The questions greatly outnumber the answers. What do others know about containing the virus that we don’t? Do we know enough about the virus? Have we settled on a pragmatic policy of morbid acceptance? Are we being too cavalier?
Let’s briefly review the news from other parts of the world and compare them to stories here at home. Pay special attention to the number of new infections referenced below and the starkly contrasting policy responses. Since my professional focus is on money matters, how this all unfolds will have profound implications on financial markets.
May 19, The Guardian – Chinese authorities have sealed off the north-eastern city of Shulan, home to about 700,000 people, after an outbreak of coronavirus, imposing measures similar to those used in Wuhan. At least 34 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in Jilin province in the past fortnight.
June 13, Haaretz – “Statistics released Saturday evening by the Education Ministry show that 493 Israelis within the education system have tested positive…Thus far, 177 educational institutions have re-closed.”
June 18, The Guardian – “Beijing ordered all hotels be shut down, as well as restaurants in high-risk areas. On Thursday, Beijing reported 21 new cases of Covid-19…Schools have been closed, flights cancelled, and travel in and out of the city restricted.”
June 18, South Florida Sun Sentinel – “Florida saw a record-breaking 3,207 new coronavirus cases, shattering the previous high mark of infections this week…a trend where there have been at least 2,000 cases logged in five out of the past six days.”
June 18, CNBC – “Arizona health officials reported 2,519 confirmed cases on Thursday, surpassing the previous single-day high. South Carolina officials reported 987 new cases Thursday afternoon…marking another all-time high single-day increase. Texas reported 3,516 new cases Thursday evening, topping the previous record.”
As we now enter the summer months, investors are entirely focused on the economic reopening process. With each passing week, a collective complacency about the virus and its future impact has firmly taken hold in the US. This feels like a mistake.
Some major themes currently dominate financial markets today. Few expect to see any backward steps in the re-opening process. The shutdown is viewed as an overreaction and far too costly. A vaccine will arrive early next year. Game-changing treatments are coming soon. Stocks are viewed as the only game in town. And, finally, the Fed’s got our back. With all humility, each of these themes are worthy of healthy skepticism.
With at least 120,000 virus-related US deaths to date, it’s arguable that we’re only a few innings into this sad healthcare and financial saga. I personally hope that we can not only overcome our juvenile national attention span, but also regain our sense of common purpose.
As I survey the landscape and watch financial markets surprisingly recover, one burning question is quickly rising to the top of my own list of unknowns. Are we different and special?
Jason P. Tank, CFA is both the owner of Front Street Wealth Management, a purely fee-only advisory firm and the founder of the Money Series, a non-profit program committed to providing open-access to financial education, for all. Contact him at (231) 947-3775, by email at Jason@FrontStreet.com and at www.FrontStreet.com