Coronavirus – It’s Not Heart Disease, It’s A Plane Crash

Cardiovascular disease kills over 17 million people annually. It’s the main cause of death globally apparently. I thought it was stupidity but now Google tells me no, it’s “CVD”. Cardiovascular disease. So much for that then.

Looking deeper we find what causes it. Too much macaroni cheese, and donuts, which actually means I was right all along. Stupidity IS the main cause of death. Furthermore, we know what we can do to stop it. Buy a pair of running shoes and actually use them for – you know – running, instead of mooching about the mall from one junk food outlet to another. Anyway it causes millions of deaths every year and in a minute I’ll tell you why we don’t collectively say…ok that’s it. Enough is enough, you’re all quarantined and everyone must, for the next 4 weeks, self isolate in the gym on a diet of lettuce and bottled water. Which if you think about it would save millions of lives, not to mention millions of dollars in healthcare.

I tell you what makes folks freak the pha-kout though. Air travel. Google explains to me that nearly a third of folks are afraid of flying. 

Here’s deaths by transport for 2017.

  • Highway: 37,133
  • Rail (Trains): 761
  • Marine (boats & other watercraft): 694
  • Commercial Airlines: 0

And did you know that there was a 1 in 3.37 billion chance of dying in a plane crash between 2012-2016. There was a 1 in 20 million chance of being on a commercial airline flight experiencing a fatal accident from 2012-2016 and when there was a crash 98.6% of those crashes resulted in exactly zilch fatalities — Of the 140 plane accidents during 2012-2016, only two involved fatalities (1.4%). Ironically folks will gleefully gorge themselves on burgers and fries before boarding a plane, terrified it’ll fall out of the sky. It’s like popping a slow release cyanide pill and then getting onboard one of the safest forms of transport in the world and thinking to yourself…this thing may kill me. Irrational? Yup.

And the reason for this fear is the same reason folks are terrified of nuclear power (the safest form of power known to man).  When a plane crashes or a tsunami hits, or a Fukushima happens they all do so with an unexpected speed. This is why our reaction to these events is disproportionate to the events themselves.

Contrast this to “CVD” which doesn’t do its dirty work in one fell swoop. It’s not like the heart attack man swoops down in one month and takes them all. It kills one in your street, another few across town. Then it ventures into the next neighborhood before taking up residence in the old age home and poof poor Betty’s gone…and then Bernie across the hall. We don’t like it, but we just accept it and learn to live with it…like politicians…or herpes.

So now to the dreaded bat flu which has brought the entire world to a screeching halt – literally. 

What makes this virus special is its speed, or in medical speak R value.  Let’s put this into context, so far it’s killed about 100,000 people or less than a fifth of what the seasonal flu kills annually. Ultimately it’s going to kill a whole lot more, but we should be asking ourselves will it even come close to donut disease (CVD)? Probably not. 17 million remember. And what if it did meet or even exceed donut disease? It’d then be a really bad year but not out of the realm of something we’ve all learned to live with – at least with respect to CVD.

I read an insightful piece from recently-retired Professor of Pathology and NHS consultant pathologist, Dr John Lee who states in an article in the spectator.  

“The simplest way to judge whether we have an exceptionally lethal disease is to look at the death rates. Are more people dying than we would expect to die anyway in a given week or month? Statistically, we would expect about 51,000 to die in Britain this month. At the time of writing, 422 deaths are linked to Covid-19 — so 0.8 per cent of that expected total. On a global basis, we’d expect 14 million to die over the first three months of the year. The world’s 18,944 coronavirus deaths represent 0.14 per cent of that total. These figures might shoot up but they are, right now, lower than other infectious diseases that we live with (such as flu). Not figures that would, in and of themselves, cause drastic global reactions.”

He goes on to explain that the reporting of deaths…or the “new” method of reporting deaths is screwy worrisome.

But there’s another, potentially even more serious problem: the way that deaths are 

recorded. If someone dies of a respiratory infection in the UK, the specific cause of the infection is not usually recorded, unless the illness is a rare ‘notifiable disease’. So the vast majority of respiratory deaths in the UK are recorded as bronchopneumonia, pneumonia, old age or a similar designation. We don’t really test for flu, or other seasonal infections. If the patient has, say, cancer, motor neurone disease or another serious disease, this will be recorded as the cause of death, even if the final illness was a respiratory infection. This means UK certifications normally under-record deaths due to respiratory infections.

Now look at what has happened since the emergence of Covid-19. The list of notifiable diseases has been updated. This list — as well as containing smallpox (which has been extinct for many years) and conditions such as anthrax, brucellosis, plague and rabies (which most UK doctors will never see in their entire careers) — has now been amended to include Covid-19. But not flu. That means every positive test for Covid-19 must be notified, in a way that it just would not be for flu or most other infections.

In the current climate, anyone with a positive test for Covid-19 will certainly be known to clinical staff looking after them: if any of these patients dies, staff will have to record the Covid-19 designation on the death certificate — contrary to usual practice for most infections of this kind. There is a big difference between Covid-19 causing death, and Covid-19 being found in someone who died of other causes. Making Covid-19 notifiable might give the appearance of it causing increasing numbers of deaths, whether this is true or not. It might appear far more of a killer than flu, simply because of the way deaths are recorded.

You realise I’m sure that if you and I did that in the business industry they’d lock us up. It’s called fraud. 

