About this Episode
Host Nathan Hunt is joined by Essential Podcast producer Molly Mintz to review the events—and episodes—of 2020. Not only discussing their lessons learned and favorite guests of the year, the duo share their thoughts on what topics they’re eager to tackle next.
- 2020 spawned an unprecedented global public health crisis, during which the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the economy, governments, and the society in which we live; reduced fossil fuel consumption and emissions, and accelerated calls for tangible climate actions; and launched a historic period of civil unrest as widespread protests against racial injustice unfurled around the world. Read our 2020 Year in Review special report.
- The extraordinary events of 2020 will likely shape the decade ahead. Global recovery prospects from the COVID-19 pandemic look brighter for 2021, but the sequence of the recovery matters. As several effective vaccines begin to rollout in several countries, leaders are navigating the social, financial, and economic effects of the disease as they look to a post-pandemic world. Read our Top Industry Trends and Outlooks for 2021 special report.
Nathan Hunt: This is the Essential Podcast from S&P Global. My name is Nathan Hunt. I was shocked the other day, when I glanced at my phone and realized 2020 was about to end. In my mind, 2020 had become like a Samuel Beckett play here. We are trapped in a meaningless, but escalating series of traumas. We can't go on, we must go on. And yet 2020 has not been without its rewards, like the Essential Podcast, which we started in March during lockdowns and have kept that ever since. So, this episode of the Essential Podcast will be dedicated to reviewing the events of this year through the lens of some of the interviews we have done. And my guest for today will be my producer, Molly Mintz. Molly and I have been on this journey together, she's one of my favorite people and not just because her name is so much fun to say. Molly, Mintz, Molly Mintz. Molly, welcome to the dangerous side of the microphone.
Molly Mintz: Nathan, I have to say, first of all, thank you for having me here. It is quite the experience to come from behind the scenes onto the show. So I'm excited to see how much damage I can do today.
Nathan Hunt: I want to start by going back in time. And since you're the producer, I'd like you to please add some music to the final mix while I continue talking here. So going back in time, I seem to recall a conversation back in January, when we first talked about doing a podcast, something on the macro-issues that affect the markets. If you remember, I was a little bit resistant.
Molly Mintz: I might say a little bit is an understatement. However, warming you up to the idea of getting a podcast seems like a very small effort when, considering how quickly we had to pivot from our initial conversations in January to when we hit the ground running in March. As with everything in the world, when the lockdown started, when the pandemic crystallized in the United States and around the world all of our plans changed. What we originally had conceptualized as a macro-perspective on the issues, most important to financial markets and those that participate in them, quickly transitioned into diving deep into the changes and the topics and the issues that were happening at the forefront for everyone around the world and how all of those everyday interactions changed so dramatically when this pandemic took over.
Nathan Hunt: You know, Molly, when you mentioned that it reminds me of something. I was in preparation for this year in review podcasts, looking through the episodes we've done over the course of the year and I saw episodes on a wide variety of topics.
Episode Clip: Carbon emissions…
Episode Clip: High levels of volatility…
Episode Clip: Intersectional issues or issues regarding diversity…
Episode Clip: China…
Episode Clip: Climate change…
Nathan Hunt: But what I realize we, I haven't really talked about on the podcast is the pandemic itself. We talked about the effects of the pandemic, we talked about how it impacts markets, we talked about how we impact supply chain.
Episode Clip: I think if anything is being highlighted. Through the global pandemic and what we're going through right now, it's that we are heavily lion on long haul transportation, either nationally in many cases, internationally for the food that we require every single day, every single week, every single month. And of course that extends far beyond food and expense to medical supplies and a lot of other areas as well. And I think what happened in the time of COVID is a supply chain, which has been functioning in this manner for decades, all of a sudden had strong light shined on it. And people woke up and said, wow, our food travels a long way. And we as an individual, locality are very susceptible to disruptions. We are only heading towards a place where there's going to be more disruptions, not less.
Nathan Hunt: How it impacts urbanization…
Episode Clip: The appeal of living in central London or downtown in any sort of large American city or anywhere in Europe becomes slightly less appealing right now because you're dealing with high house prices. You do have this amazing, the social scene in these cities that people love. But now you've got to weigh that up a little bit more, you've taken away one of the pulls of these big cities. What I think is you could start to see some sort of areas of countries do very, very well out of this places where people want to move to, because they are affordable places that people want to move to because there's still the social and recreational activities that people do really, really like in cities. But that affordability is important. If you don't need to be able to commute every single day or even four or five days a week, then suddenly you can weigh that up a little bit more. And I think actually the appeal of living in a, in a mega city compared to a smaller city or a town or a suburb has been dramatically reduced due to this change in views towards working from home.
Nathan Hunt: But we never really talked about the pandemic.
