The departing boss of Norway’s oil fund on building an asset manager

Norges Bank Investment Management is the world’s single largest owner of equities

There is a point in a conversation with Yngve Slyngstad when he invokes Bjorn Borg, the Nordic tennis star of the 1970s. The Borg approach—make sure you don’t lose; above all, be solid—is one Mr Slyngstad has instilled in Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), the organisation he has run since 2008 from within Norway’s central bank.

Its target, to beat a benchmark by 0.25 percentage points a year, is modest.

But meeting it has led to immodest wealth.

Mr Slyngstad is to step down later this year when Nicolai Tangen, a London-based hedge-fund manager, takes his place in Oslo. The departing boss resigned in October, 50 years to the day after Norway first struck oil.

The same day Norway’s oil fund passed Nkr10trn ($900bn) in value. It is the world’s largest single owner of equities. On average it owns 1.5% of every listed firm globally.

This seemed improbable when Mr Slyngstad joined in 1998. The price of oil was falling towards $10 a barrel. The idea of an oil-reserve fund seemed risible. Yet Mr Slyngstad left a well-paid job in the private sector.

What attracted him was autonomy. He and his senior colleagues used it to build a fund manager based on sound principles.

Discipline, solidity, minimising errors—these Borg-like tenets are difficult to follow when managing a portfolio. But they are key to investing success.

Norway’s oil fund was set up in 1996. Its founding stemmed from an awareness that oil-producing countries run into trouble. One trap is the “resource curse”, the corruption that mineral wealth often fosters. Another is “Dutch disease”—currency appreciation that then retards the progress of other export industries.

The fund is primarily a means to smooth the effect of volatile oil revenues on the government’s budget. All oil revenue is paid into it. It then makes a steady contribution to the budget.

A decade-long oil boom created a windfall.

The fund came to be seen in a new light, as an endowment for future generations. At its peak last year, it was worth around three times Norway’s annual GDP.

Its wealth is also the fruit of judicious investment. Mr Slyngstad was brought in to build the fund’s equities arm; until then all the money had been in bonds. In principle, a long-horizon investor should tilt towards riskier shares.

But even the best principles can be hard to follow. This became clear soon after Mr Slyngstad was made boss.

The fund had raised the equity share of its portfolio from 40% towards 60% during 2008.

The timing looked bad. The stockmarket crashed in the autumn.

A rally in the fund’s bond holdings limited the damage. Still, the fund lost 23%.

There was then a tough decision to make. The principles of the fund called for rebalancing: selling bonds that had gone up in value to buy shares that had become cheaper, thus reaching the 60% equity weight.

It takes stomach to buy assets that others are fleeing from. Some funds suspended their rebalancing rules.

Was there hesitation?

“Yes, of course,” says Mr Slyngstad. It was a big political risk. If the stockmarket did not revive, there would be a reckoning. Even so, the finance ministry gave its blessing.

“We ended up buying $175bn of equities, 0.5% of the market, during a huge crisis.”

This set the fund up nicely for the ten-year bull market that followed.

Rebalancing is now hard-wired into its processes.

There are times, such as now, when shares have again fallen a long way and it is easy to lose your nerve. It is usually the worst time to do so.

The fund’s long-term focus means it can be bold during crises. But there are also constraints that do not apply to other investors. The need for transparency rules out dabbling in private-equity funds. nbim has been a pioneer in socially responsible investment.

This might look like Nordic do-goodery and a sop to posturing politicians. But the approach is hard-headed. A lot of decisions to exclude stocks are taken with an eye to long-term returns.

Coal shares, for instance, are out because the business does not appear to have a lasting future.

Companies in emerging markets that do not pass muster on corporate governance are avoided.

In general this has been a way to improve returns.

The tennis analogy is: stay on your baseline; eliminate basic errors; be solid first—and only then, be smart. You will win in the long term.

A lot of fund managers see a risk to their careers in looking too far into the future. They may lose clients in the meantime.

Things are different at Norway’s oil fund.

“The career risk”, says Mr Slyngstad, “is not to implement the strategy.”

The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Forever Alter the World Order

The U.S. must protect its citizens from disease while starting the urgent work of planning for a new epoch.

By Henry A. Kissinger

The USNS Comfort hospital ship travels under the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York, March 30. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images .

The surreal atmosphere of the Covid-19 pandemic calls to mind how I felt as a young man in the 84th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge. Now, as in late 1944, there is a sense of inchoate danger, aimed not at any particular person, but striking randomly and with devastation. But there is an important difference between that faraway time and ours. American endurance then was fortified by an ultimate national purpose. 

Now, in a divided country, efficient and farsighted government is necessary to overcome obstacles unprecedented in magnitude and global scope. Sustaining the public trust is crucial to social solidarity, to the relation of societies with each other, and to international peace and stability.

