The world after Corona.
Vision. Sometime in 2022, the global economy will have overcome the corona collapse. How will important parameters for investors and asset owners have changed then? Nine questions, the answers to which will determine investment success and asset preservation.
Management consultants enjoy working with the technology of RE-gnose. In contrast to PRO-gnose, they do not look into the future. But from the future back to the present. At some point in mid 2022, the Lerbach-based Kompetenzkreis believes that the German economy will have reached the level of 2019 again. Then the economic wound will have healed - but scars will remain. How will the world have changed for investors?
"There are only a few events in the history of mankind where the era is divided into a before and an after. When it comes to important aspects such as national debt, monetary policy or European integration, we will probably differentiate in future between before corona and after corona," says Marc Vits, Bankhaus Metzler. To enable investors to take the new perspectives into account in their strategies today, the Lerbach-based competence group is practicing the art of RE forecasting.
// 01 The global economy will change significantly - which industries are the winners, which are the losers?
"When we think about this topic, we first have to consider the structural changes that this will trigger," analyses Robert Greil, Merck Finck: "The crisis has clearly shown the massive dependence on suppliers from other regions of the world. I therefore assume that some chemical and pharmaceutical products and key technologies will soon be located locally again. On balance, this would bring advantages to these industries. "The companies will have slightly higher costs. But they should also be able to push through higher prices. ...which should increase profit margins and revenues.
"The pharmaceutical industry was already a structural growth topic before Covid-19 due to the ageing of society and the increase in civilisation diseases - now it is getting an additional boost," adds Michael Winkler, St. Galler Kantonalbank. The pandemic is expected to lead to higher demand in drug research and massive investments in state healthcare systems. "In fact, it has become very clear where there is a lack of intensive care units, medical equipment or protective clothing," clarifies Ulrich Reitz, Focam Multi Family Office.
"In addition, the trend towards replacing human labour with automation and artificial intelligence should accelerate," adds Bernd Meyer, Berenberg: "These sectors are also winners, while the transport and logistics sectors are more likely to be among the losers if production is now brought closer to the end customer again.
As a result, the working world will change significantly. "According to estimates, 34 percent of all employees in the USA could work from home. In 2017, only five percent will use it. Now it has been shown how well the home office can function," Meyer says. Michael Winkler adds: "Although the home office will not become fully established, the development of certain technologies associated with it should definitely be promoted.
According to Ulrich Reitz, these include cloud services, video conferencing, telemedicine, but also online streaming of films and music. Kai Röhrl, Robeco, summarizes much of this under the term subscription models. "By this we mean digital business models with lean structures. Platforms that operate profitably at a low cost level and do not have high capital expenditure. And which often function like streaming services or communication service providers on a subscription basis."
The fact that their fixed costs are low is proving to be an immense advantage, especially now. "Booking platforms are therefore more likely to survive this crisis than hotel operators," says Bernd Schrüfer, Lucatis Family Office, and adds: "I think that at the moment it is not so much the industry selection that matters, but the business model. Those who operate a delivery service such as Delivery Hero have a clear advantage over the restaurant with its high running costs".
Reitz believes that another trend that could now strengthen is cashless payment. "Many have now realized that it's quite simple and hassle-free." And the issue of sustainability will now also receive a boost. "Although the corona pandemic has only a limited impact, I assume that it will raise people's awareness," Helmut Neumaier, Focus Asset Management, is convinced. Robert Greil has already noted an increased interest. "It seems that due to the pandemic it has become even more important for investors to know where and how their money is invested."
All experts agree that airlines will be among the big losers. "This industry is the complete counter-example to the subscription model," explains Kai Röhrl, "because these companies only have income if someone actually books a ticket. At the same time, however, the airlines are burdened with high fixed costs." But they are not alone with this problem. "Cruise operators, hotels or companies that depend on a warehouse, perhaps with the exception of food, will have a very difficult time in the near future. I would not invest there", advises Schrüfer.
The car industry belongs in a special category. Even before Covid-19, a structural change was evident there, which will now continue under more difficult demand conditions. "I suspect that many people will put car purchases on the back burner for the time being," says Michael Winkler.
