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U.S. election, COVID-19 and Davos ‘light up’ conversation on the Global Markets Forum in 2020

Divya Chowdhury
Divya Chowdhury
Editor, Global Markets Forum

In this blog, Divya Chowdhury, Editor of the Global Markets Forum at Reuters News agency, provides an overview of the trending forum topics from 2020, where Refinitiv and Reuters brought together the most influential minds from finance and politics in topical debate.

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Right from the start it was clear that 2020 would be an exciting and eventful year, with the Olympics and U.S. Presidential election among the major events. Two months in, and it started to seem like this in fact might be one of the most memorable years in living memory for a variety of reasons. The coronavirus pandemic struck, and with ensuing worldwide lockdowns, life literally came to a screeching halt. “Work from home” became the norm for many of us.

In the backdrop of such a complex environment of falling markets, coupled with rising COVID-19 cases, the Global Markets Forum, the flagship chat room hosted hosted by Reuters journalists on Refinitiv Messenger, saw conversation moving from the pandemic itself to its after-effects.

First special on the Global Markets Forum

Our first special ran in the first week of August and featured former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan; Allianz chief economic advisor Mohamed El-Erian; Guggenheim global CIO Scott Minerd; betting experts Matthew Shaddick of Ladbrokes Coral Group, Will Jennings of PredictIt; U.S. election experts Lonna Atkeson from the University of New Mexico and Nathan Gonzales of Inside Elections; political strategists Kenneth Baer of Crosscut Strategies and Ron Bonjean of ROKK Solutions; and Reuters journalists Jeff Mason and Chris Kahn.

Lack of clarity made making big market calls difficult, but our guests were spot on (as usual!). Mohamed El-Erian said he didn’t expect U.S. equities to revisit March lows. “I suspect the next big correction will likely be one triggered by corporate defaults and other capital impairment events that central banks cannot shield against,” El-Erian said on the GMF on Aug. 4. Lo and behold, markets have rallied hitting new highs looking firmly into the future.

How would markets react post the U.S. election? Scott Minerd got it right once again. Without mincing his words his outlook was clear. Equity markets will rally irrespective of who took charge of the White house, Minerd said on Aug. 7. And equity markets sailed through the election period despite a difficult political backdrop.

Our political guests also correctly predicted that the result of the election may get delayed beyond Nov. 3 as the surge in COVID-19 cases would keep voters away from polling booths, instead exercising the option of mailing-in their ballots. That could lead to an increased number of lawsuits against the result, as states struggled to handle a surge of mail-in votes due to lost, late, or disqualified ballots, they told the GMF.

Ron Bonjean, who is a Republican strategist, told us on Aug. 6: “I could see Trump not conceding.”

Second series on the Global Markets Forum

Our second series ran in the week of Sep. 28-to-Oct. 01, during which our guests included fund managers Mark Konyn of AIA and Sam Bentley of Eastspring Investments (Prudential’s asset management unit); betting market expert Sarbjit Bakhshi of Smarkets; election experts Elaine Kamarck of Brookings Institution, Edward Foley from Ohio State, Jessica Taylor of the Cook Political Report and Aimee Allison of She the People.

Mark Konyn told the Forum, “the market leadership shown by tech is likely to sustain.” The Nasdaq has risen more than 5% from Sept. 29, when Konyn joined us on the Forum.

Among the most noteworthy predictions we got from our guests during the week was that a significantly higher number of mail-in-ballots and early voting along with increased participation by minority voters could result in a historically high turnout in the 2020 U.S. election.

Elaine Kamarck said on Sep. 30 that a higher turnout this year “will be more a function of Trump’s polarizing presence.”

Third series on the Global Markets Forum

Our third series began the week before Election Day, continuing into the post-election-week. We have focused on gathering insights around the repercussions of President Donald Trump not conceding, whether or not a smooth transition will happen, impending Court battles, President-elect Joe Biden’s plans after he takes oath, what a split government would mean for policy, impact on financial markets and Fed policy going forward.

