February 14, 2020
Editor’s note: We’ll be out of the office on Monday for Presidents’ Day. Your next American Consequences Daily will be in your inbox on Tuesday morning.
Yesterday, the number of coronavirus cases jumped to nearly 15,000 in China… the largest one-day increase so far recorded.
This surge came as China’s Hubei province – home to the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the crisis – updated its case data… And it’s clear that there are far more folks sick in the area than are showing up in the “official” numbers thus far.
Of course, this virus has now spread far beyond China… More than 60,000 folks around the world have been infected and 1,370 have perished. That’s a fatality rate of more than 2%.
Still, the virus hasn’t altered everyday life in the U.S. At least not yet…
To give us a snapshot of what it’s like “on the ground” in Singapore – which has only about 50 cases of coronavirus so far despite its close proximity to China and its status as a financial and business hub – we’ll be featuring exclusive content from financial analyst Kim Iskyan…
Kim is one of the most experienced and well-traveled financial writers in the world today.
He helped build stock exchanges across the former Soviet Union in the 1990s… He has covered emerging markets for hedge funds and investment banks… And he has spent his adult life traveling the world, building relationships with bankers, brokers, and investors.
From Iran’s emerging stock market… to landing in Ukraine in the middle of a war… to booking a flight to Thailand as soon as martial law was declared – Kim has been there and helped investors figure out the risks and the opportunity in these “blown out” markets.
And now, he’s bringing his wealth of experience to American Consequences.
Dozens of experts called for a crash in 2020. Yet the Dow is approaching 30k for the first time in history. Here’s why.
While every country and culture around the world are different, there are still universal truths that play out in human nature. So if we can understand the hidden architecture of how people work – and in turn, how markets work – then we’ll be able to see things for what they are, rather than how the media portrays them.
And there’s no one better to share these insights with us than Kim Iskyan…
Teetering on the Brink of Panic
By Kim Iskyan
I couldn’t hear the muffled announcement from the loudspeaker. But suddenly, everyone around me bum-rushed the pharmacy…
I had just entered the local grocery store on the sixth floor of one of Singapore’s ubiquitous neighborhood malls. There’s no such thing as a “Blue Light Special” here. In fact, Singaporeans are so rule-abiding that they’d rather wilt in the heat at a crosswalk on a deserted road than violate the command of the blinking red man.
So I was excited to see what the supermarket rumble was about.
I joined the gentle jostling for a place in line. “What are we queuing for?” I asked my neighbor, an elderly, gray-haired Chinese lady they’d call “auntie” here.
“Face masks! Didn’t you hear?” She was euphoric. “They have face masks!” she said in a heavy “Singlish” (Singapore English) accent. “You can’t find them anywhere, but they have them here!”
Soon, the facemask line snaked out of the store.
But you’d be out of luck if you were looking for hand sanitizer, bleach, or toilet paper – as I discovered a few minutes later.
There was also a run on condoms. With one of the lowest birthrates in the world, a glass-half-full side effect of the coronavirus could be a baby boom in Singapore nine or so months from now.
Much of the rest of the world has dismissed the coronavirus – recently re-branded as Covid-19 – as media-driven panic. After all, the boring seasonal flu kills between 290,000 to 650,000 people every year, according to the World Health Organization. And if you catch it, Covid-19 is just one-fifth as deadly as SARS, the 2002 to2003 epidemic that killed 774 people.
But that doesn’t reassure the auntie next to me in the facemask line. You see, Singapore has more cases of the coronavirus than anywhere but China (and Japan, but they’re almost all on cruise ships). And people who have come down with Covid-2019 are 40 times more likely to die of it than people with generic-brand flu.
The map above shows all the cases of the virus in the entire country. What makes it all the more worrisome to people here is that Singapore is tiny. It’s smaller than the city of Indianapolis with six times the population. It’s one of the most densely populated countries on Earth… with 200 times more people per square mile than the U.S. That makes Singapore the perfect place for an epidemic to spread.
Some of the panic buying at the pharmacy was because the Singaporean government raised the alert level of the DORSCON (for Disease Outbreak Response System Condition) to orange. That reflects “moderate disruption” to normal life.
In a statement on Friday, Singapore’s prime minister tried to tamp down the panic… and the Singapore government’s WhatsApp (a widely used social media communication app) channel warned people to not spread “unverified information” about the virus.
This week, office workers have been held up outside skyscrapers downtown to have their temperature taken before they were allowed to enter. You can almost hear crickets this week at the Singapore Airshow, Asia’s biggest defense and aerospace conference. My kids come home with rumors that schools will be closed down if the alert level is raised to red.
Compared to a lot of other countries, the response of Singapore’s government to the epidemic has been smart. Its clear communication has so far reduced panic and conspiracy theories.
But that might be changing… Take the auntie next to me in line. Despite government assurances that there were no shortages of facemasks, the grocery-store pharmacy ran out of facemasks just before we got to the counter. No pharmacy in the entire mall had them, either.
“They say it will be all right,” the old lady said to me as the Singapore-style quiet riot for facemasks dissolved with a quiet murmur. “I think it will all be fine.”
May you find your way through the chaos,
Now here are some of the stories we’re reading…
Beijing battles ‘crisis of Chernobyl proportions’ in coronavirus outbreak
The crisis has been referred to as “China’s Chernobyl” – the 1986 nuclear accident in the former Soviet Union that was worsened by an opaque system and incompetent crisis management – and is the worst the ruling Communist Party has seen since 1989. It is certainly the worst under strongman leader President Xi Jinping.
U.S. military prepping for coronavirus pandemic
Northern Command and geographic combatant commanders are initiating pandemic plans, which include ordering commanders to prepare for widespread outbreaks and confining service members with a history of travel to China.
Foreigners stranded in Wuhan by virus tell of fear and rations
Hunkered down at the epicentre of China’s virus epidemic and cut off from the world, the remaining foreigners in Wuhan are eking out a life in fear.
Retirement Millionaires Hit Record in Roaring Market
The number of people with $1 million or more in their 401(k) or individual retirement account on the Fidelity Investments platform reached record levels last quarter, fueled by higher savings rates along with market appreciation
WhatsApp now has 2 billion users
WhatsApp used the milestone to reiterate the importance of encrypting its users’ messages, a practice that is coming under increasing amounts of pressure from lawmakers around the world.
Credit-Card Debt in U.S. Rises to Record $930 Billion
Some cardholders, particularly younger ones, are running into trouble. The proportion of credit-card debt in serious delinquency, meaning payments were late by 90 days or more, rose to 5.32% in the fourth quarter, the highest level in almost eight years… The serious-delinquency rate for borrowers from 18 to 29 years old rose to 9.36%, the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2010.
How a Math Genius Hacked OkCupid to Find True Love
If, through statistical sampling, McKinlay could ascertain which questions mattered to the kind of women he liked, he could construct a new profile that honestly answered those questions and ignored the rest. He could match every woman in LA who might be right for him, and none that weren’t.
Should New Hampshire Still Host the Nation’s First Primary? Journalists and Candidates Weigh In
On a special episode of Greater Boston filmed live in New Hampshire on Monday, a range of media professionals and 2020 candidates shared their thoughts with Jim Braude, including: Mike Barnicle, Joy Reid, Tom Steyer, Deval Patrick, PJ O’Rourke, Judy Woodruff, and Lawrence O’Donnell.
And let us know what you’re reading at [email protected].
Publisher, American Consequences
With P.J. O’Rourke and the Editorial Staff
February 14, 2020