Thursday, April 30, 2020


Invest Like the Best Podcast: Chris Bloomstran - An Update on Public Markets (LINK)
Related previous post: Semper Augustus Investments Group: 2019 Annual Letter
Grant’s Current Yield Podcast: Class is in session [with Bruce Greenwald] (LINK)

Broyhill Portfolio Update (LINK)

Boyar Quarterly Letter (LINK)

Greenhaven Road Capital Q1 Letter (LINK)

[More Q1 letters can be found HERE and HERE.]

The Investing Edge Podcast: Value Investor’s Edge Live #18: On The Water In The Tanker Markets With Frontline’s CEO (LINK)

Matt Ridley on The Glenn Beck Show on BlazeTV (video) (LINK)

68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice - by Kevin Kelly (LINK)
It’s my birthday. I’m 68. I feel like pulling up a rocking chair and dispensing advice to the young ‘uns. Here are 68 pithy bits of unsolicited advice which I offer as my birthday present to all of you.
I Am So Lucky - by Trey Mancini [H/T Linc] (LINK)

What you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine - by Bill Gates (LINK)

Wednesday, April 29, 2020


"We pay some very big money. We have managers that have made and will make in the tens of millions annually, and we have managers that, when we suffer, they suffer. But you’ve got to treat people fairly. Even though they don’t need the money, everybody wants to be treated fairly. And so the rationale for how you’re doing it should be understood, but there is no cross-Berkshire rationale at all.... The main thing to do is, in terms of market position and all that sort of thing, the real thing I really want to pay managers for is widening the moat that separates our business from our competitors’ businesses over time. Now, that gets very subjective, so I don’t have any perfect way of doing that. But that is always going through my mind in trying to design compensation systems." --Warren Buffett (2010)

Warren Buffett will soon tell us what he really thinks about stocks investing and the coronavirus pandemic - by Lawrence Cunningham (LINK)

The Anti-Amazon Alliance - by Ben Thompson (LINK)

When You Have No Idea What Happens Next - by Morgan Housel (LINK)

Wizards of Dalal Street: Mohnish Pabrai on COVID-19 and world economy (video) (LINK)

Martin Stopford on "Coronavirus, Climate Change & Smart Shipping: 3 Maritime Scenarios 2020-2050” (video) (LINK) [Related paper HERE.]

State of the Cloud 2020 · Bessemer Venture Partners (LINK)

Invest Like the Best Podcast: Josh Kopelman - The Past, Present, And Future Of Seed Investing (LINK)

Stoicism in a time of pandemic: how Marcus Aurelius can help (LINK)

The Ezra Klein Show (podcast): Bill Gates’s vision for life beyond coronavirus (LINK)

Antibody Tests Won’t Get Us Back to Normal - by Sarah Zhang (LINK)

Why the Coronavirus Is So Confusing - by Ed Yong (LINK)
A guide to making sense of a problem that is now too big for any one person to fully comprehend

Monday, April 27, 2020


Information Regarding the 2020 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting (LINK)

Warren Buffett may have ditched airline stocks and spent $20 billion on stock buybacks, investor Chris Bloomstran says (LINK)

What the Coronavirus Crisis Reveals About American Medicine - by Siddhartha Mukherjee (LINK)
Medicine is a system for delivering care and support; it’s also a system of information, quality control, and lab science. All need fixing.
Nassim Taleb on warnings over systemic risks from global pandemics (video from last week) (LINK)

When Your Fund Beats the Market, Ask: Which Market? - by Jason Zweig ($) (LINK)

Brent Beshore chats with Tobias Carlisle on The Acquirers Podcast (LINK)

Macro Voices Podcast: Hot Topic #14: Crude Oil BLACK SWAN ALERT with Jim Bianco (LINK)

Today's Audible Daily Deal is worthwhile: Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years of Lockheed

The contenders – and challenges – in the race to cure Covid - by Matt Ridley (LINK)

