Logos LP commentary for the month of September 2020, titled, “Everything is F*cked”, discussing the COVID-19 evolution, vaccines, hope and hopelessness, hysteria, volatility, startups, education in america, generational divides, China post USA, remote work, and longevity.
U.S. stocks rose on Friday, recovering some of their losses for the week, as tech shares clawed back some of their big September declines. Nevertheless, despite Friday’s rally both the Dow and S&P 500 posted four-week losing streaks, their longest slides since August 2019.
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The major averages have had a tough month, with the S&P 500 falling 5.8% in September. The Dow has dropped 4.4% over that time period and the Nasdaq is down 7.3% month to date.
It is important to remember that there are always two ways to view the stock market at any given time. From an optimistic perspective, there is the potential for favorable results from the Phase III clinical trials as early as the end of October, the elections could be decided in an orderly manner, large institutions and investors could put their record cash piles to work, earnings growth could take off as governments and central bankers continue to support the economy and holiday shopping could be impressive with limited disruption from COVID-19.
From a pessimistic perspective, one could say that all of those developments above are unlikely. No vaccine at all, the election results could be delayed and contested thus resulting in complete turmoil, as a second wave of COVID-19 prompts further economic shutdowns leading to economic collapse.
Whatever camp you fall into, it is important not to get swallowed by emotion as the reality will likely lay somewhere in between.
Absent additional full economic shutdowns by governments in response to a second wave of COVID-19 (if this happens again all bets are off as the damage would likely be irreversible) we believe the recovery will continue albeit extraordinarily unevenly across industries and countries.
The Economist recently revisited their “90% economy” prediction and found that economies certainly have begun to recover, yet the world is still a long way from normal. Governments continue to enforce social-distancing measures to keep the virus at bay. These reduce output—by allowing fewer diners in restaurants at a time, say, or banning spectators from sports arenas. People remain nervous about being infected. Economic uncertainty among both consumers and firms is near record highs—and this very probably explains companies’ reluctance to invest.
Calculations by Goldman Sachs, suggest that social-distancing measures continue to reduce global GDP by 7-8% and such measures are set to continue in most countries. Yet The Economist found that although the global economy is operating at about nine-tenths capacity, there is a lot of variation between industries and countries. Some are doing relatively—and surprisingly—well, others dreadfully.
When considering the respective performance of goods and services, goods have bounced back fast while services activity is a lot further below its pre-pandemic level. This is understandable as services require person to person interaction and thus when confidence is lacking, consumption of services wanes.
Additionally, the magazine found that the huge gap between countries’ economic recovery can be attributed to: 1) industrial composition (countries which rely on retail and hospitality and laggards) 2) confidence (countries who had good leadership under lockdown) and 3) stimulus (countries that put in place large rescue package ie. America may still not be able to agree on a new one, yet still has ALREADY enacted the world’s largest package relative to the size of its economy).
In light of the above, and the fact that most developed countries seem to be hovering around a “90% economy”, should we opt for the pessimistic view of markets or the optimistic view?
In our view, absent further draconian lockdowns, we believe that a 90% economy - one which could trend towards 95% if countries can better calibrate social-distancing measures without jeopardizing output - is certainly not a good enough reason for the patient long-term investor to significantly reduce equity exposure and move to cash or gold.
There will be scars to the economy and the recovery will take time, there will be more short term volatility in markets as political headlines and a record amount of derivatives trading foster instability, yet we remain hopeful and confident that holding quality businesses with unique secular tailwinds for the long-term, remains the right strategy.
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Over the course of the month of September it has struck me how emotional the last 6 months have been for most. How difficult it has been to wake up 6 months into the pandemic and read a variety of news headlines which are basically the same as those featured 5 months ago, 4 months ago 3 months ago etc.:
- “Terrified’: Bar, restaurant, gym owners say they won’t make it if forced to close again”
- ”New-York State Tops 1,000 New Daily Coronavirus Cases for First Time Since Early June”
- ”Stock market crash: David Rosenberg warns of a dot-com-bubble, IPO mania”
- ”The Death of the American Dream”
The mood is sombre. Hope appears to be slipping away as pandemic fatigue sets in and this is precisely what we as a society need to combat: hopelessness.
Flirting which such feelings myself over the last six months, I picked up a book this month with a title that unsurprisingly caught my attention: “Everything is Fucked: A Book About Hope” by Mark Manson (ironically written pre-Covid-19)
While the book covers a lot of ground, what resonated with me was his explanation that “the human psyche needs hope to survive the way a fish needs water.”