Regardless of the industry, according to the Competence Group, the Corona crisis has brought one aspect to the fore, which can be used to better assess the future prospects of all companies - management quality. "This has always been one of the soft criteria in stock selection. But looking back, we will now be able to judge very well who did a good job - and who didn't," Michael Winkler is convinced.
The conclusion of the Competence Group: "Topics such as technology, digitalization, home work, cloud or platforms will now accelerate significantly. In future, it will be crucial for investors to invest in the right individual stocks and business models as well as industries and regions," Helmut Neumaier is convinced. In his opinion, investors should be guided by factors such as the lowest possible level of debt, recent sales performance and a stable profit margin.
"As a consequence, we will now see the comeback of active advisors and managers in the financial sector at the expense of ETFs," Marc Vits makes clear.
// 02 All countries will run up much more debt in the coming years. Can that go well?
"By 2022, we will actually be living in a world with significantly more debt overall. Not only on the government side, but also with companies and private households," says Marco Willner, NN Investment Partners. "In the long term, this will fundamentally flatten the economy's growth path," predicts Karsten Tripp, HSBC Germany. "And more debt will make the entire financial system more unstable in the future," adds Gottfried Urban, Urban & Kollegen.
The changes in national budgets will be particularly serious. In its current projections, the International Monetary Fund assumes that the debt ratio in relation to national product will increase by between ten and 20 percentage points, depending on the region. "The next few years will be marked by a discussion about burden-sharing - between states - especially in the eurozone - but also within states," says Stephan Jäggle, Münster Stegmaier Rombach Family Office.
The professionals believe that Germany can at least attempt to reduce its debt once the crisis is over. "It is not for nothing that the Bundestag has already had the constitutionality of a property levy examined," Gottfried Urban points out. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, however, the circle of experts is more sceptical. "Many countries were already unable to reduce their debts before Corona - why should this be possible now," asks Alexander Prochnow-Ast, Family Office - Volksbank Kraichgau. "Strict saving cannot be enforced in most national parliaments. The governments there will therefore take the easiest way and continue to cover up problems with money", Daniel Oyen, from Plettenberg, Conradt & Cie. family office, is also convinced. "Honestly", concludes Alexander Ruis, SK Family Office: "I have lost faith in a solid debt policy".
The issue of national debt could then become a fissure in the eurozone. The question of creditworthiness and its debt sustainability also arises.
"Of course, the ratings of many countries will deteriorate," Marco Willner is convinced. Is there then a threat of a debt crisis? "I am relatively relaxed about that with the major industrial nations," says Jörg Rahn, Wirtgen Invest. "As long as the central banks cement interest rates close to zero and buy the majority of government bonds, it doesn't matter how high the debts are." "In the USA, the central bank held more than ten percent of the national debt before the crisis, in the UK and the euro zone it was more than 20 percent, in Japan about 50 percent," informs Marc Vits and continues: "The fact that this share will continue to rise in the future has immense advantages for finance ministers. They will continue to have to pay little interest and often receive it back quickly via the central bank's profits.
"Problems will arise, however, where countries are heavily dependent on foreign investors. Some emerging markets, such as those in Latin America, could be at risk," warns Marco Willner.
The conclusion of the competence group: The risk of a sovereign debt crisis 2.0 is manageable. However, the fact that a financial perpetual motion machine has apparently been invented is a source of concern for the professionals. "Even more than before, all eyes will be on the central banks. The key role in analyses of the sustainability of national debt will fall to them," concludes Carsten Mumm, Donner & Reuschel.
// 03 How will the central banks act in the long term?
"The link between the state and the central bank is stronger than ever before. De facto, central banks now provide direct public finance - both in the USA and in Europe. All limitations, all rules are being circumvented and overridden. And it will not be possible to reverse this," Alexander Prochnow-Ast is convinced.
The consequences for investors are manifold. "First of all, the security purchase programs will not disappear so quickly. The central banks will remain the most important buyers on the interest rate markets for a very long time and will thus ensure that interest rates do not rise," explains Carsten Mumm. "The world is being completely Japaneseized. Both the FED and the ECB will, in perspective, even control the entire interest rate structure. In this way, they completely override the market mechanism," adds Karsten Tripp.