Nations cohere and flourish on the belief that their institutions can foresee calamity, arrest its impact and restore stability. When the Covid-19 pandemic is over, many countries’ institutions will be perceived as having failed. Whether this judgment is objectively fair is irrelevant. The reality is the world will never be the same after the coronavirus. To argue now about the past only makes it harder to do what has to be done.

The coronavirus has struck with unprecedented scale and ferocity. Its spread is exponential: U.S. cases are doubling every fifth day. At this writing, there is no cure. Medical supplies are insufficient to cope with the widening waves of cases. Intensive-care units are on the verge, and beyond, of being overwhelmed. Testing is inadequate to the task of identifying the extent of infection, much less reversing its spread. A successful vaccine could be 12 to 18 months away.

The U.S. administration has done a solid job in avoiding immediate catastrophe. The ultimate test will be whether the virus’s spread can be arrested and then reversed in a manner and at a scale that maintains public confidence in Americans’ ability to govern themselves. The crisis effort, however vast and necessary, must not crowd out the urgent task of launching a parallel enterprise for the transition to the post-coronavirus order.

Leaders are dealing with the crisis on a largely national basis, but the virus’s society-dissolving effects do not recognize borders. While the assault on human health will—hopefully—be temporary, the political and economic upheaval it has unleashed could last for generations. No country, not even the U.S., can in a purely national effort overcome the virus. Addressing the necessities of the moment must ultimately be coupled with a global collaborative vision and program. If we cannot do both in tandem, we will face the worst of each.

Drawing lessons from the development of the Marshall Plan and the Manhattan Project, the U.S. is obliged to undertake a major effort in three domains. First, shore up global resilience to infectious disease. Triumphs of medical science like the polio vaccine and the eradication of smallpox, or the emerging statistical-technical marvel of medical diagnosis through artificial intelligence, have lulled us into a dangerous complacency. 

We need to develop new techniques and technologies for infection control and commensurate vaccines across large populations. Cities, states and regions must consistently prepare to protect their people from pandemics through stockpiling, cooperative planning and exploration at the frontiers of science.

Second, strive to heal the wounds to the world economy. Global leaders have learned important lessons from the 2008 financial crisis. The current economic crisis is more complex: The contraction unleashed by the coronavirus is, in its speed and global scale, unlike anything ever known in history. And necessary public-health measures such as social distancing and closing schools and businesses are contributing to the economic pain. Programs should also seek to ameliorate the effects of impending chaos on the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Third, safeguard the principles of the liberal world order. The founding legend of modern government is a walled city protected by powerful rulers, sometimes despotic, other times benevolent, yet always strong enough to protect the people from an external enemy. 

Enlightenment thinkers reframed this concept, arguing that the purpose of the legitimate state is to provide for the fundamental needs of the people: security, order, economic well-being, and justice. Individuals cannot secure these things on their own. The pandemic has prompted an anachronism, a revival of the walled city in an age when prosperity depends on global trade and movement of people.

The world’s democracies need to defend and sustain their Enlightenment values. A global retreat from balancing power with legitimacy will cause the social contract to disintegrate both domestically and internationally. Yet this millennial issue of legitimacy and power cannot be settled simultaneously with the effort to overcome the Covid-19 plague. Restraint is necessary on all sides—in both domestic politics and international diplomacy. Priorities must be established.

We went on from the Battle of the Bulge into a world of growing prosperity and enhanced human dignity. Now, we live an epochal period. The historic challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future. Failure could set the world on fire.

Mr. Kissinger served as secretary of state and national security adviser in the Nixon and Ford administrations. 

National action cannot fix a global pandemic

US, China and Europe must work together to defeat coronavirus

Philip Stephens

web-Global coronavirus rescue
© Ingram Pinn/Financial Times

Once in a generation, maybe once in a century, political leaders must light a bonfire of contemporary preconceptions to confront a shared emergency. This is such a moment. History may ultimately define the 21st-century by the strong geopolitical rivalry between the US and China.

For the immediate future the national interests of these two great powers are one. Those of European nations, too.

Washington and Beijing have been heading in the opposite direction. The blame game — tit-for-tat expulsions of journalists and US President Donald Trump’s description of Covid-19 as the “Chinese” virus — signposts a dangerous route to international breakdown. The vital work of epidemiologists and economic policymakers will be rendered useless if the leading powers choose to fight rather than co-operate.

The coronavirus pandemic began in China, has its epicentre in Europe, and is spreading rapidly across the US. It cannot be beaten in one of these regions unless it is defeated in all three.

