topbanner ad

Tuesday 11 August 2020

Comment by Editor-in-Chief, Robin Bradley

Rebound, Repeat, Relapse or Reboot?

In the past few months, the 'talking heads' on the financial news media haven't been able to make their minds up about the "Shape Of Things To Come," and some of their prognostications have been straight out of the realms of Science Fiction.

There has been a veritable Alphabet Soup of forecasts - from predictions of a 'V' shaped recession - one that saw us drop deep and fast into the abyss, but that will see us shoot back up out of it just as quickly - right through to the 'L' shapers, for whom the recovery would be imperceptibly slow and take years, if not decades.
Between the two are the 'W' analysts, who liken the next few years to looking a tad like the gear shift in a Mac truck cab, through to my personal favorite - the ubiquitous 'U' shaped recovery. The one in which we stumble along the bottom of a broad debris strewn 'U' shaped recession, before, eventually, starting to find some handholds to climb out with on the other side.
In 2007-2008 the forecasters all got it wrong - well, mostly they did - they always do. I think it was Milton Friedman, the Nobel winning doyen of monetarism, who once said that the only reason economists were invented was to make weather forecasters look good. That 'recession to end all recessions' turned out to be a cycle of wash, rinse and repeat as every time we thought we were on the way back from oblivion (2010, 2014 etc.) we just plunged right back down the rabbit hole again.
It took fully ten years (or more) for our humble little backwater of global capitalism to start to make sense again - even then the landscape had completely changed in terms of demographics, unit sales and business expectations.

 “the new abnormal”

The consumer and trade shows had changed, in terms of motorcycle manufacturers and aftermarket parts and accessory manufacturers and, above all, distributors, the players had swapped seats or, in some cases, gone away altogether. The kind of bikes being bought and ridden, the kind of parts and accessories being bought, and how they were being bought, had all changed out of all recognition.
You hear a lot of people talking about there now being a 'new normal'. Well, there was nothing 'normal' about the market in 2019 compared to the one in 2007, so don't expect the 'new normal' that will eventually, at some point, at some stage emerge from this recession to be anything but abnormal. It will likely be a market bearing only a passing resemblance to the one we entered 2020 with.
It is tempting to think the rebound we are seeing in motorcycle sales, on both sides of the Atlantic, is a return to normality and proof that the 'V' shapers called it right. But working on the basis that if something looks too good to be true, then it probably isn't, and the spikes we are seeing in coronavirus infections, especially in the United States, are pause for thought. As this edition of AMD headed for press, there were the beginnings of signs that the increase in infections is after all translating into increases in mortality rates (to be honest it would be counterintuitive if one didn't follow the other, like night following day), and in a continental sized nation that has now seen some 25% of the world's infections affecting some 5% of the global population, anybody who thinks we are nearing the end of this story is almost certainly in for a rude awakening one way or another.
Like it or not, whatever does happen in the public health sphere of course has direct consequences for the economy regardless of where the pandemic started, how it started, why it stared or when it started. The fact is it started, and unless the whole world comes together to end it, then maybe our destiny until there is a convincing global vaccine program will be an endless repeat cycle.
Personally, I don't care whether or not you call them spikes, waves or hot spots - the fact is that until we are all well, none of us are well.
We stand poised on the edge of rebound or relapse, and whichever way it goes, the effect of the past months is going to trigger a reboot of how we all do business and what business we all do. By the time the changes that this cycle is going to unleash can be seen in the rear view mirror, we will likely have had 20 years of change throughout which global capitalism has been out of control like never before.
Milton Friedman's Nobel winning theories were at the heart of Reganomics and Thatcherism in the 1980s. They were simplicity themselves and centered on the simplicities of free markets unfettered by regulation, small governments that add value where needed, nudge the tiller, facilitate free trade, reward and stimulate entrepreneurship and keep us safe, but, for the most part, keep out of our face.
Where did it all go wrong? On both sides of the Atlantic we now have governments that think they own every minutiae of our lives, but who wouldn't, actually, recognize 'good governance' if it got up and bit them on the ass. Remember what Regan said? "The nine most feared words in the English language - I'm from the government and I'm here to help!" Like doctors, politicians should have to swear an oath, the first words of which should be "do no harm".
If the world gets itself out of this mess, it will likely be despite governments, not because of governments.
By way of a quick change in rant, but one born out of the decisive changes seen in the past decade in my own industry, in publishing. It saddened me to learn of the demise of American Iron Magazine, yet another stalwart of the custom magazine landscape bites the dust!
I found out through one of our advertisers who commented that it kind of leaves us as 'last man standing' and that it is therefore no wonder that we are doing so well as we no longer have any competition.
Actually, there are still some print motorcycle magazines left, more so in Europe than in the United States it is fair to say, but people like Cycle Source (shout out to Chris Callen) and some regionals are still doing a good job, and there are several 'new gen' print products that are doing interesting work (Gary Inman at Sideburn, Meta and the like), but living as we do in an era of people knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing where media is concerned makes me wonder whether those of us who persevere are like the last dinosaurs eyeing endless empty fields with the grass all to ourselves.