Molly Mintz: What has been important for me in thinking about this is that the pandemic is the big story. But within this entire 10 months of major transformation and disruption, the stories plural most interesting to me have been the pandemics implications on everything as you mentioned from supply chains, to market volatility, to climate change. So, the implications of this major transformation on the ways that we interact, communicate, eat, live, work, think, trade, so on, so forth. We have seen disruptions across every function of the global economy and to look at those stories and to see what those changes mean not only in the current moment where we discuss them on the podcast, but also to look ahead and see what that means. Those are the stories that I have been most interested in telling. If there was one good thing to come from this objectively terrible year. I would say that one silver lining or light in the darkness was that all of these problems, these fault lines came into fruition at a time where perhaps we as a global community have never been more ready to make dramatic change. We saw that with the mass protests across the world against racial injustice. We see that in the fight against climate change. And you know, when I think about this year and its totality, I think markets now have no choice, but to pay attention to the human experience and human capital. This mass mortality event, I think will be a humongous catalyst, probably the first of many that will transform financial markets and the global economy.
Nathan Hunt: Back in March, we decided, uh, shortly after lockdowns began to immediately move to creating this podcast. My first interview was with Paul Grunewald, who is the Global Chief Economist at S&P Global. Paul is always an interesting guy, but I don't know if I ever told you that I decided to make him our Guinea pig out of a desire for vengeance.
Molly Mintz: Please tell me more.
Nathan Hunt: Paul had recommended, I read this 1000 page book called 'The Rise and Fall of American Growth." He actually called it magisterial, which was not a word I had ever heard in casual conversation. So I thought, well, okay, it's magisterial. I better read it. And I bought a copy and plowed through the whole thing. And then I asked him to meet me for coffee one day and started asking questions about the book and he said, "Oh, that I never read it. So when it came time to record a podcast, me having no experience with podcasting. I thought, well, you know, I'll get back at it. Anyway, let's put a quote in from Paul here saying something brilliant from that podcast since he was actually a good sport about being my first interview.
Paul Grunewald: China's important because it's the only template for rehab and as I said, they went through the broker ID crisis. First, the backward looking data are actually quite bad. We have a 12% drop industrial production in the January, February period. But some of the more controlled data such as Sedexis data or traffic data, or some of the consumer confidence data seem to be showing a stabilization. So this template we're working with with one quarter stock and one quarter of stabilization and the number of COVID rate that seems to be playing out in China. Although the upturn looks to be a little bit slower than we had originally anticipated.
Nathan Hunt: Let's talk a bit about podcasting. As we talked about at the beginning of the year, I didn't want to record a podcast because I hate the sound of my voice. I think there's this misunderstanding, a misunderstanding I may have started the year with that. You just have a conversation and record it, and that's a podcast. What is the one weirdest thing you have discovered about podcasting?
Molly Mintz: I'm going to turn your question on its head. Do what podcast hosts hate most and have their guests not answer their question directly. You asked what I learned most about podcasting. I want to answer what I've learned most about people. Here behind the scenes in the editor's chair, listening to very deep, insightful conversations. What I have learned most about people is that when you get someone talking about something, they are passionate about, you don't only learn about the topic that they're talking about, but you learn about themselves. It's very interesting when you ask someone a question and they are really interested in answering, they give 110% of themselves to responding. They talk fast, they might stumble over their words. We hate that in podcasting. They're so eager to get the information out. I really love when podcast guests do what we sensibly hate most in the editing position, but that's really, when I feel like I am also in the interview and I get to know the person, that's what I've learned most about people.
Nathan Hunt: When you talk about people who speak quickly on subjects in which they are extremely knowledgeable. You remind me of a guest we've had on the podcast twice this year. Two actually have our most popular podcasts. It's Chris Midgley who works at S&P Global Platts as the global director of analytics. Chris appeared on shortly after we had sort of the flash crash in oil markets where the WTI index went into negative territory.
Chris Midgley: Most of those traders do not have the physical ability either because they don't have tankage oil. They don't have the physical ability to take the oil physically. So they have to close those positions out. And with one day before expiring, what we saw was that the settlement day was at minus 37 63. It collapsed all the way from the high teens down to there over the weekend and into today. Affectedly widening out that may June spread from minus seven to something like minus $58, which meant that someone is making a lot of money, but on 108 million barrels of length, someone is losing a lot of money to the tune of that being half a billion dollars, a loss in certain positions, potentially around this, the WTI contract will trade like a standard of futures contracts.
Nathan Hunt: And Chris is a wonderful person to interview, but I don't think he actually breeds because he would speak so quickly and it's such volume. And he was so fascinating that I've just honestly felt like I couldn't cut him off at all. Let's jump forward a bit to one of my favorite podcasts we did this year and it's entirely because of the guest, um, Mona Naqvi on intersectionality and ESG. I believe you are a Mona fan.
Molly Mintz: I am an incredible Mona fan. I'm so happy to wrap this up because this is one of my favorite episodes as well, to have her really dive deep into the way it's not only that environmental E, social S, and G governance factors really co-exist but against the backdrop of this mass global civil unrest in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the demands that individuals were making of companies to showcase what they were doing to make the global workforce more equitable and inclusive, really changed my perspective.
Nathan Hunt: That is great to hear. I felt like my favorite interviews through the course of the year were with guests who came on and told me about something that I didn't know anything about. We do a lot of research before the guests come on, but finding out about topics on which I just hadn't read before. Talking about hydrogen.