Containing it, and capping the human and economic costs, demands that the centres of global power work hand in hand. Prevailing economic orthodoxies have been rendered obsolete by the crisis. As with economics, so with politics. Closed borders and go-it-alone fiscal stimulus packages do not match the scale of the emergency.

International responses have been fragmented. A global threat has stirred the human instinct to turn inwards. Borders are shut. China sought to conceal the initial outbreak in Wuhan before, belatedly, moving to lock down the affected region. Mr Trump spent weeks in surreal denial, dismissing the virus as fake news or a Democratic party conspiracy before veering back towards the real world.

Europeans seem to have forgotten what it is to be, well, European. Germany’s Angela Merkel could once claim to be the guardian of something called European solidarity — the politician who understood that collective action in a crisis yields better results than unilateralism. Not this time. Germany has gone its own way.

The European Commission has been sidelined as 27 nations operate 27 action plans. Italy’s decision to implement a draconian lockdown to limit the spread of the virus was for the benefit of all. It failed to elicit offers from others to share the heavy economic costs. French President Emmanuel Macron has struggled to conceal his frustration.

The news has not been all bad. Central banks have closely co-ordinated interest rate cuts and quantitative easing to underpin the liquidity of financial markets. Scientists are ignoring borders and ideology in the frantic search for treatment and, eventually, a vaccine. Finance ministers from the G7 have agreed to consult weekly on where best to aim their fiscal bazookas.

The “plumbing” of globalisation — the international agencies and bureaucracies that sit below most political sightlines — is largely intact.

A sustained, successful effort against the pandemic — and we are talking about a process lasting a year or more — will depend above all, however, on global leaders maintaining the trust of their citizens. Public confidence is a vital ingredient in every countermeasure. Borders cannot remain closed indefinitely. It is no use suppressing the outbreak in one region only to see it reimported from another.

The obvious framework for international co-operation is the G20 group of industrial and emerging nations — a gathering that reaches across North and South, East and West. The group played a leading role in the wake of the 2009 financial crash in persuading financial markets of the seriousness of political intent to stabilise the global economy. Prodded by India, the present G20 chair Saudi Arabia has called for a “virtual” summit of the bloc.

There will certainly be a role for the G20. But co-operation across so disparate a group will be possible only if the most powerful nations first establish a foundation. It is not too late to create such an inner steering group. As a starting point it would include Mr Trump, China’s President Xi Jinping and, from Europe, say, Ms Merkel and Mr Macron.

There are some things these four leaders can do immediately. Washington and Beijing could begin by calling a halt to the war of words. A second step would be to put to one side all their present trade disputes — suspending punitive tariffs and countermeasures. Mr Trump may need some persuading, but it should not be beyond the wit of his advisers to present such a move as a generous response to the assistance Beijing is now offering other governments.

For Mr Xi, the simple fact of the quartet would offer testimony to China’s leading role in global governance. For Ms Merkel and Mr Macron it would provide an opportunity to re-establish the EU’s coherence and relevance.

And, yes, Mr Trump would also have something to gain. The rapid spread of the virus across the US has already debunked his claim that throwing up barricades is an inoculation against this disease.

Even such small moves may look impossible against the world’s present retreat into antagonistic nationalism. But there is still time. The fight against the pandemic is about to get harder. The world is facing an emergency.

Self-interest demands collaboration. Whether in China, the US or Europe, political leaders cannot ignore this simple fact.


The agonies of stock-picking in a falling market

A fictional fund manager in his pyjamas ponders capitulation

I suspect that this not a common feeling, but part of me is excited about the crash in stock prices. It is the part of me with a personal-account portfolio.

I have long-term financial goals. I want to hold equity risk, even as others run from it.

If I can buy streams of cash flows at lower prices, I am happy. But another part of me, the professional who invests on behalf of others, is anxious. I try to fuse these two selves. It is not easy.

In my lifetime there have been three bear markets in which the value of shares in aggregate has fallen by half. Perhaps this episode will be as bad—or worse. I don’t know.

I can say this, though. For a long-term investor who doesn’t have to worry about perfect timing, there should be opportunities to buy good stocks at attractive prices. As a private investor, I can wait for risky bets eventually to pay off. My clients may not be so patient.

Nobody knows how this pandemic will play out. Lots of people claim to know, of course. A few of them will be right, by luck or judgment. That’s a matter for the scientists and for economists, too. The biggest insight I have gleaned from economics is that asset prices are set at the margin.

The stock price on the screen is the one at which the most desperate seller and the bravest buyer are willing to do business. When the ranks of the first group overwhelm the second, the result is a rout—or capitulation, in market-speak.

Every recession is unique. This one has the impact of a natural disaster or a nuclear accident.

But every recession is also the same. You can never be sure how deep it will be, how long it will last and what scars it will leave.

