Jan 18, 2021 | Media Coverage

Global Trade in 2008 vs 2021: Global Impact, Different Challenges

In a Q and A with Nawaz Ali, Head of Insights at Western Union Business Solutions, draws comparisons between the financial crisis of 2008 and the coronavirus pandemic and provides some insight into how businesses can better plan for the year ahead.

This article originally appeared in Finance Derivative

2020 has been a tumultuous year for global trade with many drawing comparisons to the financial crash of 2008, how do you think the two crises compare?

Though both crises were global in nature and had far reaching impacts worldwide, it is important to note that the dynamics of today’s global trade have shifted in the past 12 years. Today, faster digital transformation can help enable the global services trade to counterbalance some of the impact of the protectionist policies, which we typically witness in times of crisis, on the global goods trade.

Even so, the recovery of global trade could still be very gradual as these more protectionist behaviours could also keep trade activity near to its lowest level over the past 10 years.

Unlike in 2008, this time both global supply and demand factors are at play, so the effects could last longer. Furthermore, this time around the crisis is broad and impacting all sectors whereas in 2008, the crisis was more concentrated in the banking sector.

The recent vaccine developments have been an important turning point, and we’ve seen an immediate positive impact if, for example, you look towards the recent spike in commodity prices. However, global demand could still remain distressed in 2021 due to corporate insolvency risks and weaker purchasing power of consumers.

Similar to 2008, global interest rates have been cut to new historic lows by central banks which should underpin investment and support the recovery. However, the key factor for any recovery actually lies more in the mass development and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, and it is that uncertainty which spurred governments into also launching record amounts of fiscal stimulus.

Nevertheless, by putting the right plans in place for 2021 businesses will be able to better equip themselves to recover from the pandemic.

When a crisis hits, typically investors rush to safe-haven currencies to minimise their losses. Could this have a different impact today when compared to 2008?

Yes, the geopolitical differences between now and 2008 are stark. Today, the first signs of a capital rotation into risk-prone assets are emerging. With the US-Sino trade war, domestic mismanagement of COVID-19 in the US, and rising global geopolitical tensions, now could be the beginning of a major multi‑year global FX regime change as investors start to look for alternatives for the greenback.

Despite the fact investors have failed to find a credible substitute for the dollar since 2010, in this volatile environment it is critical that businesses ensure they understand their FX exposure and have plans in place for every potential scenario.

There is a disconnect between stock markets and the economy. Investors remain optimistic about the economic turnaround on the horizon, but the reality is far from certain. If the risk of long‑term economic damage rises, this optimism will likely fade and weigh on risk‑friendly currencies, including Sterling, and boost safe-havens like the Japanese Yen and Swiss Franc.

In short, with global interest rates converging, proper crisis management and economic growth differentials could overhaul the balance of power on the world stage after the recession.

Aside from the coronavirus pandemic, what other marquee events should businesses be planning around in 2021?

Of course, there are many other seismic geopolitical issues that should be taken into account when planning for 2021, which will have significant impacts on currency markets, such as Brexit, US-UK trade negotiations and regime change following the US election result – a Joe Biden presidency could have a material impact on the global trade environment.

Analysing the Brexit example alone, in a world gripped by virus-related supply chain disruption and growth concerns, a no-trade deal Brexit could exacerbate the economic shock. There are currently no tariffs on trade between the UK and EU and if a trade deal or an extension of talks is not in place by Dec. 31, 2020, resulting barriers to trade could significantly harm export and import business and further damage any economic recovery.

Herein, the importance of a business evaluating the risks and opportunities related to the ongoing disruption in global trade on a more regular basis cannot be understated.

How can companies be better prepared for these challenges going into 2021?

The rise of geopolitical themes such as trade wars, and the growing influence of political figures on financial markets, has significantly increased the complexity around judging future market trends and their implications for international business. We discuss how businesses can better prepare for some of the most topical challenges in our Are you Ready for 2021? guide.

In summary, regardless of a businesses’ goals, understanding their FX risk and exposure should be part of every businesses strategy so that they can better pivot at speed and at scale in times of crises and minimise potential damage to their business.