What caught my eye this week.
Three years ago this weekend I began to write on Monevator about the new coronavirus, which by late February had gotten the attention of the markets:
Things were definitely feeling freaky by the fourth day of 3-4% declines.
When the US market bounced higher into the close on Friday – perhaps on the expectation that central banks will make some sort of statement about interest rate cuts this weekend – you could almost feel the relief, even though all the main indices still ended the day in the red.
UK government bonds, for the record, are up.
Just in case you’ve been living in a bunker – which is where we’ll all be in a few weeks, according to some – the cause is the novel coronavirus.
COVID-19, as we groupies have started to call it.
Together with a few geeky friends I’d monitored Covid’s spread via then-obscure health sites and academic services since Christmas. I already had my mother self-isolating. And during a rare meeting with The Accumulator on the first Sunday of February, I’d shocked him by revealing I’d sold a huge portion of my portfolio and was even holding gold.
That all sounds very smart and prescient. But the fuller story is far more muddled.
For starters I’d bought back a lot of my equities just two to three weeks later!
The market wasn’t crashing, you see, and it’s usually right. I started thinking that maybe @TA was correct that this virus could prove to be just another localized SARS-type outbreak.
Notes from Underground
Unlike many people, I’ve a written record here on the blog – especially in the comments – of my thoughts over the weeks and months that followed.
This reminds me what I believed as our understanding of the virus evolved. As opposed to what I wish I did!
It’s a good check on hindsight bias and selective memory.
Some things I was ahead on, such as the long-term disruption caused by repeated lockdowns. I’d argue the way things played out also vindicated an early belief that we should overwhelmingly concentrate on protecting the oldest people. I was right too to get optimistic about shares again as soon as late March, when the fiscal spigots opened. And I correctly favoured technology firms.
But other stuff I got very wrong.
In retrospect I couldn’t get my head around the virus being a dial-shifting issue for years. I kept looking for signs of a speedy resolution – maybe as soon as the end of 2020. My efforts at being an amateur epidemiologist did afford me moments of insight.
But overall I would have done better just to listen to the pros. Although many of them were, like me, too optimistic about the ability of vaccination to halt transmission.
Anyway all these debates played out in the comments on this website – and that itself was interesting too.
In the early days we had a free and open debate. Regular commentators took varied views, but I’d say there was mostly an understanding that there were open questions and we were all feeling our way in the face of something personally unprecedented.
But after just a few months some sort of crystalizing took place. Positions hardened. Politics entered the picture in a big way. And like most things in our benighted political times, what began as a health issue became a binary them-and-us stand-off.
At the least I shuffled across one side of that line too.
Being and Nothingness
My aim in recalling all this is definitely not to do any sort of finally reckoning as to who was right about what – let alone who ‘won’ the pandemic.
Too many are doing that now, especially in the US.
The worst of them are almost willfully dismissing or forgetting just how uncertain and afraid we collectively were in those early months of 2020, as we watched hospitals overflowing with the dying from the enforced confines of our own homes.
And it’s rather that which I want to recall.
Trivially, the time has come to remove my ‘Covid Corner’ as a regular section in the Weekend Reading links.
The virus is endemic. And though some would say the pandemic isn’t over, 60 seconds on any High Street shows that nearly everyone who can do so has moved on.
But it’s more what that crisis confronted us with that I want to put a pin in today – before we trundle into the next furore.
Because it’s rare to see your world turned upside down in a matter of weeks as happened in March 2020.
Even if you’ve come to see the lockdowns as a sort of pleasant holiday from reality, say, the fact is that for a period the authorities compelled you and most people you know to stay at home, while at the same time going out could conceivably get you killed.
Normally a country needs to go to war for such existential disruption. Sadly Ukrainians have had a double-dose of it in the past year, but if we’re lucky many of the older among us may never face such a period again.
I think it’s worth some intentional archiving.
Waiting for Godot
For myself, I want to store away the feeling of uncertainty. The spectrum of fear. The collapse into tribalism. The strangeness of shopping and swerving among the other masked figures. The oscillating emotions towards those who broke the rules. The groping for answers.
The specter that seemed to stalk us.
The debates about this or that policy will continue for a while. But in time they will become accepted truisms, depending on how you lean. Like the Thatcher government’s response to the Miners’ Strikes or US involvement in Vietnam.