A Complete History of Pandemics - by Vaclav Smil (LINK) [Excerpted from his 2008 book, Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next 50 Years.]
Related previous post: Vaclav Smil on pandemics and growth
And for those analysts and aspiring analysts out there that may have missed the Friday afternoon post: Behind the Balance Sheet

Friday, April 24, 2020

Behind the Balance Sheet

Behind the Balance Sheet is an investment research and training consultancy. I watched its founder, Steve Clapham, on Real Vision earlier this year, and made a note to check out his online courses. While I hadn't yet gone and looked into them, Steve reached out to me to connect. After looking over his courses and a couple of recent blog posts ("10 Features of the post-Virus Investment Landscape" & "Amazon's Free Cash Flow"), I thought his work was worth highlighting here. 

While Steve has given me access to some of the videos, I receive no other compensation for mentioning his work here. But I believe it may be worthwhile to some readers of this blog, and I think courses like this from experienced professionals will be a big part of the future of education in the world.


"Unfortunately in this kind of work, where you are trying to determine relationships based upon past behavior, the almost invariable experience is that by the time you have had a long enough period to give you sufficient confidence in your form of measurement, just then new conditions supersede and the measurement is no longer dependable for the future." --Benjamin Graham ("Securities In An Insecure World")

Bill Gates on coronavirus: ‘It’s going to be a while before things go back to normal’ (video) (LINK)
Related article: The first modern pandemic - by Bill Gates
Horizon Kinetics Q1 Letter (LINK) [Audio review available HERE.]

Thoughts on Berkshire’s Deployable Cash (LINK)

A Historic Opportunity in Small Cap Stocks (LINK)

‘The American Tailwind’ - by Frank K. Martin (LINK)

Paul Singer's April letter to Elliott investors (LINK)

Raoul Pal's April Global Macro Investor newsletter is now available for all to read (LINK)

Understanding Money, Credit, and Debt - by Ray Dalio (LINK)

BIS paper: Insurance regulatory measures in response to Covid-19 (LINK)

My Restaurant Was My Life for 20 Years. Does the World Need It Anymore? (LINK)

With 100,000 stores set to close by 2025, mall owners face this legal hurdle next (co-tenancy clauses) (LINK)

A Shift in Investment Strategies Post-Coronavirus — COVID-19 Virtual Roundtable (video) (LINK)

Recode Media Podcast: Matthew Ball on how the pandemic will remake TV, movies and video games (LINK)

MacroVoices Podcast: #216 David Rosenberg: Stagflation is coming but not yet (LINK)

How I Built This with Guy Raz (podcast): How I Built Resilience: Live With Guy and Simon Sinek (LINK)

Conversations with Tyler (podcast): Philip E. Tetlock on Forecasting and Foraging as a Fox (LINK)

Infinite Loops Podcast: Morgan Housel – The Psychology of Money (LINK)
Related book: The Psychology of Money: Timeless lessons on wealth, greed, and happiness

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The first modern pandemic - by Bill Gates

Link to: The first modern pandemic: The scientific advances we need to stop COVID-19.
The coronavirus pandemic pits all of humanity against the virus. The damage to health, wealth, and well-being has already been enormous. This is like a world war, except in this case, we’re all on the same side. Everyone can work together to learn about the disease and develop tools to fight it. I see global innovation as the key to limiting the damage. This includes innovations in testing, treatments, vaccines, and policies to limit the spread while minimizing the damage to economies and well-being. 
This memo shares my view of the situation and how we can accelerate these innovations. (Because this post is long, it is also available as a PDF.) The situation changes every day, there is a lot of information available—much of it contradictory—and it can be hard to make sense of all the proposals and ideas you may hear about. It can also sound like we have all the scientific advances needed to re-open the economy, but in fact we do not. Although some of what’s below gets fairly technical, I hope it helps people make sense of what is happening, understand the innovations we still need, and make informed decisions about dealing with the pandemic.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020