China has just experienced its sharpest downturn in a century. That is scary. But 2008 was scary. The dotcom bust was scary. I was a baby in 1974, but my old boss tells me that was scary.

True, this is a different kind of scary. I call my parents every day to check how they are. I didn’t do that in 2008. (I wasn’t trading stocks in pyjamas on a weekday either.) This could be a savage recession. But it will be like other recessions in that there will be a recovery.

In the meantime, stock prices can keep falling. I understand why people are selling. A lot are forced to. They may have borrowed to buy stocks and had their loans called by nervy lenders.

Fund managers that promised low volatility must cut their equity risk. But capitulation is more than this. It is the dumping of stocks that have already fallen a long way. Retail investors are prone to it. But why would any professional do it?

Well, sometimes you sell your duds so you don’t have to talk about them anymore—to the firm’s risk manager or to your clients. Owning a stock that goes to zero is too horrible to contemplate. So you sell.

And sometimes you sell things that as a private investor you would hold onto or double-down on. Clients want you to take risk. But they don’t like what risk-taking looks like when it doesn’t work.

Try explaining, after the fact, why you bought a stock two weeks before the firm went bankrupt, because you judged that, should it survive or be rescued, you stood to make ten times your money.

I am lucky. I have been in the top-quartile of stockpickers. So I have earned the trust to make risky bets in a falling market. A good portfolio in a recession is not necessarily a good portfolio for when the economy recovers.

I know that at some point I am going to have to change tack. I would have to be a genius to time this shift perfectly. And I am not a genius. The best I can hope for is not to get it too badly wrong.

My instinct is to be contrarian, to buy what others now hate. Some industries, such as oil, are outside my comfort zone. The politics of opec are too messy for me to fathom. But I have an eye on mining companies with attractive dividend yields and low debt. If China’s economy rebounds, they will benefit.

And, yes, I am absolutely looking at airlines. A national champion or two is bound to be saved.

In the right situation, I might make a lot of money for clients. Dislocation on this scale will take out the weaker players in every industry. The best companies will emerge even stronger.

I hope I pick the right ones.

There will come a time when the market surveys the whole panorama—bad businesses cleared out; interest rates even lower; fiscal policy in the pipeline; cheaper stocks—and changes direction. I have to be ready for that.

The S&P 500 is America’s capital stock. It will survive (or most of it will).

People will want to fly, stay in hotels and go to restaurants and coffee bars again.

I have to keep that in mind always. I feel queasy. But this is the game I have chosen to be in.

Jobs Report Was Even Worse Than It Looked

Stunning as the drop in jobs in March was, it masked the true depth of the decline. And it is just the beginning

By Justin Lahart

A man delivering food this week in Beverly Hills, Calif. / Photo: apu gomes/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images .

In the waning days of winter, America’s job engine shuddered to a halt.

Friday’s employment report was stunningly grim. The Labor Department reported that the economy shed 701,000 jobs in March—far more than the modest loss of 10,000 jobs economists expected, on average.

The unemployment rate jumped to 4.4% from February’s 3.5%, marking its largest percentage-point increase since 1975. Economists were predicting 3.7%. 

What actually happened was even worse than what those headline numbers showed, with more like three million people losing their jobs. And the bad news has only just begun.

The reason most economists got their estimates so wrong was that the surveys upon which the Labor Department bases its jobs numbers reflect the pay period that includes the 12th of the month. That was before shutdowns enacted in response to the novel coronavirus crisis began rolling across the country and before the number of workers filing new claims for jobless benefits shot higher.

Indeed, jobless claims for the week ended March 14 came to just 282,000, higher than the 211,000 during the previous week but nothing like the 3.3 million reported for the following week, or the 6.65 million reported the week after that.

Part of what probably happened is that, while many employers still hung on to the workers they had, they simply stopped hiring. That matters because, in any given month, there is substantial churn in the labor market.

Millions of workers leave old jobs and get hired for new ones. A sudden slowdown can add up to a lot of job losses even without layoffs. There is also often a delay for some people between getting laid off from a job and applying for unemployment benefits.

The jump in the unemployment rate indicates that the number of people losing their jobs was even greater than what payrolls figures showed. That figure is based on how many people are on employers’ payrolls in a given week, while unemployment is based on a separate survey that asks whether people are employed, unemployed and looking for work, or neither.

The payroll report showed that the number of unemployed people increased by 1.35 million in March from February. That might have happened because employers laid people off but gave them one last paycheck.

That 1.35 million increase in the rolls of the unemployed doesn’t even include anyone who simply didn’t look for work and therefore wasn’t included in the unemployment rate. Looking for work when everything is shut down isn’t easy. The number of people counting themselves as employed fell by 3 million.