He furthers that:
“Hope is the fuel for our mental engine. It’s the butter on our biscuit. It’s a lot of cheesy metaphors. Without hope, your whole mental apparatus will stall out or starve. If we don’t believe there’s any hope that the future will be better than the present, that our lives will improve in some way, then we spiritually die. After all, if there’s no hope of things ever being better, then why live- why do anything?”
Without hope for the future one sinks into indifference and nihilism- the sense that there is no point, no broader “why?”. Without hope for the future, without a hope narrative that gives us a sense of purpose, we pursue the pure indulgence of desire. Success for the sake of success. Pleasure for the sake of pleasure. Power for the sake of power. Protest for the sake of protests. Shut downs for the sake of shut downs. Hysteria for the sake of hysteria.
Manson reminds us that, hopelessness is the root of anxiety, mental illness and depression. It is the source of all misery and the cause of all addiction. Chronic anxiety is a crisis of hope. It is the fear of a failed future. Depression is a crisis of hope. It is the belief in a meaningless future. Should we be surprised that such mental illnesses are on an eighty year upswing among young people and a twenty year upswing among the adult population?
Covid-19 Has Exacerbated The Crisis Of Hope
The problem with COVID-19 six months in, is that it has exacerbated the crisis of hope which was plaguing the rich developed world well before the pandemic struck. Although a serious public health issue, we now have nothing short of a COVID-19 national hysteria. We’ve allowed the virus to take over our economy, our small businesses, our schools, our social lives, our quality of life and most importantly our hope for the future.
This irrational sense of hopelessness is growing and those in power should carefully consider its effects when they set out to combat a second wave of COVID-19 and put policies in place to aid in the recovery.
The human mind/human nature is the most powerful force on earth. Left misunderstood by those in power as well as by those acutely suffering from a lack of hope themselves, any recovery will be challenged.
The rich developed world has made incredible progress in health, safety, material wealth and quality of life yet those are facts about the past, not the future. Hope doesn’t care about these things. Hope only cares about the problems that still need to be solved. Hope must be found in our visions for the future.
We as individuals and as a society need to find our “why” again. Our personal hope narratives which give us a reason to believe that our tomorrows will be better than our todays. Our inspirational vision which gives us purpose. Which makes us smile, grounds us, helps us stay on course, joyful in the face of adversity and suffering.
Somewhere along the way as we argue about whether everything is “rigged”, or whether we will “accept” to leave office, or what we are entitled to by virtue of our birth, or about how much we wish to take from others who have earned it to give to ourselves, or as we continue to surrender our economies and our lives to the virus, we’ve become lost.
My hope is that we succeed in finding hope again. That will be the true recovery.
Charts of the Month
Where is hope trending?
In Canada, the Covid-19 mortality rate is 0.024% and the chance of not dying from Covid-19 is 99.975% yet in a survey conducted on behalf of Global News, Ipsos found that 75% of respondents would approve of quickly shutting down non-essential businesses in the event of a second wave???
Why isn’t the media talking about this? That’s also what TIS Group asks in the USA, citing revised Centers for Disease Control statistics that say Covid-19 is only directly responsible for 6% of the reported Covid deaths in the U.S., or around 10-11,000 people. The rest of deaths reflect Covid as a contributing factor to existing illnesses, particularly among the elderly...
A sign of the times...
Logos LP August 2020 Performance
August 2020 Return: -0.71%
2020 YTD (August) Return: 50.36%
Trailing Twelve Month Return: 57.65%
Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) since inception March 26, 2014: +21.46%
Thought of the Month
"Fearlessness is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to walk into it. When I walk into my fear, practice there, sit upright in the middle of it, completely open to the experience, with no expectation of the outcome. Anything is possible. When our circumstances look impossible or terrifying, there is a way.” -Judith Randall
Articles and Ideas of Interest
- Interactive Brokers braces for election volatility by telling clients to put up more cash. Market action around the election is expected to be so volatile that Interactive Brokers is forcing clients to put up more money in order to trade using leverage. The retail broker is increasing margin requirements — how much money an investor using leverage and derivatives has in their brokerage account after a stock purchase — heading into the November presidential election, according to a clients letter obtained by CNBC.
- Is Covid to blame for business closures or is it helping new startups? The answer may be both. A report found that more than 100,000 restaurants have closed this year, but another says new business applications are up by 19%. Everyone has their narrative about the plight of small business because it’s a political issue. The right wants to make it out that small businesses are suffering and state governments need to relax the shutdowns. The left says that not only small businesses, but their employees, are feeling pain and therefore significant stimulus is still needed. Both sides agree on some form of a more targeted round of the Paycheck Protection Program. Everyone’s right. Everyone’s wrong. The fact is that no one really knows for sure about the effects Covid has had on small businesses ... yet. We won’t know until this whole thing is over and researchers can comb through the data and that’s going to take a few years. I’m sure they’ll find that many businesses did close permanently because of the pandemic. But then again, how many of these businesses would have closed anyway? And how many were previously buoyed by a strong economy until that facade disappeared?