Some of our guests during Election Week included political strategists Dennis Darnoi, Amanda Litman, Steve Schale, Alex Vogel, Bryan Lanza; election experts Lawrence Douglas of Amherst and Karen Kendrowski of Iowa State; and Astrologer Greenstone Lobo.

Lawrence Douglas told us the presidential transition “could get ugly, for sure”, also saying that “In the best case, I imagine the official transition to be sloppy & chaotic,” on Nov. 3.

Focusing on the ideology split in the U.S., Dennis Darnoi said Trump had tapped into the economic concerns of many blue-collar voters. “They do want to see a U.S. president standing up to China … on the world stage advocating for American workers and American industries,” Dennis said, also on Nov. 3.

Amanda Litman joined us on Nov. 4 to discuss the future of the polling industry and said: “We’re going to need to do a massive reckoning” of their objectivity and level of influence. “While the goal may be noble, the impact is dangerous.”

U.S. election predictions

In between all these focused week-long conversations, we also peppered our coverage with views from various fund managers, economists and market experts to discuss their U.S. election predictions and the impact of coronavirus on the global economy and markets, including Binay Chandgothia of Principal Global Investors, Jim O’Neill, Mark Mobius, Erin Browne and Nicola Mai of PIMCO, Alejo Czerwonko of UBS Global Wealth Management, Frank Benzimra of SocGen, Aidan Yao of AXA Investment Managers and Robert Carnell of ING Asia, among many others.

Binay Chandgothia discussed the strengthening of the Hong Kong dollar after the HKMA’s FX intervention was highest since 2009 crisis. He said they expected “the bring-home campaign” for U.S. listings of Chinese firms and south-bound stock connect to get tech exposure would cause money to flow into Hong Kong from Asian investors. “Good luck to those that forecast doomsday for HKD,” Binay said on Oct. 14.

Erin Browne discussed the British pound, saying that she found it an “attractive” proposition. That interview followed a 3% gain in the sterling over the next five weeks. Erin also forecast U.S. stocks would outperform Japanese equities.

We also hosted physicians and virologists Dr. Amesh Adalja of Johns Hopkins, Dr. Angela Rasmussen of Columbia University, Dr. Dale Fisher from WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network and Dr. Jonathan Quick of the Rockefeller Foundation to talk about the spread of the virus and measures to protect against COVID-19, as well as with vaccinologists Dr. Nikolai Petrovsky and Dr. Melvin Sanicas to gauge the progress of various clinical studies and process of bringing vaccines to the market to inoculate the global population.

Nikolai Petrovsky, while apprising Forum members on the progress of his company’s coronavirus vaccine in July, told us two years was a realistic, but incredibly ambitious time frame to get a vaccine to market.

“We may have vaccines that look effective after one year, but to then manufacture billions of doses and get them to people, I think everybody expects two years,” he told the Forum on Jul. 29.

One of our most popular guests of 2020

One of our most popular ex-markets guests of 2020 was defense expert Henry Boyd from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who came on to talk about the border clashes between India and China that began in May and are still ongoing. Boyd told us on Jun. 25 that India would retain a reasonable defensive advantage, given terrain and force dispositions, in the event of a significant conventional conflict on the border.

GMF also hosted Columbia’s former Finance and Energy minister Mauricio Cardenas in a freewheeling chat on Jun. 23, during which he said that foreign investment in Latin American countries risked “drying out” due to economic turmoil and fiscal instability sparked by the novel coronavirus pandemic and low commodity prices.

Take a look at the GMF LookBook for some of our biggest guest chats here.

And, though the pre-COVID world seems like an age ago, back at the beginning of 2020, the GMF team interviewed 30 guests in text and video formats at Davos. Our guests included policy makers, fund managers, academics and company heads from various sectors like technology, oil, commodities, real estate and banks. Catch all our Davos interviews here.

Not a member of the Global Markets Forum? Get a head start on market moving developments and network with top minds from finance and politics in real time.

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