April will be even worse. They are calling this a recession, but the danger is that it becomes something deeper.

Don’t Get Bombed: How to Host Zoom Meetings, Hangouts, Houseparty and More

If you find yourself asking such questions as ‘Hello, can anyone hear me?’ and ‘What is Zoombombing?’—this is your guide

By Nicole Nguyen

How to Pick the Right Chat App for Your Next Event
Should you Zoom or FaceTime? How about a Houseparty? Amid social distancing, in-person events have been replaced by pixels on a screen. WSJ's Nicole Nguyen offers tips for navigating the new video-chat reality. Photo: FaceTime

During the coronavirus crisis, those of us who can work from home are video chatting, a lot. We’ve covered the WFH tech tips you need, along with the joys and exhaustion of our new screen-based reality. Now let’s talk about how to video chat. If you’ve got questions, I’ve got answers.

General Tips

If your laptop gets loud or hot while chatting, unplug accessories and close applications. Try disconnecting your external displays or charger. On some devices, they can cause temperatures to rise, prompting internal fans to spin.

Video chatting can be processor intensive. It’s good to close any unnecessary browser tabs. I sometimes also close Slack. Check the Activity Monitor on Mac and Task Manager in Windows to see what applications are putting a strain on your computer.

Can’t hear anyone? You might be muted so, er, unmute yourself. (No shame, I’ve made this mistake many times.) If you’re using an external display and your laptop lid is closed, check that your audio settings are not set to your internal speakers. If you have a wireless headset or Bluetooth earbuds, make sure they’re turned on and paired.

Elevate your laptop. Chin down is not a good look. Prop up your laptop on books or a cookbook stand. Drink wine? Use two corks to lift the back corners of your computer.

Face the light. Make sure your window or lamp is in front of your face, and not behind it.

Take full advantage of AR filters. Snap Camera is a desktop application for Mac and PC that brings Snapchat’s lenses to any video-chat application.

Snap Camera is a desktop application that brings Snapchat's lenses to any video-chat application.

Most filters are fun. (My favorite is called Cat on Head.) Some are practical. Two lenses—Makeup Cool and Makeup Warm—make you look put together, even if you’re not.

To use the lenses, open the Snap Camera application and select your lens. Then, in the video-chat software of your choice, select Snap Camera as the webcam. A Snap spokeswoman confirmed that this software runs locally on the user’s computer, and no Snap Camera video is collected by Snapchat.

Using Zoom

The hottest video-chat app right now is Zoom, but with popularity comes abuse, as well as increased scrutiny.

What is Zoombombing and how do I stop it? Reports of video-chat crashers, or “Zoombombers,” are on the rise. On March 30, the FBI issued a warning for video-teleconferencing hijacking, where intruders disrupt Zoom chats with expletives and pornographic images.

There are a few effective ways for a host to avoid interruptions. First, in Settings or when you create a new meeting, opt to Generate Automatically. Don’t use your Personal Meeting ID, which anyone with your unique 10-digit number could join at any time. And always require a meeting passcode.

A Zoom video conference this week with Britain’s prime minister and his cabinet. Hopefully they locked the room once everybody was in. Photo: pippa fowles/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images .

Another solution is to turn on a feature called Waiting Room, which requires attendees to be admitted by the host. You need to sign in to the Zoom web portal first. Then, click Meetings and select a meeting topic or schedule a new meeting. Under Meeting options, select Enable Waiting Room.

Very important: Make sure you are the only person who can share your screen.

In the meeting, tap the Share Screen button and select Advanced Sharing Options.

Once the meeting has started and everybody you invited is in, you can lock the room from the More menu. For big groups, use the same menu to mute everyone as they enter, and don’t allow participants to unmute themselves. You can also hover over participants’ names to remove them.

Why do I look terrible on these calls? It’s probably because you haven’t gotten a haircut or put on makeup in a few weeks. (Me neither!) For a quick fix, open the Zoom app, go to Zoom preferences, then Video. Under My Video, enable Touch Up My Appearance, which gives your video a silky, soft skin-smoothing focus.

How do I hide my messy house from co-workers? Easy: When you’re in a meeting, click on the down arrow next to the Start/Stop Video icon and select Choose Virtual Background. Download some fun meme-inspired backdrops at zoommeetingbackgrounds.com or beautiful naturescapes from Unsplash. Just be aware, it doesn’t work with all computers and operating-system versions.

My audio or video won’t work. Help! In preferences, click on the Video tab to change cameras and preview your picture. In the Audio tab, you can choose your preferred microphone source and speaker. (Choose “Same as system” if you’re switching between video-chat apps.) Before hosting or joining a meeting, test your audio and video at zoom.us/test.

