June 2022 \ Business & Investment \ COLUMN—FINANCIAL MARKETS
“Expecting the unexpected”

By Navneet Munot

Over the years, financial markets have grown used to expecting the unexpected. Almost any passage of time in the history of financial markets is replete with events which have taken market participants by surprise. However, it would be fair to say that the 2020s have just taken this to an altogether different level. In a lighter vein, one could wonder how the first quarter of the last few years has made it a habit of making a mockery of beginning-of-year forecasts. While 2020 was a year which began under the looming threat of geo-political tensions between US and Iran; by the end of the first quarter, the thing that had turned the world upside down was, after all, a virus. At the start of 2022, while all eyes were on the spread of Omicron; by the end of the first quarter, the event that actually shook everyone was a geopolitical one (Russia-Ukraine war).

Indeed, one would want to turn back the clock or rather, the calendar, to the beginning of this year with a hope that diplomacy and good sense prevailed and the world avoided this human tragedy, still unfolding in Ukraine. While turning time back and forth can only be wishful thinking, it certainly does happen twice a year - in some countries. Yes, indeed, I am referring to ‘daylight saving time’, which basically involves the practice of setting the clock ahead by an hour at the beginning of summer and setting it back by an hour at the beginning of winter in most western countries. Interestingly, while this idea was floated in the early twentieth century, it only took off during World War I as countries scrambled to save energy by making better use of daylight.

This wasn’t the only new idea to take off in the aftermath of a war. For instance, widespread manufacturing of antibiotics, like penicillin in the US, took off only during World War II. Stainless steel rose to prominence during World War I as the British military sought an alternative to other metals, which were prone to damage from heat and friction.

While different forms of computers are used across all industries today, the world’s first large scale electronic computer was built during World War II. Rapid progress in radar technology during World War I paved the path for the civil aviation industry to take off. This list goes on and on and includes wristwatches, synthetic rubber, Pilates etc.

In fact, it is not just the military conflicts that have triggered innovations. The competitive spirit during the Cold War too led to rapid development of space technology which had a lasting impact on the world.