"If I think I can make very good money, as we did on Harley-Davidson, with a very simple decision, just a question of, 'Are they going to go broke or not?' as opposed to a tougher decision, 'Is the motorcycle market going to get diminished significantly? And, you know, are the margins going to get squeezed somewhat?' And all of that. I’ll go with a simple decision." --Warren Buffett (2010)

The Art of Survival - by Ian Cassel (video) (LINK)

Giverny Capital 2019 Annual Letter to Partners (LINK)

How Tech Can Build - by Ben Thompson (LINK)

In the Coronavirus Era, the Force Is Still With Jack Dorsey (LINK)

2015 article... That Time I Tried to Buy an Actual Barrel of Crude Oil (LINK)

Invest Like the Best Podcast: Manny Stotz - Frontier Markets Investing (LINK)

The Amish Health Care System [H/T @jtepper2] (LINK)

PBS FRONTLINE: Coronavirus Pandemic (video) (LINK)

Monday, April 20, 2020


"That's how history unfolds. People weave a web of meaning, believe in it with all their heart, but sooner or later the web unravels, and when we look back we cannot understand how anybody could have taken it seriously." --Yuval Noah Harari (Homo Deus)

Howard Marks says the stock market rebound is not reflecting reality (LINK)

Oil Plunges Below Zero for First Time in Unprecedented Wipeout (LINK)

Less Than Zero: What Oil's Crazy Day Means ($) (LINK)

Kyle Bass on CNBC (video) (LINK)

Hin Leong Failed to Declare $800 Million Losses (LINK)

Esports and the Dangers of Serving at the Pleasure of a King - by Matthew Ball (LINK)

Book Notes: Whole Earth Discipline (LINK)

Yes, Even Introverts Can Be Lonely Right Now - by Adam Grant (LINK)

COVID-19: What’s wrong with the models? - by Peter Attia (LINK)

Sunday, April 19, 2020


"He who moves not forward, goes backward." --Goethe

IT'S TIME TO BUILD - by Marc Andreessen (LINK)

Dispersion and Alpha Conversion: How Dispersion Creates the Opportunity to Express Skill - by Michael J. Mauboussin & Dan Callahan (LINK)

Masters in Business Podcast: James Montier on Fear and Investment (LINK)

Renaissance's $10 Billion Medallion Fund Gains 24% Year to Date in Tumultuous Market ($) (LINK)

Airbnb Defied the Odds of Startup Success. How Will It Survive a Pandemic? ($) (LINK)

Calpers Unwound Hedges Just Before March’s Epic Stock Selloff ($) (LINK)

Case Study of Tidewater and The Capital Cycle by John Chew (LINK)

The Forgotten Man - by Frank K. Martin (LINK)

The Day of Reckoning for Private Equity - by Ted Seides (LINK)

Bloomberg Invest Talks: A Conversation with Ray Dalio (video) (LINK)

Kyle Bass: US & China Fallout & Recovery from COVID 19; Hong Kong Looming Banking Crisis (video) (LINK)

Why Walking Matters—Now More Than Ever (LINK)

Radiolab Podcast: The Cataclysm Sentence (LINK)
One day in 1961, the famous physicist Richard Feynman stepped in front of a Caltech lecture hall and posed this question to a group of undergraduate students: “If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence was passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?” Now, Feynman had an answer to his own question - a good one. But his question got the entire team at Radiolab wondering, what did his sentence leave out? So we posed Feynman’s cataclysm question to some of our favorite writers, artists, historians, futurists - all kinds of great thinkers. We asked them, “What’s the one sentence you would want to pass on to the next generation that would contain the most information in the fewest words?” What came back was an explosive collage of what it means to be alive right here and now, and what we want to say before we go.