You also might be muted. If so, you’ll see a red line through a microphone icon on the bottom left. Long-press your space bar to cancel mute as you talk.

Do I have to download the app? If you have Google Chrome or Firefox, then no. When you click on a Zoom meeting link, there’s an option to “Join from your browser,” in tiny letters below. Zoom’s web product is not compatible with Safari for Macs.

Zoom via web browser gives you access to the meeting, but you don’t get all of the bells and whistles. You can’t turn on virtual backgrounds, for example.

What’s up with the 40-minute limit for free basic accounts? If you (or your host) are not paying for Zoom, calls with more than two participants are limited to 40 minutes. (One-to-one calls have no limits.) But some people are seeing this message: “Running out of time? Here’s a gift from Zoom. We have removed the 40-min time limit on your next group meeting."

What’s the deal? A Zoom spokeswoman said the first time you hit the 40-minute mark, the courtesy message pops-up. After that, you’ll be cut off when time runs out and will need to upgrade to the $15-a-month pro plan for longer meetings. (The company has lifted the time limit for free accounts used by schools.)

Is Zoom private? I heard the app is sending my data to Facebook. Following a recent Vice report, Zoom said it would remove a Facebook SDK in its iOS app that sent Zoom user data to Facebook, FB -0.72%▲ even if the user didn’t have a Facebook account. That information included the user’s phone model, city, carrier and unique advertising identifier, which helps companies track user behavior and target users with advertisements.

The latest version of the Zoom iOS app does not send this data to Facebook. iOS users should update their apps if they haven’t already.

In a statement, the Zoom spokeswoman said the company “does not mine user data or sell user data of any kind to anyone.” Zoom collects data such as a user’s IP address and device details, which, she said, is used to optimize the service for different settings and hardware.

Hangouts Meet is Google's enterprise video-conferencing app. It works a lot like Zoom: Anyone with a Meet Link can join a call, even people who don't have a Google account.
Using Google Hangouts Meet

For many with a corporate Google account (including us), the Hangout has become a meeting-room staple. Now, during the work-from-home mandate, it’s been a go-to option.

Wait a minute: What’s the difference between Google Hangouts, Hangouts Meet and Duo? Google has a confusing slate of video options right now. For regular Gmail users, there’s Google Hangouts, which can be used to message and video chat other Google users. Duo is an entirely separate video-chat app that’s end-to-end encrypted and intended for friends and family to catch up.

For companies and schools, there’s Hangouts Meet, which is Google’s supercharged, enterprise-only version of Hangouts. It works a lot like Zoom. It can support between 100 and 250 people on one chat, depending on which tier you’re on. (Hangouts supports up to 10 people, while Duo supports up to eight.)

Do you need a Google account? You need a Google account to video chat on Hangouts and Duo.

If you host a Hangouts Meet, however, you can invite anyone, even if they’re outside of your organization and don’t have a Google account. Just send them the link.

Can I use Hangouts Meet with friends and family? Technically, yes, provided one person has a corporate Google account. But should you use it? Probably not. Do you want your company admin looking at whom you’re calling? Even among Google options, Duo is better because of its encryption.

How do you start or schedule a Hangouts Meet?

If you have a corporate account, go to meet.google.com to start a meeting right away, or go to Google Calendar, create an event and choose Add Conferencing to auto-create a Meet link.

Can’t hear? If you’re having audio difficulties, just call in. You can dial into any Meet meeting using your phone. From the Meet or Google Calendar app, tap the phone number under “Join by phone.” The same is generally true for Zoom meetings.

Everything Else

There are many options for video chatting—too many to cover here. Worth an honorable mention: Skype, the OG video-chatting service acquired years ago by Microsoft. MSFT -0.42%▲ You can Skype from your phone, the web, a tablet—even through Alexa. The feature you need to know about is background blur. Hover over the video icon and select Blur My Background. There’s also a free capability called Meet Now that allows you to set up a call that people without Skype accounts can join.

As for the others, there are all the services built into social media platforms, like Snapchat (up to 16 people) and Facebook’s Messenger (up to 50 people) and Instagram (up to 6 people), which offer fun augmented-reality filters. Plus, there’s Apple’s AAPL -0.86%▲ FaceTime, which is built into Mac and iOS devices.

One app that’s quickly gaining popularity is Houseparty, a confusing-but-fun video-chatting platform that allows for more fluidity than the rest. When you open Houseparty, you’re “in the house.” Once you’re in, anyone who is your friend can immediately start video chatting with you. And then, anyone of your friends—or your friend’s friends—can “join” your room. Up to eight people can fit in one room.

It can get a little chaotic. Think co-workers suddenly mingling with exes. To prevent anyone else from joining, tap the lock icon at the bottom of the screen.

