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In demand: delivery drivers and cyber security experts

“It’s going to deliver some fairly seismic shifts in behaviour. I’m talking about the way we work, the way we spend, where we spend. I’m talking about how businesses operate, and about the role of a state as an insurance device.”

Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane has been talking to FT economic editor Chris Giles about how the pandemic could yet have some positive impact on society and in particular on the world of work, creating fresh ways of thinking and minimising unproductive (and unpaid) tasks such as commuting.

In the interview, the latest part of our Economists Exchange series, Mr Haldane calls for a “rethink of the social contract that exists between workers and business, balancing individual desires, in terms of homeworking, with business requirements, in terms of collective working”.

New types of skills are in demand too. “The last nine months have shown businesses that they can transform and digitise at a pace and scale they never previously thought possible,” the boss of the Manpower employment agency Jonas Prising tells columnist Pilita Clark. “This has led to an overnight shift in the skills employers are looking for.”

Pilita breaks down this new demand into three key types of worker: those that can help digitally transform a business; those that can move stuff around; and those in essential roles, such as doctors and nurses. 

Top 10 roles in increasing and decreasing demand across industries

Increasing demand

1. Data analysts and scientists

2. AI and machine learning specialists

3. Big Data specialists

4. Digital marketing and strategy specialists

5. Process automation specialists

6. Business development professionals

7. Digital transformation specialists

8. Information security analysts

9. Software and applications developers

10. Internet of things specialists

Source: World Economic Forum

decreasing demand

1. Data entry clerks

2. Administrative and executive secretaries

3. Accounting, bookkeeping and payroll clerks

4. Accountants and auditors

5. Assembly and factory workers

6. Business services and administration managers

7. Client and customer service workers

8. General and operations managers

9. Mechanics and machinery repairers

10. Material-recording and stock-keeping clerks

To take just one very topical example, the need for cyber security experts has exploded as the rapid enforced switch to ecommerce leaves some retailers in a potentially vulnerable position. Attempts to hack vaccine data and government departments will no doubt increase demand further.

“Covid has ushered in an era of anxiety and has made worse some of the insecurities about jobs and incomes that pre-existed the crisis,” acknowledged Mr Haldane, but he remained upbeat. “All crises open up opportunities to think afresh,” he said. “There are ways we can build back in a different way that we ought to be optimistic about.”

Markets

Chinese markets have enjoyed a bumper year as investors flocked to its bonds, stocks and currency. This year dealt a harsh lesson to those who hesitated to match global benchmarks’ increased weightings for Chinese securities, according to one debt manager. “For any emerging markets investor that’s been underweight [on China] it’s been quite a painful trade,” he said.

Line chart of Yield on 10-year sovereign bonds (%) showing China's central bank keeps its powder dry during the pandemic

The European Central Bank is tomorrow expected to give the go-ahead for eurozone banks to begin paying dividends again. But the FT revealed there would be stricter restrictions than those set out by the BoE, which lifted its own temporary ban last week.

Commodity markets are back. Vaccine-derived optimism has driven big gains, led by energy companies but also in industrial metals and agriculture. “Speculative flows are in the driving seat amid easy financial conditions,” said analysts at Morgan Stanley. “The peak for commodity prices is yet to come.”

Line chart of % change since start of November showing Vaccine hopes trigger broad commodities rally

Business

Much of corporate America is missing out on Federal Reserve rescue programmes and bond market remedies, and is suffering the worst credit crunch since the financial crisis, explains our Big Read. “This is the Achilles heel of the recovery,” said one fund manager. “Smaller and medium-sized businesses that don’t have access to capital markets are struggling mightily. They’re really hanging on for dear life, and the longer this persists, the more challenged they are.”

Chart showing that bank lending conditions diverge sharply from buoyant junk bond market

German biotech CureVac is the latest group to launch a large-scale vaccine trial, using the same mRNA technology deployed by Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer, whose jab begins to arrive at US hospitals today. US regulators, meanwhile, are taking extra precautions with vaccination data amid fears of hacking attacks.

Shares in Malaysia’s Top Glove, the world’s largest rubber glove company, dived after it said an employee had died from Covid-19. Stocks in the PPE sector have already been hit by positive news on vaccine developments.

Global economy

Gloomy forecasts were the order of the day across Europe. In Germany, Commerzbank reiterated its belief that the country was heading for a double-dip recession; Banque de France said French GDP would return to pre-crisis levels only in mid-2022; and in the UK, a parliamentary report said the country was “sleepwalking into an unemployment crisis”. But for chief economics commentator Martin Wolf, Britain’s most urgent task was to reassure the world that it was “run by sensible and competent people”.

There was more welcome news in Japan, where large manufacturers reported an unexpectedly strong rise in confidence, despite record levels of coronavirus infections. Covid-19 fears are also growing in South Korea but policymakers are reluctant to take action that could damage its record as the OECD’s best-performing member economy during the crisis.

The Federal Reserve is likely to extend its coronavirus bond-buying programme amid signs that the economic recovery in the US is faltering and confusion over a new fiscal stimulus. One economist summed up the frustration: “We have a worse virus, more shutdowns and more evidence it’s spilling over into hiring. Meanwhile, fiscal policy is way up in the air — we have no idea what we’re going to get.”

The essentials

From the US — which has just experienced its deadliest week of the pandemic — to Europe, where attempts to celebrate Christmas are looking increasingly doomed, infections are increasing and warnings of a “third wave” of the virus are spreading across the world. In London, where the financial district is planning a “back to work” week in April, coronavirus restrictions are being tightened to the highest level possible as infections soar.

FT Money experts give their tips for investing in the (hopefully) post-pandemic world of 2021, discussing the global economic recovery, green energy opportunities and the prospects of big returns on Big Oil.

Have your say

Please share your views with us — email us at covid@ft.com. Thanks

Habkinson comments on City of London plans ‘back to work’ week to revive Square Mile:

My partner used to have to catch two overground trains and a tube to work in the morning and evening. It would take her about 1 hour 30 to manage it in good time. She also paid for an annual pass for national rail/tube services at the cost of X thousand a year. She didn't realise how bonkers it all was until this lockdown. Thankfully her company has chinned off its London premises (aside from maintaining some meeting rooms in a shared workspace for client visits) and she works from home permanently now.

I don't think that her situation is unique — I'd be surprised if office spaces ever fully recover from this.

Final thought

Opportunities for travel may have been severely limited this year, but with hopes high for a vaccine-based return to some kind of normality, it’s time to start dreaming. Browse our list of the top travel discoveries of 2020, from a medieval ghost town in Spain to the wonders of Antarctica and ancient treasures in Pakistan.

Penguins on an Antarctic iceberg © Xinhua News Agency / eyevine

We would really like to hear from you. Please send your reactions or suggestions to covid@ft.com. Thanks

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