Having worked in the European energy industry for over 18 years, I decided to join the Uniper Global Commodities Helium Business and move to Asia at the end of 2018. The impressive economic growth across Asia and the resulting significant impact has been a frequent topic of discussions in Europe. I wanted to experience this first-hand myself.
Certainly, I had never imagined to be hit with something like Covid-19 this year.
From a European perspective, I believe it is very difficult – due to the sheer distance involved – to understand the variety, dynamics and dimensions of the Asian markets. I have been both impressed but also surprised, at how little I knew about it while I was in Europe.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, our lives and our markets have changed. In Singapore, we were quick to understand the risks associated with a virus outbreak; Singapore took early measures like social distancing to limit the virus’ spread across the community, while keeping businesses and the economy open. From late January until 7thApril, the restrictions were only moderately felt among the community.
With the start of the so-called ‘circuit breaker’, however, all our daily lives have changed significantly. Currently, and until 1stJune, we are encouraged to stay at home as much as possible and avoid going out – except to buy food and daily essentials, or for urgent medical needs. If we must go out, we should go alone, not in groups or as a household. Furthermore, we need to wear facial masks when in public. Exercising outside is allowed, but only alone and in the immediate neighbourhood.
Over the last several weeks, I have become used to working from home and using digital applications – for video calls, for example – which I had never really imagined to be able to handle myself before. The communication with my Uniper team members, at their homes, and my partners across Asia works surprisingly well, even if I do miss meeting people in person.
The learnings and new experiences do not stop there. This current crisis also teaches and reminds us how we should look at markets. For example, the helium market went from a prolonged shortage to a short-term over-supply due to lockdowns and the shutdowns of economies in just a matter of days. We usually analyse markets to the tiniest level of detail but as history proves before our eyes, we miss out on the big game changes because they are difficult, if not impossible, to forecast.
I always try to adopt the attitudes of ‘expecting the unexpected’ and ‘not the strongest but the most adaptive survives’ and finally, to ‘not get caught up in details’. Even with these mindsets, however, we can still be caught off-guard. We could not have foreseen this crisis and nor can we ignore the details of such a life-endangering pandemic, for example. But we can work around it; we can learn from it, and we can change our outlook in the years ahead. How we respond and move forward is key.
In the helium markets we have been facing numerous issues popping up at the same time; demand destruction, disruption to shipping capacity, port handling and local transportation restrictions. At the same time, the market has to find outlets for existing production which cannot be delivered to their usual destinations for the above reasons.
Two things are almost certain: we have eventful and volatile times ahead of us, and when the economy finally bounces back, our markets will be very different from now.
At Uniper Global Commodities, we are still very optimistic about the future growth in the helium market and particularly in Asia. Even during this current slowdown due to Covid-19, we are continuing to build our position in Asia.
I hope we will all come out of this situation in good health and will draw the right conclusions from the experience.
About the author
Singapore-based Roland Kuchler is Head of Business Development for Helium and Gas, Asia-Pacific at Uniper Global Commodities SE.