"In the medium and long term, this ongoing monetary dilution will then lead to an erosion of the purchasing power of paper currencies," Ulrich Voss, Tresono Family Office, is convinced. "This will be accompanied by a creeping and then more obvious loss of confidence in the monetary system in general," says Axel Angermann, FERI, and adds: "I already know - in Japan this has been working very well for a long time. But at some point, someone calls out: "The emperor is naked!"
"Global flood of liquidity, the financing of states by the central banks - if one country were to do this in isolation, the logical consequence would be a devaluation of the currency," Alexander Ruis considers, "but today all major states act largely the same way.
"So there are no longer any major currencies that investors can really trust," concludes Family Officer Joachim Meyer, "we are all in the same boat, and I hope that no one rocks too hard." "On the positive side, this is more like a kind of fragile balance of wobbling giants supporting each other," adds Carsten Mumm.
The professionals are well aware of the risks of current monetary policy. "This won't work forever. But because we don't even know roughly when the time is going to end, it doesn't make sense to gear the investment strategy to the resulting crash scenarios," concludes Marco Willner.
The Competence Group's conclusion: "Looking ahead, valuations of scarce assets in this environment are likely to receive significant tailwind in this environment," says Thomas Neukirch, HQ Trust, "Asset price inflation is continuing in the face of the ongoing glut of money. Investors should therefore focus even more on tangible assets in the long term. In particular, shares of companies that can pass on higher prices will benefit. Perhaps shares will even replace real estate as the most popular tangible asset," Gottfried Urban outlines.
"In the coming years, it will therefore be a matter of setting the right course to preserve assets in the long term," says Vits and explains: "On the one hand, there are debt securities, some of which may not be repaid at some point and for which I now receive little or no return. And on the other hand there are shares in companies that have proven in the past that they can get through serious crises and increase profits in the long term. If you compare that, you have to conclude that stocks will clearly outperform fixed income for years to come."
// 04. inflation or deflation - what should we expect in the coming years?
At present, the experts see no danger of inflation. The global economy is in a deep recession and growth will remain weak in the future. Many companies - burdened by high credit levels - have less scope for investment. "This is rather a deflationary environment," Prochnow-Ast states. "At present, therefore, a phase of falling prices, declining corporate earnings and falling share and property prices is the greater risk than inflation," Joachim Meyer makes clear.
This could change on the way towards 2022. "A few developments in the real economy clearly indicate that prices are likely to rise in the future," assumes Thomas Buckard, MPF AG, and enumerates: "Some of the gains from globalisation will be lost. More warehousing is being done. Production costs are rising. The reorientation of the health care system will cost money. And in certain areas consumers will also be prepared to pay more. This could even result in a kind of stagflation - weak growth with rising prices."
The money glut initiated by the central banks also plays a role in these considerations. "In the past this has not led to rising consumer prices. But the connection between the money supply and what can be bought for it in an economy does exist in the long run. The money is just becoming much more. But the equivalent value remains the same or is even reduced if capacities are lost in the crisis due to insolvencies. At some point, this will probably lead to inflation," warns Ruis.
Stephan Jäggle recalls the ketchup bottle effect. "The central banks are pursuing an extremely expansive monetary policy, literally hitting the bottom of the upside-down ketchup bottle ever harder - but no inflation comes and goes. Later, when the economy starts up again and there are still bottlenecks in the supply chains or global supply chains are nationalized, that could be the time. So far we have actually seen inflation only in assets. I'm afraid in the long run we'll see it in measured inflation as well."
The conclusion of the Competence Group: "The greatest challenge for investors is to recognise the transition from a deflationary to an inflationary environment and to switch from nominal to tangible assets in good time," analyses Joachim Meyer. Once the crisis has been overcome, the professionals expect higher rates of price increases. But they rule out galloping inflation. "We are more likely to end up in the range between two and four percent," assumes Alexander Prochnow-Ast.
What sounds so harmless has dramatic consequences for investors. "The further significant increase in debt is forcing central banks to keep interest rates low. Therefore, even with rising prices there is little room for manoeuvre. Real interest rates are landing deep in negative territory, and every investor in nominal values will clearly feel how the purchasing power of his assets is declining. The only way out is material assets," Kai Röhrl makes clear. "The price of gold should also continue to rise in this environment", adds Helmut Neumaier, "this would be positive for gold mining shares, which are currently also benefiting from the fact that an important cost factor - oil - is cheap".
