Incredibly, however, this year will likely have at least one further sting in the tail, with a confluence of events – Brexit, the US elections, and a second wave of COVID-19 – threatening to create even more upheaval but, perhaps most concerningly, having the potential to shape events for years to come.
The most pertinent of these in the immediate term is, of course, COVID, with Europe in particular now experiencing a second wave of infections that threaten to cause substantial working and social restrictions once again. Government responses to date have, again, been mixed; certainly, here in the UK, there is a distinct lack of clarity around government measures, with the resulting confusion having increasingly obvious impacts not only on people’s working and personal lives, but on the wider economy and markets.
Running in parallel to this is Brexit, where a messy five-year process appears set to come to a suitably chaotic conclusion as the UK government continues with a brinkmanship stance, seems set to break parts of international law – a scarcely believable premise – and, at time of writing, is now being sued by the European Union. More optimistic commentators suggest that a last-minute deal will be struck, yet the strains of recent years and antipathy on both sides could easily lead to a ‘no deal’ scenario that would have profound long-term economic effects.
As if all this wasn’t enough, there is also the US to think about. The 2020 Presidential Election was never going to be a civil affair, but a car-crash of a debate this week reiterated just how corrosive politics has become. Add to this the news that Donald Trump has now tested positive for COVID-19 – an illness he assured everyone “would just go away” – and frankly, who knows what’s next? Common sense would suggest that Joe Biden should prevail in the race for the White House, but we now find ourselves in even more uncharted territory in an era where common sense seems to be in short supply.
It is, of course, entirely conceivable that these challenges will reach acceptable conclusions: COVID-19 vaccine trials continue amid positive noises; there is scope for the UK and EU to reach a last minute agreement; and US politics and society could be reshaped once again following four of the most contentious and combative years in memory – all of which could have hugely positive implications for markets and economies across the world.
At this stage, however, it would be unwise to bet on such an outcome. As we reach an inflection point that could define events for at least the next decade and perhaps longer, sadly the only thing we can be certain of is further uncertainty.