The Independent Market Observer

Bumpy Road Ahead! Navigating Our Way Back to Normal

Posted by Brad McMillan, CFA®, CFP®

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This entry was posted on May 18, 2021 3:04:01 PM

and tagged Commentary

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return to normalI was going to write a piece on inflation today, but I got sidetracked. Sorry about that, and I promise to post on that topic tomorrow. Today, I am spending some time on getting back to work—in the office.

Not So Seamless

It has been more than a year of working remotely. Frankly, I could use some separation between work and home. Since I’ll be finishing up my two-week wait from the final vaccine shot on Thursday, I thought I would run into the office, get my tech set up again, and be prepared for next week.

Well, I didn’t expect the process to be seamless, and it hasn’t been. It started with my decision to drive my little convertible (Mazda Miata, a great car!), not accounting for how to load the 34-inch monitor I brought home from the office in an SUV a year ago. It doesn’t fit in the trunk and barely fits in the passenger seat if you put the stand over on the driver’s side. And there is no rear seat to put it in.

I solved that problem, only to find when I arrived at the office, the elevators were shut down for some reason. So, I walked around the lobby, carrying a 40-pound monitor and trying to find the up staircase. Then, I hauled that 40-pound monitor up multiple flights of stairs all while trying not to bump it—it’s fragile and I didn’t want to scratch the screen!

Then, after wrestling it through two card-locked doors, I went back down the (down) stairs to get the rest of the stuff and then went back up carrying said stuff. Work is exhausting!

So, here I am. After the challenges of getting here, it was surprisingly easy to get everything set up. Then, of course, I dialed in to a meeting with remote colleagues, which I could have just as easily done (more easily, in fact) from home. But I’m here!

The Long Road Back to Normal

From that point on, things got considerably better. I am back at my treadmill desk (still recommend) and two miles into my day. Several of my colleagues whom I have not seen in person in over a year are in the office, and it was great to talk with them. One new colleague, whom I had never met in person, was here as well. In less than an hour, it was remarkable just how much better I felt about work, about my community here, and about pretty much everything. It is good to be back, to start to return to the old routine. It will, of course, take a while to get there. Most people are still not in the office, and I will not be coming in every day for some time. But it is great to know that at least we are on the path back to normal.

As I tell this story, I see many parallels with what is happening in the larger economy. We’re experiencing the initial teething troubles getting things back into place (the monitor). Some infrastructure isn’t working the way it should, after so long off and for unknown reasons (the elevators). Even as we start to reopen, we are still in a hybrid economy (my meeting with still-remote colleagues). Clearly, there is still a long way to go. That is, in fact, exactly what we are seeing in the global economy.

A Time of Adjustment

The teething troubles, in getting things where they need to go, explain much of the problems in shipping and some of the problems with the supply chain. Problems with infrastructure (e.g., factories, staffing, equipment) explain much of the rest. The fact that we are operating in a halfway zone, with the U.S. reopening while much of the world is still struggling with the virus, explains the rest. When you consider all that, it would be astonishing if we were not seeing adjustment problems. And, of course, those problems account for most of the current inflation we are seeing.

That will be the message, in more detail, tomorrow. Yes, we are seeing inflation, but it is largely the result of the inevitable adjustment process and not something more long lasting. Yes, it is a real concern and something to watch, but nothing more. There are real current problems, but they will be—and are being—solved.

Things will get better. The next time I come into the office will be much easier, and the global economy will adjust as well.

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