Overnight Brussels was victim of two terrorist attacks. One at Brussels airport. One at the Malbeek metro station in the heart of the city.
Belgium has been a hot spot of terrorist activity for the last seven months. In August 2015 there was a terrorist attack on a Brussels–Paris train. A gunman opened fire on the train.
Luckily two American servicemen helped subdue the gunman. There were no fatalities. It was sheer luck that the servicemen were there. IF they weren’t the loss of life could have been catastrophic.
Then there were the Paris attacks in November 2015. After the attack one of the prime suspects fled to Belgium. In the four months since intelligence was unable to catch the suspect.
But a raid last week finally located and captured, Salah Abdeslam. Abdeslam had been on the run and was Europe’s most wanted man. The worrying aspect was he was staying in Brussels. Staying in a neighbourhood known to be sympathetic to Islamic extremists.
The raid on Tuesday 15th March ended in a shootout, with a suicide bomber being killed and Abdeslam in custody. But it’s believed the attacks at the airport and metro were in retaliation to this. Sky News reported this morning that it’s likely the attackers decided to attack now to cause damage before they too were arrested.
This is another horrific terror attack on Western civilisation. In no way shape or form can this be accepted.
The answer to it all? I don’t know. How do you fight urban terrorism? Do you beef up counterintelligence? Do you allow the government to tap the phone of every citizen? Do you allow for profiling and predictive policing? Maybe that would help the intelligence organisations. But at what cost?
What civil liberties are you willing to give up to prevent attacks like this from occurring? This could be the single most important question of the modern era.
A strong piece of advice
This attack has prompted Belgium to raise their ‘terror alert’ to Level four of four. In other words, they’re at the highest possible alert for more attacks.
In response the Australian government also issued travel warnings for Belgium. They have raised the risk level to orange. This stands for ‘reconsider your need to travel’. Another country at this level is North Korea. The next level from here is red. That means ‘do not travel’ and includes countries like Afghanistan.
You can see that this shift in travel warning is serious.
The government’s latest advice is,
‘We recommend you reconsider your need to travel to Belgium at this time. Australians in Belgium should remain attentive to their surroundings, avoid affected areas and follow the instructions of local authorities, including staying where they are and remaining indoors.
‘We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Belgium in Belgium [SIC] due to the high threat of terrorist attack.’
That’s significant for a Western European country. Reports this morning said that even after the London Bombings in 2005, Australia didn’t raise the threat alert to this level.
This is a major crisis. Added to the rest of the world’s current problems, you’d think markets would be in for a tough time. But that’s not the case.
Most major markets were flat in trading on Tuesday. The NASDAQ was even 0.29% up for the day. However the same can’t be said for travel companies. Companies such as Priceline Group Inc. [NASDAQ:PCLN] and Tripadvisor Inc [NASDAQ:TRIP] were both down more than 2%. Thomas Cook Group Plc. [LON:TCG] was down 4.27%. In Australia a company like Webjet Ltd [ASX:WEB] could see a tough day’s trading today.
These terror attacks do significant damage. They take the lives of innocent people. They ruin the families of those killed and injured. They damage entire countries like Belgium and France. They hurt tourism and domestic business, which flows into the economy. They damage the reputations of intelligence organisation, which impacts how safe citizens feel. They damage investors and investment — industry like airlines, hotels and travel companies.
But they also damage civil liberties. Already there are talks of increasing border security across all of Europe. I picture the days of border checks returning at every checkpoint along a nation’s border.
The US is also pressing for tighter visa conditions. You can also bet that things are going to get a lot tougher at Australian Borders & Customs. That is if you can even get through Border & Customs this weekend.
Still, you can bet government will be calling for increased measures of surveillance. They’ll leverage off these attacks to try and watch every move you make. They’ll want to know every aspect of your digital life, your personal life. They will use this to make decisions about you, your family and your neighbours.
Is that something you’re prepared to forego? Is that something the government is even able to handle properly?
Don’t let this affect your investing life too
This war we’re in is difficult to stomach. Let’s not beat around the bush here either. This is war. It’s war on our doorstep. It’s real, in your face and terrifying. I’d be lying if it didn’t play in the back of my mind when I get around the UK and Europe.
I’m reticent to talk too much about markets and stocks after events like this. It really puts a lot into perspective. But it’s my job to explain to you how this will affect your investments. Put simply, it’s going to lead to some key outcomes in the near term.
The biggest of these is this question of your civil liberties. If as I suspect government increases domestic surveillance, it will come at a cost. The government likely can’t handle the data and information they are crying out for. They will need third party help from data and analysis companies to help them get the results they want.
If that’s the case then the market for data and analytics companies is set to grow even faster. Security companies, both cyber security and physical security companies, will benefit. Travel companies will struggle. While people argue that you can’t change the way you live, the truth is it’s already changing.
Belgium — by advice of our own government — is not a place you want to go right now. That’s change. Significant change. The government even advises caution about travelling to France.
Overall, markets will continue forward — or sideways, in my view. I think the ASX will meander sideways for at least the next five years. This latest terror attack is more evidence that global issues are too big for any market to make a long term charge.
Major shocks like this interrupt industries. But others will continue on their way, unaffected by the repercussions.
Right now is a time to be alert, cautious, but always looking for market opportunities. It’s a stock picker’s market, and opportunities still abound.
It’s hard not to be fearful and worried. However like you should try not to let events like this get in the way of your day-to-day life. You should also try to not let it get in the way of your investing life.