The COVID Effect: Exploring Foreign Investments

Style Observer

The COVID Effect: Exploring Foreign Investments

Sunday, August 02, 2020

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Can you visualise what financial position the country will be in, in another few years? Unless you're in possession of a powerful crystal ball, you really can't even begin to hazard a guess. One thing that is not in doubt, however, is that vulnerable small-island states like ours, must now be trying to bolster the resilience of our economic sectors, after the battering brought to bear by the onset of this current global health crisis. Savvy global investors will therefore be looking for foreign opportunities to “pandemic-proof”, so to speak, their investments in the future. So it would seem to make good financial sense that they would seek out those countries whose COVID-19 responses were the most successful in which to diversify their international equity portfolios.

It's still early days, but already data has emerged that these countries that have been on top of their COVID game have been experiencing better stock market returns than those that haven't been faring as well.

And what countries are we talking about here? The Global COVID-19 Index has shown that the best coronavirus responses have come from Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Denmark. All of which have one thing in common: They are helmed by women. Critics might try to diminish these results by saying these countries are outliers, and for the most part, relatively small. That might be so, although Germany provides a compelling argument against this, as it is around the size of the United Kingdom, which has performed dismally in this respect. Still, these women have provided true leadership in this unprecedented time, thus successfully captaining, and steadying, their respective ships.

At the beginning of the pandemic Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel scored huge points when, without obfuscation, she calmly urged Germans to take the pandemic seriously because up to 70 per cent of the people would be infected. The country also scored high marks for its broad testing and high hospital capacity, in addition to its enviable health system where, in addition to its universities, there is much research taking place.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was early to the lockdown party, lovingly explaining her actions to her countrymen, which paid huge dividends. This, in addition to New Zealand, before the crisis, already having a highly developed free market economy and having the distinction of being the world's fifth richest country.

Meanwhile, Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir won plaudits because of what we saw as her country's commitment by the use of technology to test all citizens (something countries like the US and the UK could not do), even while Finland innovatively commissioned social media influencers to help transparently disseminate the message to all their channels.

And who would not give kudos to Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway who used television to speak directly to her nation's frightened children, adding to what Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen had done prior, which was to hold a no-adults-allowed press conference in which she empathised with them even as she sought to allay their fears? Little wonder, then, that Denmark is proving to have one of the best performing stock markets now.

This pandemic has been a wake-up call on so many levels. Considering that the global economy over the past four months has contracted more sharply than it did after the 2008 financial meltdown, which, in our lifetime, was the worst possible event we'd more or less collectively ever experienced. Sometimes, there's a tendency to play safely, staying too near to the edge of the water's edge, and for being too inward-gazing. What will be the next global event, and will our economy be able to sustain it, then?

For individuals, corporations and countries looking to invest internationally, what better time is there than now? These countries, if they weren't on the radar before, can now be seen as “investable” and present so many possibilities in the near term. Why?Because investors are extremely interested in good governance, which, now more than ever includes the perception ofdecisive leadership, with leaders' honesty and transparency never in doubt, in addition tosolid public health policies,reliance on technology, and positive regulatory climate.

Shockingly, to some, powerhouse countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, India, and France, all with huge land masses and all, notably, run by men who were questionable in their responses to the crisis, have been ranked the worst in the world, with some of their stock markets suffering serious losses, death and rabid unemployment are now the sad hallmarks of their ravaged economies.

Something this pandemic has unearthed in no uncertain terms is Jamaica's over-reliance on the US and, to some extent, the UK. These countries will no doubt have their own reckoning with their dependence on China for vital drugs and medical equipment. But a small country like Jamaica, whose economy is susceptible to any kind of volatility happening in the world around us, doesn't have a choice but to start looking for new locations in which to invest. Imagine a country-specific exchange traded fund in these countries, even a laddered investment portfolio in, say, these countries' advanced health sectors.

The possibilities are truly exciting.

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