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30 December 2020

Three Horsemen on the Horizon?

There is no certain consensus among ecclesiasticals and biblical historians as to the identity of John of Patmos; some suggest John the Evangelist, others John the Presbyter, others yet a different first century scribe. What is more generally accepted is that he was the author of the Book of Revelation, that strange, apocalyptic text that forms the last Book of the Bible. I wouldn’t know where to begin trying to interpret it, although there are a couple of parts with which many will be familiar - the New Jerusalem verses, often used to give comfort at funerals, and, more pertinently here, the section about the Four Horsemen. Personally, my view of it is that John, in exile on the island of Patmos, came across and ingested a powerful mushroom, or other plant of some exotic sort……….

2020 has been a difficult year, globally. The pandemic virus sweeping out of China in the early part of the year has made a mockery of the predictions and expectations made this time twelve months ago. But does the Book of Revelation tell us it’s about to get worse? Are we just at the beginning of the cycle?

The Four Horsemen came out when the seals were broken in a sequential order. That order was white, red, black and pale. The attributes of the riders were - in the same order - Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death (incorporating Hades). It would be a tad ominous if we found ourselves to be looking beyond Pestilence and then just seeing his three cronies following along behind, lining up on the horizon……….if that’s the case, maybe we’ll have to look back fondly at 2020 and its vicissitudes….

But what really of 2020? Well, despite the precipitous fall in global stock markets as the virus first got its hooks into the world, all hasn’t been doom and gloom. If you were holding the right sectors - pharmaceuticals and tech companies - it’s actually been quite a good run, particularly in the US. In fact, although US electors decided in November to call time on their crass, vulgar President and replace him with an even older machine politician, probably the most - well, let’s say only - successful element of Donald Trump’s administration was the stonking performance of the equity markets. Of course, that is a reflection of the strength of the economy, but how much of that was due to the President? To me, it looks like two Presidents in a row that didn’t really achieve a great deal; will the next one change that? Sadly, I suspect not.

Metals are finishing the year on their highs; sustainable? I would guess probably yes, as the world has a lot of lost growth to try and recoup in the wake of Covid, and metals are central to that. Clearly those used in the generation, storage and transmission of electricity are going to be at the heart of the global push to reduce carbon emissions. Of the traditional LME metals, copper looks the best placed to me, since all that electricity has to be moved from place of generation to places of consumption, and copper still does that better than anything else. And, I think, keep a weather eye out for aluminium and a resurgence of the storage game.

Next year should see substantial economic growth, but that will only be from the seriously depressed levels in the wake of the pandemic. In the UK, the government will now have to make good on its promises of a better world post-brexit; that is a tall order, but we will never know the real truth of it, because we have passed the fork in the road, and made our choice. In academic game theory it’s always possible to go back and model the alternative outcome, but in reality we can’t do that. The die is cast, and we can never know what could have happened in an alternative world. Sadly, I don’t think that reality will silence all the squabbling just yet.

One political prediction I will make: we have passed peak SNP. We will begin to see a mean reversion in Scottish politics away from the one party state back to a more normal condition for a modern democracy. The in-fighting and factionalism of the SNP will see to that.

But, all could be different. If the other three horsemen don’t get back in their box, then things would look bleak indeed. We may all need some of what I’m sure John of Patmos swallowed……..


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