Friday, April 17, 2020


Charlie Munger: ‘The Phone Is Not Ringing Off the Hook’ (LINK)

"The Practice of Value Investing" by Li Lu (November 2019 speech, translated) (LINK)

Has This California Lab Fixed America’s Covid Test Problem? - by Michael Lewis (LINK)

Who Pays For This? - by Morgan Housel (LINK)

Rob Arnott: Why the Stock Market Hasn't Even Gotten Cheap Yet (video) (LINK)

The NBA and Microsoft - by Ben Thompson (LINK)

Mohnish Pabrai and Francis Chou Q&A with Harvard class (podcast) (LINK)

Value Investing with Legends Podcast: Dan Davidowits & Jeff Mueller – Compounding with Polen Capital (LINK)

MacroVoices Podcast #215 - Chris Cole: Dragon portfolio revisited in the eye of the storm (LINK)
Related paper: "The Allegory of the Hawk and the Serpent"
The Peter Attia Drive Podcast: #107 - John Barry: 1918 Spanish flu pandemic—historical account, parallels to today, and lessons (LINK)
Related book: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

Thursday, April 16, 2020


Jeff Bezos' 2019 Letter to Shareholders (LINK)

Marks’s Oaktree Seeks $15 Billion for Biggest Distress Fund Ever (LINK)

Oil Glut May Overwhelm Global Storage Tanks Within Weeks (LINK)

The 14 Most Important Financial Planning Lessons I've Learned Over the Past 30 Days - by Phil Weiss (video) (LINK)

How I Built This with Guy Raz (podcast): Live with Guy Online: David Neeleman and Tristan Walker (LINK)

Ben Thompson: Listen to Free Weekly Stratechery Articles in Your Podcast Player (LINK)

The Tim Ferriss Show (podcast): #421: Dr. Jane Goodall — The Legend, The Lessons, The Hope (LINK)

Wednesday, April 15, 2020


"Stocks got much cheaper in 1974 than they are now [in May 2009]. But you were also facing a different interest rate scenario. So you could say they really weren’t that much cheaper. You could buy very good companies at four times earnings or thereabouts with good prospects. But interest rates were far higher then. That was the best period I’ve ever seen for buying common equities. The country may not have been in as much trouble then as we were back in September. I don’t think it was. But stocks were somewhat cheaper then.... We don’t try to pick bottoms. We don’t have an opinion about where the stock market’s going to go tomorrow or next week or next month. So to sit around and not do something that’s sensible because you think there will be something even more attractive, that’s just not our approach to it. Anytime we get a chance to do something that makes sense, we do it. And if it makes even more sense the next day, and if we’ve got money, we may do more. And if we don’t — what can we do about it? So picking bottoms is basically not our game. Pricing is our game." --Warren Buffett (2009)

The Long View Podcast: Chris Davis: Banking on Boring, Reliable Franchises (LINK)

Easter on the Sidewalk - Jason Zweig (LINK)

Coronavirus Clarity - by Ben Thompson (LINK)

Railroader - Learning from Hunter Harrison (LINK)

Walter Isaacson: This is going to be a new century of biotechnology (video) (LINK)

Venture Stories Podcast: How COVID-19 Impacts Startups and Venture Capital with Ali Hamed and Brent Beshore (LINK)

Our Pandemic Summer - by Ed Yong (LINK)

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Howard Marks Memo: Knowledge of the Future

Link to Memo: Knowledge of the Future
Read Howard Marks's latest memo, in which he discusses the notion of making informed guesses regarding the future and shares his questions about re-opening the U.S. economy and the latest Federal Reserve moves to help the economy combat the coronavirus.

