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A corporate survival guide

企业生存指南

The coronavirus crisis will change the world of commerce

冠状病毒危机将改变商业界

Firms that make it through will face a new business climate

渡过难关的企业将面临新的商业环境



Most bosses and workers have been through economic crises before. They know that each time the agony is different—and that each time entrepreneurs and firms adapt and bounce back. Even so, the shock ripping through the business world is daunting. With countries accounting for over 50% of world gdp in lockdown, the collapse in commercial activity is far more severe than in previous recessions. The exit path from lockdowns will be precarious, with uneasy consumers, a stop-start rhythm that inhibits efficiency, and tricky new health protocols. And in the long run the firms that survive will have to master a new environment as the crisis and the response to it accelerate three trends: an energising adoption of new technologies, an inevitable retreat from freewheeling global supply chains and a worrying rise in well-connected oligopolies.

大多数老板和员工都经历过经济危机。他们知道每次都要承受不同的痛苦——每次企业家和企业都要适应环境,重整旗鼓。即便如此,商业界遭受的冲击令人畏惧。由于实施封城的国家占世界GDP的50%以上,商业活动的锐减比以往的经济衰退严重得多。封城的解除之路将充满不确定性:不安的消费者、阻碍效率的停开节奏、棘手的新卫生协议。从长远来看,生存下来的企业必须适应新的环境,因为危机和应对措施会加快三种趋势:积极采用新技术,不可避免地退出自由的全球供应链,背景雄厚的寡头令人担忧地增加。

Many firms are putting a brave face on it. Pumped with adrenalin, bosses are broadcasting rousing messages to their staff. Normally ruthless corporate giants are signing up for public service. lvmh, the Parisian purveyor of Dior perfume, is distilling hand-sanitiser, General Motors wants to make ventilators as well as pickups, and Alibaba’s founder is distributing masks worldwide. Cut-throat rivals in the retail trade are co-operating to ensure supermarkets are stocked. Few listed firms have made public their calculations of the financial damage from the freeze in business. As a result, Wall Street analysts expect only a slight dip in profits in 2020.



The pain will deepen as defaults cascade through domestic payment chains. h&m, a retailer, is asking for rent holidays, hurting commercial-property firms. Some supply chains lixing many countries are stalling because of factory closures and border controls. Italy’s lockdown has disrupted the global flow of everything from cheese to jet-turbine components. China’s factories are cranking back into action. Apple’s suppliers bravely insist that new 5g phones will appear later this year, but they are part of an intricate system that is only as strong as its weakest lix. Hong Kong’s government says its firms are reeling as multinationals cancel orders and ignore bills. The financial strain will reveal some astonishing frauds. Luckin Coffee, a huge Chinese chain, has just admitted brewing its books.

随着本国支付链的违约事件层出不穷,痛苦将会加剧。零售商h&m正在要求给予免租期,这会损害商业地产企业的利益。由于工厂关闭和边境管控,与多国关联的某些供应链已经中断。从奶酪到涡轮喷气发动机,意大利封城中断了所有产品的全球流动。中国工厂正在复工。苹果公司的供应商勇敢地坚称,新的5G手机将于今年下半年上市,但复杂的供应网络只取决于最薄弱的环节,而它们是该网络的一部分。香港政府表示,由于跨国企业取消订单,无视账单,香港企业正在受到冲击。资金压力将暴露某些令人震惊的欺诈行为,中国大型连锁品牌“瑞幸咖啡”最近承认做假账。

In the past two recessions, about a tenth of firms with credit ratings defaulted worldwide. Which survive now depends on their industry, their balance-sheets and how easily they can tap government loans, guarantees and aid, which amount to $8trn in big Western economies alone. If your firm sells confectionery or detergent, the outlook is good. Many tech companies are seeing surging demand. Small firms will suffer most: 54% in America are closed temporarily or expect to be in the next ten days. They lack access to capital markets. And without friends in high places, they will struggle to get government help. Only 1.5% of America’s $350bn aid package for small firms has been disbursed so far and Britain’s effort has been slow, too. Banks are struggling to deal with contradictory rules and a flood of loan applications (see article). Resentment could rage for years.



The job of boards is not just to keep afloat, but also to assess long-run prospects. The crisis is set to amplify three trends. First, a quicker adoption of new technologies. The planet is having a crash course in e-commerce, digital payments and remote working. More medical innovations beckon, including gene-editing technologies. Second, global supply chains will be recast, speeding the shift since the trade war began. Apple has just ten days’ worth of inventory, and its main supplier in Asia, Foxconn, 41 days. Firms will seek bigger safety buffers and a critical mass of production close to home using highly automated factories. Cross-border business investment could drop by 30-40% this year. Global firms will become less profitable but more resilient.

董事会的职责不只是生存,还要评估长远的未来。这场危机势必强化三种趋势,首先是加快采用新技术。全球的电子商务、数字支付、远程办公正在迅猛发展,未来可能出现更多的医疗创新,包括基因编辑技术。其次,全球供应链将重新洗牌,使这种贸易战爆发以来的变化加速。苹果公司只有10天的存货,其亚洲的主要供应商“富士康”只有41天的存货。企业将在本国周边地区利用高度自动化工厂谋求更大的安全缓冲和关键性的批量生产。今年的跨境商业投资可能下降30-40%。全球性企业的利润将减少,但弹性增强。

Don’t go from crisis to stasis

避免从危机走向停滞

The last long-term shift is less certain and more unwelcome: a further rise in corporate concentration and cronyism, as government cash floods the private sector and big firms grow even more dominant. Already, two-thirds of American industries have become more concentrated since the 1990s, sapping the economy’s vitality. Now some powerful bosses are heralding a new era of co-operation between politicians and big businesses—especially those on the ever-expanding list of firms that are considered “strategic”. Voters, consumers and investors should fight this idea since it will mean more graft, less competition and slower economic growth. Like all crises the covid-19 calamity will pass and in time a fresh wave of business energy will be unleashed. Far better if this is not muffled by permanently supersized government and a new oligarchy of well-connected firms.

最后一种长期变化不太明确,也不太受欢迎:随着政府资金大量流入私营领域,以及大企业的主导地位变得更强,行业集中度和裙带关系将会加剧。上世纪90年代以来,三分之二的美国行业变得更加集中,削弱了经济活力。现在一些有权势的老板正在宣告政客与大企业之间的合作新时代——尤其是不断增加的所谓“战略性”企业。选民、消费者、投资者应抵制这种想法,因为那将意味着腐败增多,竞争减少,经济增长放缓。就像所有的危机一样,这场新冠肺炎灾难终将结束,迟早迸发出新一轮的商业活力。如果长期存在的超大型政府和背景雄厚的企业重新开始的寡头垄断不会扼杀这股活力,那就太好了。