“Mon Dieu,“ gasped the head of French spirits maker Pernod Ricard SA.
There was reason enough to mention God for worldwide 2019 sales of cognac and spirits were falling faster than gravity and the fact alone should have been depressing enough to drive any man to drink.
Only it wasn’t and Pernod knew the twin reasons for the Debacle of the Spirits. It was, in turn, Brexit and, more grimly, the United States-China trade war.
Britain’s exit from the European Union popularly dubbed Brexit was, to put it mildly, taking its time coming. Even Samuel Beckett thought that Waiting for Godot had nothing on this much-trumpeted exit.
And it was taking its toll on the sale of spirits. Example: an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman go into a bar. Then all leave because the Englishman decides to leave.
You could see how an event like that, duplicated throughout the island, might have deleterious effects on Pernod and its sale of whiskey or brandy.
The Prime Minister of Britain was a confident fellow. He thought he was always right because he knew it. And he had nothing against the European Union.
“It’s not EU you know,” he told them soothingly. “It’s just me.”
Bojo was an ever-rumpled mop off shaggy blond hair who smiled through life and firmly believed in teamwork so that there was always someone else to blame should anything go wrong.
Like all good Brexiteers, he was nothing if not resolute. If at first, you don’t secede, he told everyone cheerfully, try, try again.
You could see why a company like Pernod might not quite like the rumpled Mr Johnson.
Indeed, the firm was more inclined towards leaders like Winston Churchill who regularly brushed his teeth with wine. Once on a trip to the Middle East, the Prime Minster had this to say: “The water there wasn’t fit to drink so we had to add whiskey to it. And, by great effort, I learnt to like it.”
You could see why a company like Pernod might appreciate such Churchillian efforts.
The sales of spirits were also plunging in China, the world’s second largest economy and Pernod thought it was directly traceable to the US-China trade war that was damaging every trade-dependent country in sight.
You might say the sales of spirits in the Middle Kingdom had fallen off a cliff. In 2017, it had grown by a staggering 27 per cent. The next year, however, saw those sales sharply brake to 2 per cent as the US tariffs began to bite.
Even so, it’s a bit ridiculous for China to wring its hands so much. So its quarterly growth has slowed from 7 per cent to 6 and, perhaps, 5 per cent a quarter from now on. But it’s a developed US$4 trillion economy. In that context, even 5 per cent is , well, very good.
Singapore should be so lucky.
And what did they expect? The US now has a President who implements what he promises comes hell or high water. Example: both Clinton and Obama had promised to shift the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and both balked because of the expected backlash.
Trump just went ahead and did it. And, remember, he’d promised to bring China to heel over its trade practices.
On the other hand, this is the same President who listed his three favourite rooms in the White House as, respectively, the Roosevelt Room, the Lincoln Room and the Oval Office.
He ranks President Oval right up there with the best of them.