Monday, April 13, 2020


A Primer on Reading Annual Reports [H/T @CrowdedTradeCap] (LINK)

Bob Iger Thought He Was Leaving on Top. Now, He’s Fighting for Disney’s Life. (LINK)

Steve Bregman on Debt Debasement (audio) (LINK)

Mohnish Pabrai: A Bull's View in a Virus Shop (LINK)

Paul Black Investor Update March 2020 (video) [H/T @mastersinvest] (LINK)

Learning from Charles Schwab (LINK)

Federal Reserve has encouraged moral hazard on a grand scale - by Jonathan Tepper ($) (LINK)

Value Hive Podcast: 20: Survival of The Permanent w/ Brent Beshore, Permanent Equity (LINK)

Venture Stories Podcast: Nir Eyal on His New Book, “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life” (LINK)

The Great Influenza of 1918 (LINK)
Related book: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: The Key to Innovation (LINK)

How Anthony Fauci Became America’s Doctor (LINK)

Thursday, April 9, 2020


CNBC's full interview with Bill Gates (video) (LINK)

GMO White Paper | It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn (LINK)

Too Big to Fail, COVID-19 Edition: How Private Equity Is Winning the Coronavirus Crisis - by Bethany McLean (LINK)

Fed Expands Corporate-Debt Backstops, Unveils New Programs to Aid States, Cities and Small Businesses ($) (LINK)

Jim Chanos on PE Push for Help and Still Shorting Tesla: Full Video Interview - Bloomberg (LINK)

Universa Investments Q1 2020 Letter (LINK)

What Next? (Two Questions) - by Morgan Housel (LINK)

Infinite Loops Podcast: Michael Green: Evolving Market Structures and COVID-19 (LINK)

Hidden Forces Podcast: The Impact of COVID-19 on Global Supply Chains with ISM CEO | Tom Derry (LINK)

Wimbledon paid pandemic insurance for almost 20 years. Now it’s getting $141 million [H/T Linc] (LINK)

Most New York Coronavirus Cases Came From Europe, Genomes Show - by Carl Zimmer (LINK)

The Bats Behind the Pandemic - by Matt Ridley (LINK)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020


"If the business changes in a material way, you’d better change your business model. Or somebody else will. And then you’ll even have more changes facing you.... Capitalism is creative destruction. And sometimes, you’re on the short end of that." --Warren Buffett (2009)

"Some of our businesses have a shared-hardship model, where they don’t layoff, at least not yet. And the businesses with that model tend to be very strongly placed economically. So I guess it shows that Benjamin Franklin was right, when he said, 'It's hard for an empty sack to stand upright.' So we’re all over the map on that, and so is all of industry. But I do think an ideal model would be a business so strong that it could operate in the shared-hardship mode instead of the layoffs." --Charlie Munger (2009)

"Yeah, some are doing that, where you give up hours. But a lot of operations don’t lend themselves to that very well, either. other cases, you basically have to close down whole plants. That’s just the nature of it. You really can’t operate every plant at 50 percent and have it work as effectively as shutting down the least-productive plants." --Warren Buffett (2009)

"In a world where you sometimes have to amputate a limb to stay alive, you can’t expect that every business can stay exactly as it is." --Charlie Munger (2009)


Klarman Made $1 Billion Hedging Markets. He Still Lost Money (LINK) [If anyone happens to have a copy of a Baupost quarterly update letter during this time, and is willing to share, it would be greatly appreciated (]

The first 4 video replays of Grant Williams' 2020 Hmmminar Series are available online (LINK) [Marc Cohodes is the latest one from last night, and the next one is scheduled for tonight, with John Hussman.]

FUNDSMITH Annual Shareholders' Meeting - 25th February 2020 (video) (LINK)

Apple, Amazon, and Common Enemies -  by Ben Thompson (LINK)

Invest Like the Best Podcast: Sarah Tavel - Consumer & Marketplace Investing (LINK)

The Daily Podcast: A Kids’ Guide to Coronavirus (LINK)

The Peter Attia Drive (podcast): #104 - COVID-19 for kids with Olivia Attia (LINK)

Recode Decode Podcast: Niall Ferguson: How viruses (and fake news stories) spread, and how America screwed up its coronavirus response (LINK)

TED Connects: Why sleep matters now more than ever | Matt Walker (video) (LINK)

The Gene | Part 1: Dawn of the Modern Age of Genetics | PBS (video) (LINK) [A Ken Burns documentary, inspired by Siddhartha Mukherjee's book The Gene.]

