Monday, March 9, 2020

Predicting Panic

The one thing that will make Trump and his minions freak out about coronavirus COVID-19 isn’t that a lot of people in the United States will get sick and a number of them will die.  It’s that the stock markets will see what’s coming and do what stock markets do: crater.

Wall Street looked poised for a sharp drop on Monday morning after the outbreak worsened in Europe and the U.S. Oil prices and bond yields tumbled.

Financial markets don’t care whether or not people actually get sick; they can handle that.  What they can’t handle is instability and how governments and populations respond to a crisis.  Right now Trump & Co. have no idea how to deal with the disease or what to say about it.  They’re putting out contrary and contradictory messages, all backed up by the fact that Trump himself has no clue as to what the disease really is, what tools he has to deal with it, and what to do with the flood of information and scientific insight that is out there.  He’s spent most of his term denigrating science and scientists who aren’t sufficiently sycophantic to his political point of view, and he’s playing to his audience at Fox and telling them — mostly old people who have the greatest chance of dying from the disease — that there’s nothing to worry about.  The only sure thing that he and his cronies will do is to find some way to blame this all on Obama, then go off and play golf in Florida.

I’m not a financial guru, but I can see that the worldwide financial markets don’t give a shit about whether or not Trump is dealing with the crisis to his advantage or not.  They see China closing schools and factories and know that will impact whether or not a charter school in Miami will get the delivery of their computers in time to pay for them from a grant before it ends.  They see schools in Italy teaching their students via Skype and know that those kids won’t be shopping in downtown Florence, and they see authorities closing the borders in provinces and know that the tourists won’t be going to Milan to see opera or buy clothes.  They see cruise ships lying idle in the ports in Florida or languishing a hundred miles off the coast of California and know that the people who come off the ships will not be replaced by eager passengers looking forward to being locked in their cabin for two weeks, and they know that places like South Padre and Fort Lauderdale and Naples and Punta Gorda and Key West will see empty streets, beaches, and bars when spring break starts in a week while snowbirds and college kids stay home.

In a number of ways the financial markets are lagging indicators; they catch up with trends rather than lead them.  But when it comes to bad news and uncontrollable things like natural disasters such as hurricanes or epidemics, they are often out in front, often over-reacting but predicting where the money will land somewhere way down the road.  Smart investors have been predicting an economic reckoning for Trump’s financial maladroitness for years, saying it was just a matter of time before the unsustainable tax policies and literally staggering handling of the U.S. economy would end up teetering on the edge of disaster.  They just couldn’t say for certain what would or could cause it.  Now we know.  It’s not just some microscopic life form that makes people sick and spreads easily.  It’s that the people who have been warned for years that something like this would come along were ignored, then mocked, then vilified, and finally proven right.

And karma will exact her price: the idiot Rep. Matt Gaetz, who mocked the coronavirus by wearing a gas mask on the House floor, represents the district in Florida where the first fatality from the disease occurred.

One bark on “Predicting Panic

  1. Chinese goods arrive via ships. Transit times of about a month (not sure). So Walmart shelves will be empty about a month after China’s factories closed. Economy crashes about April 1st (!).

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