Sociopolitically, however, conflicts then threaten: "The gap between the owners of tangible assets and the rest of the population will continue to widen. This is likely to fuel the discussion about tax increases or capital levies," warns Stephan Jäggle.
// 05. Quo vadis, Europe?
Those who think optimistically could see the Corona crisis as a catalyst for the European project. Haven't the heads of state now seen that Europe needs Europe? "Instead, the Corona crisis has once again separated the countries within the EU - borders have been closed, everyone has once again only thought of themselves. That was a setback," says Jörg Rahn.
"In the past, it has been shown time and again that unstable structures are additionally destabilised in crises. This is exactly what is happening in Europe now," analyses Karsten Tripp. It is particularly problematic that populists critical of Europe could now be given a boost in various countries. "If unemployment rates are in double figures, many people will listen to the simple solutions. That is critical," warns Daniel Oyen.
"It is often overlooked that European integration is not an end in itself. If we in Europe don't stand together, we have no chance and we will disappear in insignificance compared to the USA and China," Ulrich Voss reflects. The Competence Group sees Europe's core problem in the continuing lack of commitment. "Everyone wants Europe, but only on their own terms. And these are different," Carsten Mumm makes clear.
"The big question will be whether we will at some point develop a European sense of community that transcends nation-state borders and meets with minimum acceptance everywhere," adds Axel Angermann.
Although the group is not very optimistic on this point, some see a glimmer of hope. "Europe has always taken a step forward only under pressure. This time the pressure could come from the precarious financial situation," says Mumm and explains: "One long-term consequence of the crisis will be that the states want or have to invest more in their health care systems. In view of the high level of debt, governments could then come up with the idea that a common defense strategy would save money. Perhaps in the long run, the need to save money will lead to more Europe."
The conclusion of the competence group: "I am a convinced European. But I still think that politicians will not take any further steps to deepen the Union at the moment," says Karsten Tripp. The experts answer the question: "Quo vadis, Europe?" with the probable persistence of the status quo. "Only at some point will we have to decide whether Europe is worth anything to us. And then set the course towards political union. Or leave it", concludes Axel Angermann.
// 06. Is there a threat of another euro crisis?
The fact that the debt ratios in the euro area are now diverging further will be a test of strength for the common currency. "The stability criteria for the euro have thus been buried once and for all. Greece's national debt exceeds 200 percent. Italy towards 170 percent, Spain and France towards 120 percent. The 60 percent agreed in Maastricht will no longer play a role in the future. The issue is over," analyses Angermann.
"Nevertheless, there will not be a new euro crisis - the ECB will not allow it. It will continue to buy bonds and take measures to ensure that the countries get halfway back on their feet," Jörg Rahn is convinced.
"In view of this situation, I find it quite astonishing that the Federal Constitutional Court's ruling on the legality of the ECB's securities purchases was received with a casual shrug of the shoulders," reflects Christian Jasperneite, "it was a cry for help after all: we have a problem here. In fact, according to Jasperneite, the Constitutional Court had formulated quite clearly what is and what is not allowed in monetary public finance. "The current crisis program, which was not even the subject of the trial, would not be compatible with the criteria that were mentioned as just permissible. That's where the next procedures are programmed."
The fact that the German constitutional court's ruling is against the European Court of Justice's decision has historic significance. "If the highest court in Europe decides that it is okay to break the rules on which monetary union is based, then every state, which is the bearer of the European construction and guardian of the treaties, must be able to say clearly that something is going wrong. That is an exciting milestone for the euro. The verdict could ultimately lead to everyone sitting down together and finding a set-up that will create confidence for the next 20 years," hopes Jasperneite.
The Competence Group is calling for clear rules - on monetary policy and on the issue of communitarisation of national debt. "A debt-financed European reconstruction fund of several hundred billion euros is not that far removed from the much-discussed euro bonds," Axel Angermann points out, "because in the end all countries will be liable pro rata.
