I sat through a zoom briefing with one of my favourite business authors, Jim Collins. He has written books like ‘Built to Last’, ‘Good to Great’, and ‘How the Mighty Fall’. (Okay, you won’t find these in your normal bookshop but they are a surprisingly easy read for what amounts to a textbook).
Jim’s presentation was built around ten questions every business should consider and I think some of the questions can be applied to our lives generally.
The ‘Stockdale paradox’.
Admiral James Stockdale was a prisoner of war in the notorious Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War. He was the highest ranking officer imprisoned there and was incarcerated for eight years.
Jim has interviewed Admiral Stockdale (Jim Collins on Admiral Stockdale ) and one of the challenges he talks about is to ‘Face the brutal Facts’. Stockdale did not know when his hell would be over and argues that being ‘optimistic’ vs ‘pragmatic’ can lead to despair.
The optimist can have unrealistic expectations and then be disappointed when those expectations are not met. The pragmatist knuckles down and focuses on what is in their control, it is more about resilience and determination.
Quite understandably people are talking positively about 2021 and yes we can already see things improving.
From an Australian viewpoint:
- Domestic borders are down (hopefully SA reopens soon), and our most populous states are now on the move.
- 450,000 fewer businesses and almost 2 million fewer employees were on Job Keeper in October than in September.
- We have 56 active cases in the whole of Australia and 90%+ of those are in hotel quarantine as returning travellers. Weirdly enough Qld and WA have more active cases than NSW and Victoria. https://www.covid19data.com.au
- Australians are travelling domestically again and tourist destinations are seeing high demand.
- Our economy is well out of recession. The September recovery was very healthy after the June figures and arguably better than most expected given the issues in Victoria.
- Dire predictions about unemployment have not materialised and is some cases, specifically rural areas, there are shortages.
- The property slump was short and sharp but is now recovering and advancing quickly. https://propertyupdate.com.au/australian-property-market Year to date numbers (29 Nov 2020) for the capitals: Sydney +3.9%, Melbourne -0.6%, Brisbane/Gold Coast +4.1%, Adelaide +4.7%, Perth 0.8%. Real estate brokers we are talking to, talk about properties selling well above reserves and the rental market being very tight.
- The Australian ASX 200 to 2nd Dec 2020 over the twelve months was slightly down (1.5%) despite the 35% drop in February
- The US S&P500 is up 18% for the year to Dec 2nd 2020, UK FTSE was down 9.7%, German Dax was up 1.3%, S&P Europe 350 was down 2.8%.
- The massive amount of government stimulus has actually seen household net income rise through the year.
- We are also seeing very positive news on the vaccine front.
All good reasons to be looking forward to 2021!
There are some headwinds though.
- Trade uncertainty with China, our biggest trading partner.
- This pandemic is far from over and international borders are likely to remain firmly shut for some period to come. Daily death rates continue to climb, though thankfully at a lower rate relative to number of cases.
- Even with several vaccines, it will take time to work through society and care and health workers as well as the elderly need to be at the front of the queue.
- Fiscal debt around the world looks alarming with over $69 trillion of public debt accumulated. The World in debt . This may not seem to have an immediate impact but reduces what countries can do into the future and leaves us very exposed if we were to be confronted with another unexpected issue.
- Potential conflict in the South China Sea.
- Disruption of supply chains.
The brutal facts for me?
- 2021 will still be very unsettled and we will still continue to find everything a little bit harder than it used to be.
- A vaccine sounds great but how many dissenters will refuse to take it and therefore keep our borders closed.
- The fiscal stimulus will stop and we will then see companies that already had issues before Covid19, face insolvency.
- The Chinese trade conflicts are unlikely to be resolved in the near term so our exporters will need to find alternative markets – Penfold’s may get cheaper.
- Many Australians who took up mortgage deferral and loan repayment holidays will have to tighten their belts as these resume.
- The economy that is currently awash with cash will find that extra cash has dried up and now retail spending will decline.
I may of course be wrong on a number of these fronts but they are not unlikely and planning for 2021 may need to take this into account.
The other important point to make is that, other than my own decision on a vaccine, I have little to no control over most of these things.
The New Normal
Another point Jim made in his Zoom meeting was that there really is no such thing as a ‘new normal’. The world is constantly changing and thinking things will settle into a new normal is not realistic. We are dealing with a new reality but this reality will be constantly changing through 2021 and beyond.
So at RFS we will continue to focus on the things we can control:
- We can control our service delivery and our responsiveness;
- We can work with all our clients on their plans and helping them achieve them;
- We can control our own operations and business practices; and
- We can choose every day to enjoy what we do and celebrate our successes.
A simple plan but that will be our 2021.
For those we don’t see before the year draws to a close, look after you and yours and all the seasons best. Stay safe and we look forward to seeing you in the ‘next’ normal.