Remember the HBO show The Leftovers? The premise, here lifted directly from Wikipedia: “The Leftovers starts three years after a global event called the “Sudden Departure”, the inexplicable, simultaneous disappearance of 140 million people, 2% of the world’s population, on October 14, 2011.”
The important characters there are “2%.” Because that’s what, to this point, the estimated mortality rate is of those who contract the coronavirus. Actually it’s likely much lower, at least by half, in that many people who’ve contracted the COVID-19 don’t even know that they have it and that an inordinately large percentage of those who’ve died have come from China, which simply failed to address the epidemic properly.
When you have doctors and other health care workers in their 30s an 40s dying from this, it shows that the state, or whatever China’s health care oversight institution is called, failed to protect its workers. Those front-line health care workers who lost their lives were like the firefighters from the first episode of Chernobyl (like The Leftovers, another HBO original program).
The 2% portion of this event is redolent of The Leftovers. But the White House reaction, and indeed China’s and Iran’s reaction to the pandemic, is relative to Chernobyl: Downplay the gravity of the disaster and silence those who are the experts involved and wish to inform the public. Compel them to help the state behind the scenes, but threaten them if they attempt to go public. Dr. Fauci, meet Valery Legasov.
Anyway, 2%. That relative minute number (you’d take 1 in 50 odds all day long, wouldn’t you, if the bet is that you’re going to be one of the 49 and not the unlucky 50th) has caused planetary panic all week. Coincidentally, Widespread Panic is playing at the Beacon this week; thinking of how many hedge fund types have walked past that marquee and thought, Oy! Part of the hysteria, at least in the stock market, deals with the fact that China is most seriously afflicted and China has become the world’s manufacturing base. Cripple China and you cripple the world.
So there’s that.
But I wonder… In The Leftovers the “Sudden Departure” was indiscriminate. It took people of all ages, colors, both sexes, etc. The coronavirus is indiscriminate in terms of ethnicity, religion, etc, but in terms of mortality, it seems most weaponized against the aged. Or the very young. Those of us in the prime of our lives, let’s say 14 to 64, are relatively safe. At least in terms of the binary live-or-die issue.
So here’s what I see happening: a vaccine won’t be available for quite some time. The chance of COVID-19 not spreading is minimal. We all can’t stay in our homes all day watching Narcos and ordering on Yelp! (I mean, plenty of us were doing that before the outbreak, but some of us won’t stand for it).
The virus will spread in America. More people will have it a month from now than have it today. But the stock market is not going to keep falling 900 or so points a day. Something must give. And what will eventually give, I believe, is… worry.
People are just going to get over it. This isn’t AIDS. It’s not a death sentence, not for almost anyone who gets it. And so a month from now the coronavirus is just one more thing people will learn to live with, not unlike the flu or guns. Guns, by the way, have still taken more American lives this year than the coronavirus has taken lives all over the world. Idiots walk around exercising their open-carry rights. The stock market doesn’t care. Eventually the same will happen with the coronavirus.
The stock market will rebound not because the coronavirus has been extricated. But rather because investors and everyday people will have learned to just go about their lives and factor in the odds. I’m not certain when that day comes, but it will be soon. Eventually people will say, I cannot be bothered. I wanna go to Tokyo Disney. I want to own AAPL at 40% off the highs.
In the meantime, we get our own real-life version of The Leftovers with a maddening dash of Chernobyl thrown in.