- America divided by education. The gulf between the party identification of white voters with college degrees and those without is growing rapidly. Trump is widening it. One of the most striking patterns in yesterday’s election was years in the making: a major partisan divide between white voters with a college degree and those without one. According to exit polls, 61 percent of non-college-educated white voters cast their ballots for Republicans while just 45 percent of college-educated white voters did so. Meanwhile 53 percent of college-educated white voters cast their votes for Democrats compared with 37 percent of those without a degree. The diploma divide, as it’s often called, is not occurring across the electorate; it is primarily a phenomenon among white voters. It’s an unprecedented divide, and is in fact a complete departure from the diploma divide of the past. Non-college-educated white voters used to solidly belong to Democrats, and college-educated white voters to Republicans.
- Covid grows less deadly as doctors gain practice, drugs improve. For those who develop dangerous cases of the infection, advances in medical care and the growing experience of doctors are improving the chances of survival. Since the first case arrived in the U.S. at the start of the year, medical professionals have gone from fumbling in the dark to better understanding which drugs work -- such as steroids and blood thinners, and the antiviral medicine remdesivir. Allocation of intensive medical resources have improved. And doctors have learned to hold off on the use of ventilators for some patients, unlike with many other severe respiratory illnesses. Governments are also learning lessons from Europe’s lockdowns and finding that they simply can’t lock down again.
- Why we shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations regarding COVID-19 vaccines. Among pharmaceutical, medicinal and drug products, vaccines are by far the most complex. They are also life-saving. In times of devastating disease outbreaks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not uncommon to foster hopes that an effective vaccine, a magic bullet, could somehow be quickly made and administered to people. Unfortunately, reality can be very different because vaccines can take a long time to be developed (4-5 years typically), longer than most pharmaceutical, medicinal or drug products. Bottom line: there may never be a magic bullet. We need to get better living with the virus. Furthermore trust in Covid-19 vaccines could turn on a knife edge. The race to remove regulatory and legal roadblocks to secure a vaccine could blow the whole vaccine hope wide open. Will you line up to take a vaccine which has been rushed through development without large scale patient trials from a vaccine maker that has been given full legal immunity from personal injury lawsuits?
- 52% of young adults are living with their parents. That's higher than any prior measure on record, even surpassing the Great Depression's peak. Millennials will likely continue to pay the price for their parents’ luck and self-indulgence. According to a new report by Deutsche Bank the consequences of this dynamic will be so severe this widening generational divide should be a key source of alarm for investors, financial markets and society as a whole. “Investors can expect an abrupt, and significant upheaval in housing and asset markets, tax systems, climate policy, and many other areas,” Allen wrote. “This scenario becomes more likely towards the end of this decade as Millennial and younger voters start to exceed those in older generations.” (This year millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the country’s largest adult population.)
- How China is preparing its economy for a future where the U.S. isn’t the center of global demand. In a world rocked by the coronavirus pandemic and tensions with the U.S., the Chinese government is stepping up focus on the domestic market with the pronouncement of a “dual circulation” policy. Increased public discussion in the last few weeks has helped crystallize some of the implications for global trade. “The ‘dual circulation’ policy demonstrates China’s recognition that it won’t be able to rely on trade as much for the next two decades, as it did for the previous two,” Stephen Olson, research fellow at the nonprofit Hinrich Foundation, said in an email this week. China is focused squarely on a post U.S.centric world in which China leads in technology innovation.
- Remote work is killing the hidden trillion dollar office economy. From airlines to Starbucks, a massive part of our economy hinges on white-collar workers returning to the office. As companies in cities across the U.S. postpone and even scrap plans to reopen their offices, they have transformed once-teeming city business districts into commercial ghost towns comprised of essentially vacant skyscrapers and upscale complexes. A result has been the paralysis of the rarely remarked-upon business ecosystem centering on white-collar workers, who, when you include the enterprises reliant on them, account for a pre-pandemic labor force approaching 100 million workers.
- Japanese doctor who lived to 105-his spartan diet, views on retirement, and other rare longevity tips. 1) Don’t retire. But if you must, do so a lot later than age 65, 2) Take the stairs (and keep your weight in check). 3) Find a purpose that keeps you busy. 4) Rules are stressful; try to relax them. 5) Remember that doctors can’t cure everything. 6) Find inspiration, joy and peace in art.
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Our best wishes for a month filled with discovery and contentment,
Interdisciplinary Value Investing.