The great office refusal
By Justin Pyvis – Delivered on 11 Oct 2021

Good morning and happy partial 'freedom day' to the fully-vaccinated in NSW! There was further good news on Sunday after ScoMo revealed that international travel may be coming back sooner than expected (1 Nov), as the:

"NSW Government is looking at ways to fast track home quarantine in November and if that happens we will be able to move to facilitate the opening up of the international border into NSW sooner.

Now, that would mean home quarantine for vaccinated Australians wishing to return home via Sydney and giving the option for international travel for vaccinated Australians to leave and return."

There you go – it's looking very likely that those in NSW will be free to travel internationally again before they can visit WA or QLD, which are lagging quite badly in vaccinations and will almost certainly have a higher 'reopening threshold' than the endemic-COVID states' 80% double-dose marker.

It's going to be fascinating to see whether hard borders and zero-COVID remain politically popular once the Instagram pics showing family and friends travelling overseas start flowing.

Fully vaccinated population (aged over 12)

NSW
ACT
TAS
VIC
NT
SA
QLD
WA
Markets

Daily % change

AUD/USD

73.2

0.0%

10Y Bond

1.67

+3.1%

ASX200

7,320

+0.9%

Brent (bbl)

82.6

+0.2%

Gold (oz)

1,757

+0.1%

Iron ore (t)

125.8

+6.9%

Bitcoin

56,009

+3.4%

Note: Brent oil, gold bullion and iron ore prices are the second futures contract.

The US S&P500 fell 0.19% on Friday following the news of weaker jobs growth than expected in September (see Economy below), raising doubts about the resilience of the post-pandemic economic recovery.

Locally the ASX200 added 0.87% on Friday with every sector finishing in the black. Materials were the clear standout (+1.8%) following strong gains (+6.9%) for iron ore prices on Friday, after reports emerged questioning the availability of energy-intensive electric arc furnaces (which use scrap steel) given the ongoing power shortages in the country. If that were the case, more steel would need to be produced from iron ore in coal-powered blast furnaces.

Economy

US stuttering: Non-farm payrolls in the US increased by just 194,000 in September, well below the 500,000 expected by Bloomberg analysts. Employment in the US has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels despite the country being 'open' and having had a vaccine for several months.

Back to work: According to the latest Statistics Canada report, employment in the Great White North returned to pre-pandemic levels in September. The jobless rate also fell to an 18-month low of 6.9%, putting pressure on the Bank of Canada to start normalising monetary policy.

Slightly better: Chinese consumers ventured out again in September with the Caixin Services PMI returning to expansionary territory (53.4), having contracted (46.7) in August due to rolling lockdowns across the country. Note that these indicators only measure relative to the prior month, so a positive result – a reading above/below 50 separates expansion/contraction – doesn't necessarily signal strength.

Over-exuberance: In its latest Financial Stability Review, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) warned that the nationwide surge in house prices could increase vulnerabilities "if housing market strength turns to exuberance". IF. 🤣

Feature
The great office refusal

Outside of New South Wales and especially Victoria, corporate Australia's culture has been relatively unscathed from COVID-19. Not so in the rest of the world, where "a disastrous plague" has brought "opportunities to reshape and even improve society".

So writes Joel Kotkin, who notes that the rise in remote work due to the pandemic "has made it more practical for individuals and particularly families to migrate to locations where they can find more affordable rents, and perhaps even buy a house".

That comes despite claims from some executives "that workers are 'pining' to return to the office", threatening "employees who do not come back in person with lower wages and decreased opportunities for promotion".

Breaking it down: The shift back to the office has not happened, even months after cities have 'reopened'. A new report by DowntownDC found that fewer than 25% of "employees had returned to their downtown buildings by mid-September — up less than 2% from July".

According to Chris Herd, who spoke to over 2,500 companies about remote work, "companies will cut their commercial office space by 50-70%... [and] allow every worker to work from home 2-4 days a week, and come into the office 1-2 days a week".

A full 30% of the companies he spoke to "are getting rid of the office entirely and going remote-first".

Why this matters: As with any change of this magnitude, there will be winners and losers.

Losers include pre-pandemic businesses and commercial real estate located downtown, which may never recover. In Washington DC, office buildings are already being transformed into residential space. Metropolitan public transport networks with high fixed costs could also come under pressure, putting further stress on city budgets suffering from reduced property tax revenue.

Winners are in the suburbs, which in the US "have seen job growth expand at 2.5 times the national rate". It has also improved the quality of life for newly minted remote workers, many of whom can now avoid "unaffordable housing" and "debilitating commutes".

Looking forward: Corporate Australia will eventually have to adapt – the shift to remote work isn't a once-off but an already entrenched trend that has simply accelerated. Geographical boundaries aren't what they once were, and if they don't become more remote-friendly they'll lose their best people to their competitors (not just in Australia).

The Wrap Up
🚱Whoops. Queensland Police leaked hundreds of private email addresses as part of the state's home quarantine trial.
🛂The Victorian government is trying to ban MPs who refuse to disclose their vaccination status from voting or entering parliament.
😷Speaking of the Victorian government, it made wearing face masks indoors mandatory for all children in grades three to six "to make sure that they are as safe as possible in the school environment".
👩‍🎓Alan Tudge, Australia's Education Minister, said in 2022 "my expectation is that we will have very significant numbers [of foreign students] coming in".
🍎Apple announced that it will appeal a judge's decision to allow app developers to use other payment options.
🔨Xi Jinping's hammer struck again, this time in the form of a $US533 million fine on Meituan, the UberEats of China, for violating anti-monopoly regulations.
📱Facebook was hit with a second global outage on Friday, this time "caused by a configuration change".
💊A study in Sweden found that suicides for men aged 50-59, the most at-risk age group, decreased each month after declines in Sildenafil (Viagra) prices.
💃In China, where there are an estimated 100 million "dancing grannies" who "take to a corner of a local park or sporting ground and dance in unison to Chinese music", people have started using remote stun gun-style devices to disable their speakers from 50 metres away.
🏡Spain's government is considering offering young adults $US290 a month to move out of their parents' houses.
🏇Victoria's government will allow 10,000 fully vaccinated people to attend this year's Melbourne Cup as part of a trial of the state's "vaccinated economy" reopening plan..
🤔China's President Xi Jinping said "the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and can definitely be fulfilled", and that while Taiwan poses a "serious hidden danger to national rejuvenation", he believes it can be unified by peaceful means.
🛑Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen responded in a speech yesterday, saying "nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us".
🥊Despite being sent to the canvas twice, Tyson Fury knocked out Deontay Wilder in the 11th round to retain his WBC heavyweight title.
🦗England unveiled its 17-player squad for the 2021/22 Ashes series last night, including 10 names who have never played a test match in Australia. Notable omissions were Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, who miss out due to injury.
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