This Too Shall PassInvesting Caffeine
Ever since December 31st last year when China alerted the WHO (World Health Organization) about several cases of unusual pneumonia in Wuhan, a port city of 11 million people in the central Hubei province, the dark coronavirus (Covid-19) clouds began to form. Last week, the storm came rumbling through with a vengeance.
I have been investing for close to 30 years, so facing these temporary bouts of thunder and lightning is nothing new for me. Although the pace of this week’s -3,583 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average was particularly noteworthy, we experienced a more severe -5,000 point correction a little more than a year ago due to China trade war concerns and our Federal Reserve increasing interest rates. What happened after that year-end 2018 drop? Stock prices skyrocketed more than +7,800 points (+36%) to a new record high on February 12th, just a few weeks ago. Over the long-run, stock prices have always eventually moved up to new record highs, but this week reminds us that volatility is a normal occurrence.
This week also reminds us that the best decisions made in life generally are not emotionally panicked ones. The same principle applies to investing. So rather than knee-jerk react to the F.U.D. (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt), let’s take a look at some of the current facts as it relates to coronavirus (Covid-19):
- The number of deaths this season in the U.S. from the common flu: 18,000. The number of deaths in the U.S. from coronavirus: 2 individuals (both in WA with underlying health conditions).
- The number of new coronavirus cases in China is declining. Confirmed infections have fallen from more than 2,000 per day to a few hundred. People are going back to work and companies like Starbucks are re-opening their China stores for business.
- Coronavirus is relatively benign compared to other contagious pathogens. Roughly 98% of infected individuals fully recover, and deaths are limited to people with weakened immune systems, who in many cases are suffering from other illnesses.
- Previous viral outbreaks, which were significantly more fatal, were all contained, e.g., SARS (2003-04), MERS (2012), and Ebola (2014-16). In each instance, the stock market initially fell, and then subsequently fully recovered.
- Although the coronavirus has accelerated in areas outside of China, there are dozens of different companies currently developing a vaccine. If a working vaccine is discovered, a rebound could occur as fast as the drop.
- Governments and central banks are not sitting on their hands. Coordinated efforts are being instituted to curtail the spread of the virus and also provide liquidity to financial markets.
The actual death toll from the coronavirus is relatively small compared to other pandemics, catastrophes (e.g., 9/11), and wars. However, the hangover effect from the fear, uncertainty, and panic that can manifest in the days, weeks, and months after global events can last for some time. I expect the same to occur in the coming weeks and months as the drip of continued coronavirus headlines blankets social media and the news.
I don’t want to sugar coat the economic impact from a potential pandemic because quarantining 60 million people in China, instituting global travel bans, and closing areas of gathering has and will continue to have a material economic impact. Although history would indicate otherwise, it is certainly possible the current situation could worsen and lead to a global recession. Even if that were the case, I believe we are more likely closer to a bottom, than we are to a top, especially given how low interest rates are now. More specifically, we just hit an all-time record low yield of 1.13% on the 10-Year Treasury. In other words, putting money in the bank isn’t going to earn you much.
In summary, the current situation experienced this week is nothing new – we’ve lived through similar situations many times (see chart above). The short-run headlines can get more painful, but in the meantime, you can wash your hands and bathe in Purell. This too shall pass.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (March 2, 2020). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
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