The nuance will be forgotten. Yet even now scientists can’t convincingly decide if masks made a meaningful difference to transmission, for example.
It’s nuance all the way down.
I’ll end with some great lines from Yeats. I’ve always liked the sound of them. But the past seven or eight years have also shown me the truth of them:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Never waste a good crisis, say the politicians. They mean the chance to bury bad news or to take tough decisions.
But I’d hope a crisis might also teach us to be a little wiser too.
Have a great weekend – and let’s enjoy our freedom to do so.
What are money market funds? – Monevator
What is a mortgage but money rented from a bank? – Monevator
From the archive-ator: the coronavirus crash, as told by our community – Monevator
Note: Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view click through to read the article. Try privacy/incognito mode to avoid cookies. Consider subscribing to sites you visit a lot.
UK in surprise boost after record tax receipts in January – BBC
Interest rates will rise again, warns Hawkish MPC member – Guardian
Tesco and Aldi limit sales of tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers – BBC
The tenants facing eviction as landlords raise rents or sell up – Guardian
Report: why and when do people change their pension saving? – IFS
HMRC shuts down tax refund company – Which
Just 17 of world’s largest 122 firms have exited Russia since invasion – This Is Money
There are more hedge funds than Burger Kings [Search result] – FT
Products and services
Lender pulls 3.75% mortgage rate less than 48 hours after launch – This Is Money
Practically purrfect pet insurance revealed – Which
Open a SIPP with Interactive Investor and pay no SIPP fee for six months. Terms apply – Interactive Investor
Investec’s 3.75% 90-day notice savings account tops tables – This Is Money
Best places to hold cash in 2023 – Foxy Monkey
Will a water meter save you money? – Be Clever With Your Cash
Coventry BS targets first-time buyers’ with 4% savings account – This Is Money
Homes with big gardens for kids to explore, in pictures – Guardian
Die With Zero mini-special
Bill Perkins: optimizing for life fulfillment [Great podcast] – Peter Attia
Comment and opinion
What does centuries of data tells us about housing affordability in the UK? – Schroders
The Credit Suisse Global Investment Yearbook 2023 – Credit Suisse
What’s the surest route to investing excellence? – Morningstar
Uncertainty, 1923 – Fortunes & Frictions
Rich People’s Problems: I just haven’t got enough money [Search result] – FT
Ray Dalio’s all-weather portfolio – Of Dollars and Data
Short-termism is our default setting – Behavioural Investment
REITs can hedge against inflation, but not during a market crisis – Institutional Investor
Monopoly money and the UK property market – Indeedably
The straight way to wealthy – A Teachable Moment
UK housing market valuation and forecast for 2023 – UK Dividend Stocks
Inequality in the care of ailing parents – Humble Dollar
Interview with Vanguard CEO Tim Buckey [Podcast] – The Big Picture
The tax scandal within the Post Office scandal – Tax Policy Associates
Naughty corner: Active antics
Active managers in ‘extreme denial’ about lagging indices, says Charlie Munger – ETF Stream
Value, growth and intrinsic investing revisited – Intrinsic Investing
Interest rates versus earnings in 2023 – Klement on Investing
By this metric the US stock market isn’t as pricey as you might think – WisdomTree
The hard-knock life of short sellers – Finominal
Plenty still left to extract from the value premium – Alpha Architect
Four-day workweek mini-special
Four-day week: ‘major breakthrough’ as most UK firms in trial extend changes – Guardian
The worker flexibility premium – Axios
Kindle book bargains
The Next Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy by Tim Harford – £0.99 on Kindle
How to Make the World Add Up by Tim Harford – £0.99 on Kindle
Casino: The Rise and Fall of the Mob in Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi – £0.99 on Kindle
The Art of Statistics: Learning from Data by David Spiegelhalter – £1.99 on Kindle
The struggle for the soul of the B Corp movement [Search result] – FT
Britain’s cheapest heat pumps will go on sale this year – This Is Money
The beautiful flowers that bees can’t use – BBC
TRIG: full-year results – DIY Investor UK
In cods’ shadow, redfish rise – Hakai Magazine
Off our beat
Why Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a more complex leader than most people know – Politico
The Brexit connection to the tomato shortages – Chris Lowndes via Twitter
The BFG isn’t a BFD – Slate
How it all works – Morgan Housel
Mrs Ermine’s seasonal salads – Simple Living in Somerset
“You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.”
– Cormac McCarthy, The Road