Complete Intelligence


Countries differ on ending coronavirus lockdown

Countries and governments around the world are starting to feel the strain of coronavirus lockdown, with some showing signs of easing up restrictions. But the World Health Organisation is urging serious care, saying it cannot be done in a hurry.


Also in the programme, the EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager has advised governments to prevent companies being taken over by Chinese firms.


Amazon’s share price surged after the company announced it would take on another 75,000 workers amidst increased demand, after already hiring some 100,000. Professor Scott Galloway at the New York University Stern School of Business discusses how we should interpret the move.


The world’s oil producers under OPEC and allies have agreed a record oil deal that will slash global output by about 10%. Paul Hickin, Associate Director at Platts, explains what this means for the future of oil prices.


Plus, with the internet full of memes and videos to help us get through uncertain times, the BBC’s Vivienne Nunis speaks to some of those creating internet content to make us smile during the long lockdown days. All through the show we’ll be joined by Rachel Cartland, author in Hong Kong and Tony Nash, chief economist at Complete Intelligence in Houston, Texas.


Listen to this podcast at BBC Business Matters.



Podcast Notes


BBC: What kind of restrictions are you subject to in Houston?


TN: Really it’s just mass gatherings, and there is a state home order. There are a lot of people outside. There are exceptions to essential businesses. And so a number of people going to work. Not many people to be honest.  I’ve never seen a lot of my neighbors outside, where they were out all the time.


BBC: That’s a positive of it, isn’t it? WHere you are, the restrictions aren’t as tight as they are in California and New York


TN: Texas has a pretty low death rate. So haven’t really put… there are restrictions. Dallas is on lockdown. Houston is on lockdown but not as stringent as Dallas. San Antonio and Austins are on lockdowns. But some people do get out of work. Some people, not a lot.


BBC: Is there a talk in Texas when it will be lifted given that the state is not as badly affected as other parts of America?


TN: The governor said that this week, he would announce when he would put an order together to get people back to work. I think you’re starting to see a real movement in the US. People are tired of being at home, they’re tired of being worried about their income, claiming unempoyment, seeing their friends being laid off or their friends claiming unemployment. It’s a scary time for people and regardless of the fiscal stimulus that’s coming out from DC, people just want to work.


BBC: Are people are scared that if they won’t catch the virus, their loved one will?


TN: They are. People are nervous about it. Some people are wearing masks. But I think what we’ve seen generally is it’s largely older people or people with tertiary, secondary conditions. It’s a worry. But people are adults and they can take precautions.


I think part of what may come about is a reverse action where people who are at risk may be advised to stay in and take precautions, while people who want to go to work are adivsed to go to work and take precatutions. What’s the difference in Texas is that we don’t have mass transit like New York does or San Francisco or some of the other places that are affected. Although some of those don’t like Seattle doesn’t have that mass transit. We don’t have those things here because we’re not densely populated. There is not much intermingling as you would get in London, Hong Kong, Singapore, or Beijing.


BBC: Do you see any evidence of this kind of thing is already happening or is this a fair of China kind of xenophobia in a way?


TN: I think there’s truth on both sides. It’s taking awhile to figure it out.


BBC: Should governments be buying stakes in companies whether that be in Europe, US, or whatever to make them American, or French, British or whatever?


TN: It depends on the company. If you look back in the Piraeus supporting Greece or the hydroelectric company in Portugal, Europoean governments were happy to sell those that 10 years ago. Was that the right thing to do? I’m not sure. But they’re quite happy to sell at that time. But now that the nationalistic environment has changed, I think European countries are being a bit more protectionists. So should Chinese capital be allowed to come in to buy European companies, it depends on how strategic those companies are to Europe’s economy and to Europe’s stake. If they are deemed strategically important, then they should be protected. If not they are not, then they shouldn’t be allowed to come in and buy.


BBC: Do you think this is the moment where 3D printing will enter the public conciousness and end up with people buying their own printers?


TN: It’s possible. I think it’s probably so early. But I think what’s interesting about this is the distributed nature of this. You can do small production run, it’s distributed, so you can make exactly what you want. The concern I have is affordability. The people with 3D printers, so if they have the funds, do it.


BBC: How is the state being affected by this plunge in oil?


TN: That’s pretty terrible. Houston is one fo the global centers for energy and a lot of the leading gas firms here are laying people off. It’s pretty terrible the way it’s affecting Texas.


BBC: You still work in the office. I’m broadcasting from my bedroom. Do you think we could see a change in a way people do work? Companies might decide they don’t need much office space because people can work from home?


TN: No. I think it’s nice to talk about this. I don’t think people are going to do less leisure travel. I don’t think companies are gonna have their staff travel less or people are gonna go to the office less.


We’re human beings. Once this is passed, it’s going to take some time for people to normalize. Things are going to go back because we like what we have. We like to take a holiday somewhere, we like to see the grandparents in another state. Things aren’t gonna change that much.


This economic downturn, it’s a government-mandated downturn. It’s not a market failure by anybody else. It’s government-mandated, so once the government mandates that we can go back to work and resume our life, we go back to it and we do what we do for the most part.


Our baseline expectation is that we’ll see deflation over the next year, and it’s already starting in China if you look at real estate prices and car prices because people don’t have as much money as they have a few months ago.


It’s a global phenomenon. We will see deflation in 2020. That is a fact. It’s a problematic fact. And it’s gonna force airline tickets, hotels, and other folks to lower their prices. Deflation isn’t just lowering prices, but it will force that, because people will have less money for a period of time.


BBC: What do you make about this concern about the role of Amazon? Amazon is not really having a good time. It’s stuck, closing almost at record level.


TN: I think, you know Amazon bought a company Pill Pack a few years ago. They already have health data on a lot of people. If there was a concern, why people didn’t raise it when we were in a different economic position?  I think many people are just happy earning on Amazon stock and subscribing to Prime at that time.


It’s concerning, but I don’t understand how this is different because it’s all health data on Americans. We all know that Amazon, Google, all these guys are going to monetize the data that they have on us. I’m not saying I love it and that I am perfectly at peace with it. It’s just strange that people wouldn’t be upset with their of Pill Pack a few years ago. But now they’re upset that Amazon is going to build organically facilities. And then there’s Bill Gates saying that he’s doing testing or planning to do the same stuff. Why are we comfortable with these corporate titans doing this stuff in one form when it’s as a foundation and not when it’s another form. I think it’s a little bit protective.