Rightly or wrongly I watch my colleagues in the hedge fund and investment industry now breathlessly report the rising death rates and go and rebuild their macro models accordingly. 

Which reminds me of Soros…who, think of him what you will, has some amazing insights into markets and psychology. One of his theories is that of reflexivity. Essentially when we’re dealing with objective realities there can be a feedback loop whereby even if something is actually wrong (say a company that makes no profits making a widget) if it can stay alive long enough based on say hope/belief and achieve sufficient scale then it can achieve profitability thereby changing the underlying realities. Said another way, what can be subjectively false, if sufficiently ignored and acted upon as if it’s true can bring about a new reality simply as a consequence of those actions taken. 

And I have to wonder if all of the above is that in action.

  • A virus that scares the pants off people. 
  • A media eager to get eyeballs and who are all too aware that fear sells. 
  • Misrepresentations as identified by Dr John above causing further actions that reinforce the cycle.
  • Governments terrified and forced to make decisions sans data.

Sprinkle this all over asset managers, who in turn extrapolate their models and pull capital in droves, and all of a sardine we’re staring at Soros reflexivity exhibiting itself at a scale never before witnessed.  Charles Mackay author of “Extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds” would certainly be taking notes right now. 

No whinging.

But as I always say to my kids. Don’t bitch to me about the situation…figure it out and make sure you make it work for you. Winners don’t complain. They attack a problem. Go forth and attack it dammit. 

And that’s our job here. It’s not to bitch about what should or shouldn’t happen because let’s face it nobody cares about what I think, or you for that matter. Nope…instead it’s best we understand why anything happens because that’ll allow us a better perspective to peer into the future to understand probabilities going forward. 

Here’s what I do know. Compared to almost anything out there that poses a threat to us bipeds this bat flu has killed a miniscule amount of people globally thus far. So on that side of the equation it should be a non issue really. It IS an issue though because it’s like a tsunami…not a car accident. Lots dead fast remember. And this overwhelms healthcare systems. I get it. I understand why what has been done has been done. Hasty decisions made sans sufficient data is the card that was dealt. We could wish that as data emerges, leaders use scientific data to make educated decisions. 

But don’t hold your breathe on that one. Tell me this. Can you find me a politician who today, after making the decisions already made, would be willing to turn around and say. Whoops sorry folks. The soaring unemployment rate, the fact your pensions are toast, the fact you lost your home and the fact your kids have runny noses and run around barefoot is because I pha-cdup.

And in answering that question you realise why on a go-forward basis the pressure to misrepresent data or at least not divulge it grows with the same intensity that the economic destruction being wrought grows.

What’s happened thus far is that there was an attacking battalion on the eastern front and we sent the entire ground forces to defend against them. We heard news from the frontline that one of the offenders had an incredibly pointy stick and fearing the worst we then called up the navy and the Air Force and sent them to it too. And with arms flailing and eyes bulging, in a heightened emotional state of outright panic, instead of enacting conscription for all the blokes…we did it for the entire populace from 2 month old Sarah Jane through to Mabel who may yet make it to 98. Everyone was ordered to stay home and read a book, or knit. That’s where we stand today. 

A question worth asking. At what point does economic health become more important than public health? 

Because let’s face it there is no public health system if there is no economy to support it, and don’t look now but while we sit at home making puzzles and playing monopoly the world out there is falling to pieces.

The longer the world remains in a lockdown the greater the damage done to the global economy. We are already facing an unprecedented global collapse in trade. 

What nobody is paying attention to now but soon will, is that if there is no economy or a poorly functioning one the health issues that come out of that will make this Bat flu look like a walk in the park in comparison. And we’ll have brought it on ourselves.

Over in Italy already Guessepe and his family are breaking into shops to find some pasta because he’s run out of money and food. Ugly. But the rest of Europe and the Brits…while we can hope like hell they fare better, are still in the early days.

Some obvious outcomes

Govt debt to GDP is going to double. You think that sounds mad? Watch.

Consider what’s already been thrown at this by Central banks and governments. 

  • Mortgage holidays in Canada, US, New Zealand, Australia and Europe (which increase debt loads)
  • QE infinity 
  • Rate cuts
  • Fiscal spending bombs
  • Government handouts 
  • Universal basic income being discussed (because if you’re a pointy shoe with no idea of how an economy functions then that’s a great idea isn’t it.)

But they’re just getting started. Here take a look at one little sector to make my point. Here’s high yield.

Pray tell what all the defaulting corporates (cashflows impaired) who can’t refi their maturing bonds are gonna do. 

And this hasn’t even gotten started. We’re a few weeks into lockdown in the US. Over the coming months this is going to accelerate. 

Either way corporate debt is gonna be a problem. A big problem. Which means government’s will take it onto their balance sheets. Fine…until we all look at them (Governments that is) and say “holy smokes batman that’s nuckin futs, because the numbers will be beyond silly. In the US, debt to GDP going into this was 110%. And how does the Government finance this? Why I’m glad you asked. By borrowing. And how do they service this borrowing Chris? Why tax receipts of course – which are tied to GDP, and GDP is tied to productivity. 

Here’s a visual of current productivity.

And the only way they can pay it back is to tax the isht out of what remains of an economy. Or, and this seems to be where things are most likely to go. MMT. But that’s a story for another day. 

Bottom line. The next 10 years are going to be NOTHING like the last.  Buckle up.

-Chris

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