Houseparty can be a lot of fun, but the amount of notifications is dizzying. To turn them off, tap the smiley face on the top left of the screen, then Manage Notifications. Disable “Send out my notifications when I open Houseparty” and Get My Friends notifications.

Then, tap the back button, and select the settings icon in the top left of the window. You’ll want to turn on Private Mode—it locks every room you join. 

Houseparty can get a little chaotic, Tap the smile icon to disable the app's dizzying notifications and turn on Privacy Mode.

Recently, there were rumors swirling about an alleged security breach on the service. The app’s maker, part of Epic Games, denied that any passwords were compromised. In any case, if you have Houseparty regret, scroll down and select the Privacy Menu. That’s where you can delete your account.

The coronavirus fightback will make lasting changes to economies

Investors trying to call the bottom of the market rout face a daunting task

Michael Mackenzie

A surgical mask is placed on The "Fearless Girl" statue outside the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday, March 19, 2020, in New York. Stocks are swinging between gains and losses in early trading on Wall Street Thursday, but the moves are more subdued than the wild jabs that have dominated recent weeks. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
A surgical mask is placed on the 'Fearless Girl' statue outside the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday © AP

In the fight to stop the coronavirus outbreak destabilising the global economy, central banks have gone “all in” with intervention after intervention to calm capital markets.

Governments are following closely behind, announcing massive spending initiatives to shield their economies from deep recessions. When the pandemic eventually recedes, the effects of these actions will continue to be felt. This introduces another element of uncertainty for those trying to plot the course of an eventual recovery in equities and other asset classes.

In a world where countries are becoming islands and cities are becoming households, fearful investors are hoarding cash, in particular US dollars. A painful reckoning is taking place across global markets after a decade-long debt binge. No asset class is safe, apart from short-dated US Treasury bills. As their prices surged, the implied yields on these securities — seen as cash equivalents — edged below zero during this week’s frenetic trading across equities, credit, currencies, government debt and oil.

The usually reliable method of portfolio insurance, through buying gold or long-dated government bonds that do well when riskier assets suffer, has not been spared.

Some investors need cash to meet redemptions from funds they manage or to pay back collateral on positions that continue to sink below the water line. Others have clearly elected to stockpile cash while waiting for the extreme market volatility to abate.

A strengthening US dollar highlights the magnitude of this global deleveraging. Across all asset classes, the exit trade is rapacious and the flight from emerging markets is starkly illustrated by the Institute of International Finance. According to its figures, EM outflows since late January are already twice that of a similar period during the global financial crisis and much bigger than in other episodes such as the 2014 “taper tantrum”.

Investors accustomed to boom and bust may well look at the current environment and see signs of a good long-term buying opportunity. Big drops are followed by large recoveries. But this year’s events are different.

A pandemic of indeterminate length is causing a profound economic slump — one that shuts the door on businesses and their workers, particularly those in the gig economy, creating hardship for many who depend entirely on their weekly or monthly pay cheques.
The spectre of a solvency crisis for the broader economy has jolted central banks and governments into action.
Policymakers’ efforts are crucial to stem the economic damage, but this is an environment where — rather than waiting for green shoots in economic data — the only statistic that counts is evidence of Covid-19 peaking. Only then can investors really start assessing just what kind of recovery beckons and what represents fair value for asset prices.
Alan Ruskin at Deutsche Bank argues that optimism in an eventual V-shaped recovery is “next to impossible when the real economy is only starting the downside of the V at a historic pace of descent. We are too soon into social distancing to start seeing its end, which is the core metric for risk recovery”.
Calling the bottom is a daunting task. But for investors with a long time horizon, there is an opportunity to buy assets that have endured a hefty downgrade, perhaps in small bites.
Rob Arnott, founder of Research Affiliates, says those investors will have to strike in the next few months — as “once the pandemic is beginning to ebb”, he argues, the moment will have passed. “The window of opportunity will be short, but highly rewarding over the longer term.”
Another long-term challenge involves assessing the post-pandemic terrain for companies and economies.
Deep recessions often clear out the dead wood from the previous economic cycle, and that facilitates a rapid recovery. Companies that survive the coming wave of defaults will become stronger as competition withers, while the likely changes in how people work and interact with each other present opportunities for companies beyond the current crisis. That may well invigorate the next business cycle.
There is also the chance that governments and central banks do not scale back their pronounced presence in markets and the economy once the crisis passes. There is plenty of scope for central banks to monetise a vast rise in government spending, given the scale of the potential economic damage looming.
Pumping money directly into the hands of people and companies, rather than banks as was done in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, will no doubt prove popular — particularly as it stands to boost the economic rebound. But it is also likely to create much higher inflation down the road.
Investors will adjust and find the drivers of the next bull market, but they must also navigate profound changes across the economic and financial system. In that sense, the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak will continue to loom over the investment landscape in the years ahead.

