Seth Q. Ofori’s thoughts … ‘Adjusting the sails’ on the stock market

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It appears to be a journey of no return. Things have changed rather rapidly in all spheres of life across the world, and no business is being spared the effects of sudden changes. It’s also needless to talk about the thousands of lives which have been lost globally within this short period of time. The entire human society has no choice other than to adopt some significant behavioural changes in order to survive. Failure to embrace change at this point, even as an individual, amounts to one’s readiness and willingness to contract COVID-19 – thereby becoming highly vulnerable to the cold hands of death. Equally, failure to adopt changes as investors is suicidal under the current circumstances.

Can the world return to where we were before the COVID-19 pandemic appeared on the scene? No way. It is as if Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s – the first President of Ghana’s – words of “forward ever backwards never” have a more significant meaning now than ever before. Indeed, the world has not been the same since the first World War in 1914 – which the post-World War establishment and continuous existence of the United Nations (UN) that came to being after the failed League of Nations is one evidence.

The novel COVID-19 pandemic has certainly increased the number of pages in the world-history book, and the effects will remain with us till end of time. Most businesses are collapsing while others have had to downsize, and some have cut the salaries of their employees in order to stay afloat. Most stock markets across the globe have recorded record-low price drops. Things are really changing rapidly on the business front, and we are right to be worried as investors and investment professionals.

Under the circumstances, it is unclear when companies listed on the stock exchange will discharge their statutory duty of holding Annual General Meetings (AGM) for their shareholders. It could even turn out that there might be no AGMs this year. Oh, how we miss the Ghana Stock Exchange’s (GSE) ‘Facts Behind the Figures’ programme. Even so, the ban on social gathering – large meetings, conferences and public gatherings – is a legitimate call. We however sympathise with students, teachers as well as private school-owners and persons whose businesses are affected one way or another. Undoubtedly, the adverse socio-economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic are daunting and unsettling. Nonetheless, life is more precious and worth making sacrifices for. It is said that once there is life there is hope. We will deal with how to pick the pieces later after the dust settles.

Although the situation appears to be all gloomy and alarming, we still have a choice to make – the choice to get blown away by the wind or fight for survival. It is said that “we cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails”. Adjusting the sails requires smart thinking. We cannot wait for the COVID-19 wind to settle so we can go back to our normal lives, since we do not know how long the pandemic will stay with us. It requires smart approach to doing things differently in the business and investment front. While thinking about surviving the current situation, it is smart to also plan ahead for the post-pandemic situation as well. History has taught us that life after COVID-19 will be different, as we would have become used to the behavioural changes that we are adopting now. The current situation and future expectations should provide fine opportunities for investors to demonstrate smartness.

The act of investing is to allocate money in the expectation of some benefit in the future. Experienced investors often manage existing risky situations by staying informed and taking the right advice, and make smart profits in crisis situations. In our current circumstances, one cannot go wrong with investment in areas such as food commodities, logistic companies and digital assets.

As an investor, it might not be prudent and wise to be thinking of investing in a commercial transport business – be it air, land, railway or marine, right now – except for cargo. Instead, consideration could be given to investing in an ICT business, because the future, right now, is online whether we like it or not. Also, investing in companies that manufacture and supply Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to hospitals is a fantastic idea, because such logistics will continue to be in demand even post-coronavirus. You may want to pause and think about how sensible it is right now to continue buying copies of newspapers at the roadside, when you are in a battle with an invisible virus that appears to be like a ‘spirit’ you cannot see but can easily contract from the surface of paper. Obviously, the way forward is online.

Remember, ‘time and tide waits for no man’.  It makes no sense to sit down and be waiting for things to return to normalcy quickly so we can return to our normal lives. Instead, there is an urgent need to change our traditional way of doing things. Our financial market operators must begin to realise what time it is and act accordingly. There is no need to sit and wait for a ‘post COVID-19 era’ to organise AGMs and ‘Facts Behind the Figures’ programmes when there are platforms for virtual meetings.

We look forward to the 2020 Annual General Meeting of the Ghana Stock Exchange. We also look forward to being invited into the next public forum of our market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Indeed, the world is not waiting for us; and let us bear in mind that ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. We have to double up so we can catch up. There is no time to waste, friends.

Life is like a train. It has no reverse gear. Rather than living in a fool’s paradise, waiting for the return of better old days so we can do things in our old traditional ways, let us start thinking about solutions to the problems created by the pandemic and plan ahead. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. Be a smart investor; invest in financial products that are better-placed to guarantee returns in the crisis and beyond.

Adjust your business to suit current times or start a new business to provide solutions for some societal problems brought about by COVID-19 and earn income. I agree with John Wooden when he says “things turn out the best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out”. We do not have to lose sight of the fact that there can be a positive side to every adversity, and the corona pandemic is no different.

We are no longer oblivious to the fact that we can effectively work from home in a more relaxed atmosphere and cut down on the company’s consumption of electricity. We have seen the effectiveness of virtual staff, management and board meetings that call for no expenditure on refreshments. We are now aware that work will not be interrupted with shift systems to allow for social distancing at the work place. We cannot forget how handwashing is helping us to prevent virus infections.

As investors and business owners stay informed with rapt attention to the financials, do not forget the lessons being learnt during this crisis. It is prudent to pay close attention to where COVID-19 is helping to reduce expenditure and where good margins are being recorded. Similarly, financial market investors must remain focused on stocks that have relevance now and in future – bearing in mind that there is little chance of the world remaining unchanged and going back to the pre-COVID-19 era. That would be myopic and unrealistic thinking. There is therefore an urgent need to consider a significant paradigm-shift to save human lives, as well as the lives of investments, for long-term survival and benefits.

>>>The writer is with SIC Brokerage Limited

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