Entries from March 2020 ↓

The disease

Sunday, March 29th, 2020. Today 5,600 people have the virus in our nation. Over 4,900 (or 98%) of the cases are mild. Across Canada 120 victims are hospitalized, serious. Sixty have died. Bless them and their families.

The infection rate nationally, thus far, is 0.015%. Three weeks ago the federal health minister said it could be between 30% and 70%. That is two thousand times the current level. Thus, it’s hard to know where truth lies. Does an overwhelming deluge lie ahead? Or was shutting down the entire economy, idling millions, an error? Perhaps we shall know that, come the autumn.

Nonetheless, damage is being done. On many levels. Recovery is uncertain. Fear is the disease of choice. The infection rate is 100%.

Over the last year Dorothy rediscovered the joy of physical books. Remember them? Made of actual paper, sometimes with sensual, ragged edges. Embossed covers. Original art. Something to hold that never lights up, runs out of juice or beeps. So I bought her a frequent-user card at the friendly little bookstore down the street, and load it up on birthdays and anniversaries (the perfect guy gift).

‘No walk-ins!’ the sign said, so she called to get a new work of fiction. “It will be in a bag at the front door,” the bookstore lady said. And it was. But the clerk wouldn’t come within ten feet. “I can’t touch your card,” she said. Dread permeated the empty store. The terrified worker could not get Dorothy out fast enough – who, three weeks ago, had been embraced. Cash flow matters not, when faced with imminent death by plastic.

As you know, normal is gone. Following are the voices of some who were in touch with me this weekend.

From a blog dog in Ontario:

I had to write in to tell you a story after reading “The emergency” blog. A friend of the family, late 30s surgeon making $800,000 a year, tells my family they are applying for government benefits because they have no income after elective surgeries have been cancelled. They just spent over $250,000 on kitchen (not the whole house just the kitchen) renovations. They have no savings. Live large with big ski holidays, biking adventures and apparently single room renovations that cost more than some people’s homes.

I never thought it possible that people with this billing capacity could have no savings. But there you go. Even those responsible for the lives of others don’t have enough common sense for basic financial responsibility.  Thank you for helping all of us readers from becoming a jaw dropping example of this foolishness.

From a reader in Langley, BC, responding to a blog post on Canadians’ lack of savings:

Ok well i have about 25k in savings that me and my wife have been able to save over the last 10 years. She was a student for many of those years and we have two kids. How long do you think that savings will last us? Luckily our rent is comparatively cheap for our city. So we can go probably about 8 months with 3k per month outflow of cash. And then what?

Not to mention that my entire savings would be destroyed. Its for emergencies, so i am now using it for an emergency. But this crisis touches everyone. If i had all my savings in the stock market, would you advise i remove it when we are at historic lows? Would i have a choice if i had to buy food and rent? So spare me the condescension on how its the peoples fault. It is the riches fault, like most everything in society.

It is societies fault (driven by the rich) that the system is rigged so that people have to live paycheque to paycheque. Hopefully this will cause a massive reorganization of society where we go after all the rich who have the money, multiple properties, etc, and redistribute it to the people. Universal basic income, and taxing all investments and other vehicles that the rich use to make money for no actual work would be a great start.

Get those millionaires digging f*kn ditches for the dead. The revolution is a few missed meals away, and we are almost there.

From a reader in Montreal:

I am writing you from my now usual 3:00 am insomnia. Like the whole world, I am watching the events unfold in horror and disbelief. This new virus is shocking in how fast it is spreading, and its lethality, while not that of the bubonic plague or even the Spanish flu, took us by surprise. But viruses have always co-evolved with the human species, and over the generations, humans got sick and died and died and died until they developed a herd immunity. But we became so arrogant as a species that we’ve come to think this is unacceptable and that this “shouldn’t happen”.