Recession + Deflation = Real Panic

by: Calafia Beach Pundit
- We're in the midst of a global pandemic that, apart from a handful of countries is spreading geometrically.

- The contagion curve is already beginning to flatten in Italy and Spain, and it can't be long before the U.S. also sees a slowing in the growth of new cases.

- The Treasury has plenty of room to sell loads of bonds and at a very low cost.
What's worse: a steep recession or falling prices? Answer: A steep recession AND falling prices.
That's is the underlying reality that is shaking markets to the core right now. There are three factors that are creating those conditions: the coronavirus, government-ordered shutdowns, and a war between Saudi Arabia and Russia over oil production, and they are all inter-connected.
We have to be getting very close to a resolution of this conflict because the level of panic is rapidly approaching an intolerable extreme.
The news could hardly be worse. We're in the midst of a global pandemic that, apart from a handful of countries (China, S. Korea, Singapore) is spreading geometrically. Governments everywhere are ordering quarantines and outright shutdowns of activity. Global travel has collapsed, potentially bankrupting nearly every cruise ship and airline company.
The entire restaurant industry is teetering on the edge of failure, and take-out is only a band-aid solution. Vaccines and therapeutics won't arrive for many months. Millions of people are being laid off. GDPs are sure to plunge at dizzying rates.
Bottom line: fear, uncertainty, and doubt have reached epic heights. The market cap of global equity markets has plunged by over $30 trillion in just the last month. Nearly every major equity market is down between 30% and 40% year to date, and some prices are plunging and surging at double-digit daily rates.
To continue on the present course - shutdowns, price wars - until the virus is vanquished is madness. Something has to give. Saudi and Russia need to declare a truce. Politicians need to call off the shutdowns: at some point, the economic damage caused by shutdowns will greatly exceed the possible damage from the virus, which is already losing intensity thanks to shutdowns, hand-washing, and social distancing.
The contagion curve is already beginning to flatten in Italy and Spain, and it can't be long before the U.S. also sees a slowing in the growth of new cases.
Yes, 8,000 people have died around the world as a result of the coronavirus in the past three months, but more than 20,000 people in the U.S. died last year of run-of-the-mill flu and no one sounded any alarm. Let's keep things in perspective, please.
When conditions become intolerable, as they are today, something's gotta break. And it will, soon.
Here's a look at the key variables impacting the markets today:
Chart #1
Chart #2
As Charts #1 and #2 show, fear has reached the same extreme as we saw at the height of the 2008 financial panic. Equity prices are down over 30%. It's a rout; everyone's headed for the exit.
Chart #3
Chart #4
As Charts #3 and #4 show, plunging oil prices have caused inflation expectations to collapse.
We are very close to the deflationary expectations that existed at the height of the 2008 panic.
We are living in extreme times. No amount of QE will fix the virus threat, but QE will help the market cope with dislocations caused by extreme panic. The Fed needs to accommodate the market's need for safety and liquidity.
Inflation is NOT a problem.
Fiscal stimulus fueled by new Treasury issuance is NOT a problem and will directly help the consumer and small businesses to survive the (largely unnecessary in my opinion) government-mandated shutdowns.
Chart #5
Recession is now likely, and credit spreads agree, as shown in Chart #5.
Chart #6
As Chart #6 shows, it's plunging oil prices that are at the root of the credit market's concerns.
High yield energy-related bond spreads (shown here as of yesterday) are most likely now at record-breaking levels, higher even than we saw at the height of the 2008 panic.
Oil prices MUST stop falling; Saudi and Russia MUST call a truce. Both need to cut production dramatically, and SOON.
Chart #7
As Chart #7 shows, the prices of gold and TIPS are plunging. That's odd because both are safe-haven assets. The explanation for their decline can be found in mounting deflation fears: who needs inflation protection if prices are falling?
On the bright side, however, rising real yields on TIPS suggest that the market is beginning to look to the future and beginning to expect that fiscal and monetary stimulus - combined with a cessation of the oil price wars - will lead to a much stronger economy tomorrow.
There IS light at the end of this dismal tunnel!
Chart #8
A marked steepening of the Treasury yield curve is also good news. The curve is steepening not because the Fed is easing, but because the market sees better times ahead.
And anyway, 10-yr yields are ONLY 1.25%, hardly a level to worry about. The Treasury has plenty of room to sell loads of bonds and at a very low cost. And they should.
Chart #9
Chart #9 shows one other problem that is plaguing markets today: a strong dollar (blue line). A strong dollar is the result of global panic, and it is also one source of deflationary pressure on all commodity prices. More QE, please, because the world wants and needs more dollars.