"At some point, the Northern states will say that we won't give money without reforms. If the euro is to be maintained, we probably need a solution for countries that do not want to submit to the stability rules permanently," says Daniel Oyen, adding: "A way would have to be found to allow Italy and Greece to temporarily leave the euro and thus the easy path of devaluation. "That won't happen," contradicts Karsten Tripp. "We hear from Italy that neither voters nor politicians want to take the risk of their pensions being paid in lira.
The conclusion of the Competence Group: "The situation will continue to deteriorate towards 2022," Angermann believes. "In any case, there is no guarantee that we will still have the euro in ten years," concludes Thomas Buckard.
// 07 How will the geopolitical playing field change?
"The previous hegemon, the USA, will be challenged by China - this is the big geopolitical issue of the next decade," explains Stephan Jäggle. This development, says the Competence Group, will now be accelerated even further. "Those who medically come through the crisis best also have the best chances of surviving it economically, and can then underpin a future claim to leadership more strongly," analyses Karsten Tripp and concludes: "This speaks clearly in favour of China, clearly against the USA and, by the way, also against Russia, which after an interim high is once again on the downhill slide - also because the country entered the oil price war strategically extremely unwise.
"In not too long time the trade war between the US and China will be back on the agenda. Donald Trump is trying to make China the scapegoat in the Corona crisis, and will perhaps use new punitive tariffs as a last straw when things get tight for him in the election campaign," Jörg Rahn reflects. But even after the US elections in November, the issue will still be present. "After all, Democrats and Republicans are currently outdoing each other in their criticism of China," adds Marc Vits.
Are we experiencing the beginning of the end of globalization - also because more and more countries now want to produce strategically important products at home? "This will only be a temporary interruption," assumes Georg Graf von Wallwitz, Eyb & Wallwitz. "If you want to reduce your entrepreneurial risk, you should actually broaden your network of suppliers even further. That is an argument for more globalization." "Possible backsourcing of value added will occur primarily in areas that can be automated. The primacy of economic efficiency will ultimately prevail," adds Neukirch.
The conclusion of the competence group: "Strategically, investors should position themselves more strongly in China and Asia," advises Stephan Jäggle, "even those who use the MSCI World Stock Index as a benchmark should act. This is because the USA is clearly overrepresented there - measured by its importance for the global economy. And China does not play anywhere near the role that corresponds to its economic power and its future role in the world."
// 08. Is the Corona crisis a driver of innovation?
"In the 1930s - in the middle of the Great Depression - Brazil achieved a record harvest for coffee," says Arne Sand, Sand and Schott. "Because the country did not find enough buyers for the beans, but also did not want to let them rot, the coffee producers turned to the food company Nestlé. Nestlé developed the Nescafé, which is still popular today.
In the past, times of crisis were often times of innovation. "Think also of the invention of artificial fertiliser during the First World War or the developments in the field of aviation technology," adds Georg von Wallwitz. Necessity, it seems, is the mother of invention.
Will this be the case again? "Real innovations are likely to be rather rare in the next few years," von Wallwitz suspects. He expects them most likely to be in the pharmaceutical sector, for example in the research of vaccines. "There, with a worldwide library of active ingredients, completely new paths are now being taken. For example, the genetic information of a virus can be used to develop vaccines in one year instead of three to four years. This saves time and money.
According to the Competence Group, it is more important for investors than individual inventions that existing innovations now experience an acceleration and can trigger a productivity boost. "In this context, Munich Re speaks of the pit-stop recession", Thomas Buckard informs us. "Just like the racing car in the pits, all processes in the company are now being optimised - more automation, artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing. Leaner structures, less travel, video conferencing. Ultimately, this will lead to higher profit margins."
"A typical example is the home office. This reduces expensive office space and lowers rental costs in the company," explains Thomas Neukirch. "The use of video conferencing tools will now also become more widespread. I can well imagine that once the crisis is over, these will replace some of the often time-consuming and costly face-to-face meetings," predicts Arne Sand and continues: "Today it is even possible to sign contracts digitally in a legally valid manner. Proof that someone was actually at the relevant computer when the contract was signed is provided by tracking the mobile phone."
In the education sector, more is possible than just home schooling, he said. "Even exams can be taken online. Eye-tracking is then used to see whether the test person directs his eyes elsewhere and possibly looks away," Bernd Meyer outlines. Telemedicine, the virtual visit to the doctor, will also receive a boost. "Until recently, this was not legally possible at all," explains Georg Graf von Wallwitz, "now, for example, in China, the family doctor only has to see his patient once. Afterwards, the patient can have a medication prescribed via web meeting".