Most of my revenue comes from my portfolio, that lost a third of its peak value. I am not panicking, and panicking would be totally useless anyway, since there is nothing I can do. So I try to find little gems to brighten my days (baking for friends and bringing my daily pastry to one
friend or another, while respecting social distance and hygiene rules, taking online yoga classes, volunteering for grocery/pharmacy shopping for my ageing neighbours, and marvelling at how lucky and privileged I am compared to so many.

I am reading your blog and it gives me the sane voice much needed these days. I just want to say thank you, and I hope you are not being overwhelmed by panicking or angry clients. I hope that in the midst of this global catastrophe, you take time to rest and be with your wife and beloved Bandit.

From our nation’s capital:

I just wanted to follow up on your blog post re the Service Canada Centre shutdowns.

I am a federal civil servant in Ottawa and I am just so upset about this. This is supposed to be the time that the civil service steps up and helps the country through this. Aside from being incredibly tone deaf, we are letting Canadians down at a very critical juncture.

Belonging to the civil service used to be something of which to be proud. It has become a meal ticket and we should be ashamed of ourselves.

About the picture: “I wanted to share with you a photograph my wife took a few days ago,” writes Craig. “This is the Shambles, one of the oldest shopping streets in York, UK, where we live, dating from the 15th century and which is normally a very busy and bustling place. Alas, in the lock-down, these two dogs were alone. The emptiness paints a good picture of how this virus has brought life to a halt.”

I pray we know what we’re doing.

Closer to the bottom

RYAN   By Guest Blogger Ryan Lewenza

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Having been through three bear markets over my investment career I can now spot clear and repeatable patterns of investor behaviour. Currently, investment decisions are being made on fear and emotion (based on what people see on the TV or read on their iPhones) rather than sound economic principles or any consideration of what the economy will look like in 12 to 18 months. Given all the uncertainty right now the markets are pricing in a protracted recession and that we’ll all be locked in our homes indefinitely, when in fact by Q4 and into early 2021, economic growth could be rebounding and potentially strongly.

Credit Suisse US GDP Forecast

Source: Credit Suisse

Here’s how the pattern generally plays out.

As the market steadily rises, like we saw over the last decade, this can lead to excessive optimism and greed taking over. During these periods many investors want to take on more and more risk as they get caught up in the euphoria of the strong market gains. Then as the economy/market begins to roll over the optimism quickly changes to anxiety and fear, then to panic and capitulation, and finally full-on depression.

You can basically map this out on a curve and I believe we’re getting close to the panic/capitulation/depression stage. And this is when markets typically bottom, providing the best opportunities and future returns. Side note: I hate talking about “opportunities” when there is so much human suffering right now, but I know we’ll come out of this and I still have to look after our client’s home down-payment funds, their kids’ education accounts, and their retirement nest egg.

So what does this look like?

Examples of this include things like “Ryan, this time it’s different”, “Ryan, this is going to be a depression”, “Ryan, I’ll never get back to where I was before it fell”. Or on CNBC when this week I saw a commercial hawking gold coins stating that this is the investment to own during pandemics and recessions. I heard these exact same statements and that stupid commercial back in 2008/09.

In 2008, during the financial crisis, people said the banks were going under and the next great depression was right around the corner. But it didn’t happen. The central banks and governments came to the rescue and implemented the measures needed to turn the economy around leading to one of the strongest bull markets in history (yes with a lot more debt but we’ll deal with that in a decade).

Today the problem is different in that it’s a health/pandemic scare, which will require a different set of solutions to the problem, but ultimately we’ll figure it out like we did during the financial crisis, 9/11, tech crash, Black Monday, wars etc.

So what I’m seeing on CNBC, and what I’m hearing from some investors and clients, makes me even more convinced we’re getting closer to the bottom in the markets (peak of infection rates?) and that the economy and markets will recover from this unprecedented and historic event.

Let’s revisit that roller-coaster of investor emotions Garth published here last week. Where do you think we are now?

Typical Investor Over a Market Cycle

Source: BMO
Ryan Lewenza, CFA, CMT is a Partner and Portfolio Manager with Turner Investments, and a Senior Vice President, Private Client Group, of Raymond James Ltd.