Episode Clip: Hydrogen powers the sun and the stars. People don't appreciate that. Hydrogen is already being used in very large scale in sectors like refineries in sectors like ammonia, where they're used to make fertilizers and various chemical processes.
Nathan Hunt: Talking about Cushing, Oklahoma.
Episode Clip: The reality is, is there's very little storage available for anybody to rent. And therefore anybody caught with a being along the contract, as we go into expiry tomorrow, we'll have to accept oil to be delivered in Cushing. And if they don't have that storage or clearly they have a problem, they have to get out of that contract before tomorrow.
Nathan Hunt: Talking with Miguel de Smet of the Ellen MacArthur foundation about the circular economy.
Miguel De Smet: The transition to a circular economy, doesn't just aim to address the negative impacts of our current linear system. It actually more importantly is about changing our economic system to its longterm and at the same time generating these economic opportunities.
Nathan Hunt: Obviously Esther, on the wildfires out West, she had a huge amount of insight.
Esther: People talk about climate change as if it's this thing that creates new things, really with exception to like sea level rise, which we know is really just a climate change related thing. Most events are kind of exacerbated by climate change. So like, as you were saying earlier, right. Wildfires have happened in the West for a long time, but now climate change is exacerbating those. The west itself has faced a string of dry years since 2000. So now that they're 20 years in, they're officially in a mega drought, which was previously a very rare occurrence. And on top of the drought, the average temperature in the West has increased. So we're seeing hotter drier summers. For example, I'm going to say quite a few States here, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah this year each had their warmest August on record.
Nathan Hunt: You know, another one that sticks out in my head was Josh Motta, who is the CEO of a company called Coalition who came in to talk about cyber risk, cyber security and cyber insurance .
Josh Motta: There are a lot of business owners that don't even know that cyber insurance exists. You know, most businesses, again, still think of cybersecurity as a technology problem. It's as something that technical people worry about, it's their IT person or whatnot. They don't truly understand that it is a risk to their business, to their organization. And they don't really think about it as a risk management problem. So I think that's one issue.
Nathan Hunt: All of those episodes. I remember listening to the answers that were given and thinking. I'm learning something new and I'm completely engaged in having this conversation with this guest, we talked about things that were in a way inside baseball. They were inside the markets. They were highly specific, but they were interviews that could provide context to everyone so that it could be both interesting to someone who was a sector specialist. But also interesting to just an average person who was learning and finding out about financial markets, perhaps for the first time, the last episode we did, which was on CEOs and stakeholder capitalism and the purpose of a corporation. We had Doug Peterson, who is our CEO and the other guest on that episode was Martin Whittaker of Just Capital.
Martin Whittaker: Yeah. You know, I sort of felt that this year, that what we were experiencing was opening our eyes to how important frontline workers really were. It was really changing the way we thought about how companies interact with the communities where they operate. How they dealt with their customers that was sort of forced upon us. And so the value creation for those stakeholders, the three that I just mentioned, workers, communities, customers was now front and center. And in fact, we, and those are shown that companies that were leading on stakeholder performance proved to be much more resilient going through the crisis. And I think that the history will show that those companies are actually, uh, perform better and will come out of this in a position to be more influential to reframe what makes a company successful.
Molly Mintz: What makes a great guest?
Nathan Hunt: I thought Martin was an exceptionally interesting guest because his answers appeared so reflective. Like he was working through the issues that we were talking about for the first time, at the same time, I'm aware that Martin is obviously an expert in these issues. He has dedicated his life to them, and yet he seemed intellectually engaged in having the conversation once again. And I think that engagement is part of what makes a guest exceptional.
Molly Mintz: We're thinking back on everything we've done this year. What did we miss in our coverage over 2020?
Nathan Hunt: Inevitably, we missed so much, but when I think of the things that I had really wanted to talk about, that we'd never got a chance to do an episode on the one that sticks out in my head. The most is actually what has happened with OPEC and OPEC plus block through 2020. And in many ways, what we've seen with OPEC is something that has been coming for quite a while, because there are now so many sources of oil. That it has become impossible for a cartel to operate with the degree of control that OPEC wants. Did we have done a lot of episodes on ESG. I am intrigued has the environmental crisis, the climate crisis gone too far at this point. Not too far in an apocalyptic sense, but too far for it to be immediately addressable through reduced emissions or perhaps carbon capture. As you know, I am a natural optimist, but because I feel like you should question your own impulses. I want to engage with some pessimists, some climate pessimists to understand their perspective and how they see the coming decades.
Molly Mintz: We have our work cut out for us.
Nathan Hunt: Thank you, Molly, for being my guest for this review of the year.
Molly Mintz: Thank you for having me. Thanks to everyone for listening. And I will go back behind the scenes from here on out.
Nathan Hunt: You always tell me that my endings are a little weak. So, in keeping with that tradition, I will say, this is the end of the Essential Podcast year-end review. My name is Nathan Hunt.
Molly Mintz: We'd also like to hear directly from you, our loyal listeners, you can reach us always on social media. Use the #centralintelligence. We want to hear what you want to know.
Nathan Hunt: Thank you for listening.
The Essential Podcast is edited and produced by Molly Mintz.