The conclusion of the competence group: "It is very likely that we will see lasting structural changes with consolidations in some industries and with even more change towards online and platform economy," says Thomas Neukirch. However, the innovations will not be enough to sustainably increase the pace of growth in the global economy. After all, there are also opposing effects. "If entrepreneurs no longer consistently pay attention to their costs in favor of supply chain security, if business travelers hold back or if labor is rationalized away, this will dampen economic activity," says Mumm. "The world view of structurally low growth, which accompanied us even before the crisis, therefore remains fundamentally unchanged," von Wallwitz concludes.
// 09 Are there new strategies for asset protection in a world of maximum insecurity?
Much of what was valid in terms of long-term asset protection before Corona is still valid after Corona. "The focus of investments should be direct, simple and understandable. I call this 'financial purity requirement' - no financial innovations, no complicated products, no derivatives or certificates," Gottfried Urban explains. "Place your bets on shares in companies that produce really relevant products or services - food, housing, digitalization. Look for quality, good balance sheets, sustainable business models, low debt. Survivability must be guaranteed. We are talking about scarce goods. Everything that cannot be multiplied infinitely will retain its value," Ulrich Voss enumerates.
Because in all past crises, it was always those who were invested in the right currency who benefited, the experts are also thinking about this issue. "Personally, after leaving the EU, I increasingly have Great Britain on my screen," informs Alexander Ruis. "The kingdom is much larger than Switzerland, has a functioning legal system and is liberal. For me, the British pound therefore represents a new diversification opportunity."
Ulrich Voss favors the Norwegian currency. The fact that the krone has come under massive pressure in the face of falling oil prices is an opportunity. "Norway has only $163 billion in national debt, but $1,100 billion in sovereign wealth funds. If countries were one company, Norway would have a very good balance sheet - even if temporarily one of its most important products, oil, is experiencing a drop in demand."
"In the long run I wouldn't ignore the Chinese currency either," Daniel Oyen adds. "The moment the renminbi is freely convertible - which could be the case by 2022 - it becomes a real alternative. Until then, Chinese stocks are the right way to diversify towards China. And I also find Bitcoin exciting. Given the asymmetric return profile, an admixture of one to two percent in the portfolio is acceptable - the risk of loss is 100 percent, the opportunity several hundred percent. "And, of course, the ultimate currency, gold, remains an important ingredient. Even more so today than before the Corona crisis," Thomas Buckard points out.
In the past, many wealthy German citizens had also thought about a second citizenship or a second residence. However, with the experiences from the Corona crisis, this issue has been somewhat pushed into the background in the Lerbach competence circle. "This was after all a test for the politicians of the respective countries," explains Marc Vits and concludes: "When I compare the reactions and measures, I notice big differences. And Germany has definitely shown very good crisis management so far".
The conclusion of the Competence Group: The answers to the ten most important questions for the post-Corona period are a great plea for investing in corporate values. "Which assets have survived world wars and currency reforms," asks Stephan Jäggle and answers: "They have always been productive assets. No matter what happens - whoever is invested there will most likely be much wealthier than the rest of the world at the end of each crisis - and will then be in the best position for a fresh start". ®
Inspiration - interesting shares.
In their search for promising stocks, experts currently distinguish between three categories with different risk and return patterns. The first, comparatively defensive category includes shares of companies whose prices are more than 20 percent below their pre-crisis level and which are very likely to return to their 2019 turnover level in 2022 - they are an anchor of stability for a portfolio.
The second area includes structural winners who should benefit in the long term from the technological changes triggered by the crisis.
The third group includes potential comeback stocks. This is the segment with the highest risks, but perhaps also with the greatest opportunities. It includes stocks of companies that are currently going under operationally. In the context of a recovery of the global economy, however, experts also assume that this is where the greatest potential for catching up lies.
The tables below list those companies that were named most frequently in the Private Wealth survey by the 26 experts in the competence circle. The entire list can be viewed at www.private-wealth.de.
Authors: Gerd Hübner, Klaus Meitinger