WHO must answer serious questions before it is trusted with leading a Covid-19 inquiry - by Matt Ridley (LINK)

The Shelves Are Empty, the Test Swabs Are Gone - by Michael Lewis (LINK)

Some of Warren Buffett’s comments on inflation over the years (LINK)

Book of the day (PDF): Dying of Money: Lessons of the Great German and American Inflations - by Jens O. Parsson

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Howard Marks Memo: Calibrating

Link to Memo: Calibrating
The most important thing for an investor is to set the right balance between offense and defense. Today Howard Marks no longer feels defense should be favored. Find out why in his latest memo, Calibrating, in which he describes the importance of positioning portfolios in response to the environment.

Vaclav Smil on pandemics and growth

From Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities by Vaclav Smil (book published last year):
Formerly devastating bacterial epidemics have become only a matter of historic interest as we have taken preventive measures (suppressing rodent reservoirs and fleas when dealing with plague) and deployed early detection and immediate treatment of emerging cases. Viral infections pose a greater challenge. A rapid diffusion of smallpox, caused by variola virus, was responsible for well-known reductions of aboriginal American populations that lacked any immunity before their contact with European conquerors. Vaccination eventually eradicated this infection: the last natural outbreak in the US was in 1949, and in 1980 the World Health Organization declared smallpox eliminated on the global scale. But there is no prospect for an early elimination of viral influenza, returning annually in the form of seasonal epidemics and unpredictably as recurrent pandemics. 
Seasonal outbreaks are related to latitude (Brazil and Argentina have infection peaks between April and September), they affect between 10% and 50% of the population and result in widespread morbidity and significant mortality among elderly. Annual US means amount to some 65 million illnesses, 30 million medical visits, 200,000 hospitalizations, 25,000 (10,000–40,000) deaths, and up to $5 billion in economic losses (Steinhoff 2007). As with all airborne viruses, influenza is readily transmitted as droplets and aerosols by respiration and hence its spatial diffusion is aided by higher population densities and by travel, as well as by the short incubation period, typically just 24–72 hours. Epidemics can take place at any time during the year, but in temperate latitudes they occur with a much higher frequency during winter. Dry air and more time spent indoors are the two leading promoters. 
Epidemics of viral influenza bring high morbidity but in recent decades they have caused relatively low overall mortality, with both rates being the highest among the elderly. Understanding of key factors behind seasonal variations remains limited but absolute humidity might be the predominant determinant of influenza seasonality in temperate climates (Shaman et al. 2010). Recurrent epidemics require the continuous presence of a sufficient number of susceptible individuals, and while infected people recover with immunity, they become again vulnerable to rapidly mutating viruses as the process of antigenic drift creates a new supply of susceptible individuals (Axelsen et al. 2014). That is why epidemics persist even with mass-scale annual vaccination campaigns and with the availability of antiviral drugs. Because of the recurrence and costs of influenza epidemics, considerable effort has gone into understanding and modeling their spread and eventual attenuation and termination (Axelsen et al. 2014; Guo et al. 2015). 
The growth trajectories of seasonal influenza episodes form complete epidemic curves whose shape conforms most often to a normal (Gaussian) distribution or to a negative binomial function whose course shows a steeper rise of new infections and a more gradual decline from the infection peak (Nsoesie et al. 2014). More virulent infections follow a rather compressed (peaky) normal curve, with the entire event limited to no more than 100–120 days; in comparison, milder infections may end up with only a small fraction of infected counts but their complete course may extend to 250 days. Some events will have a normal distribution with a notable plateau or with a bimodal progression (Goldstein et al. 2011; Guo et al. 2015). 
But the epidemic curve may follow the opposite trajectory, as shown by the diffusion of influenza at local level. This progression was studied in a great detail during the course of the diffusion of the H1N1 virus in 2009. Between May and September 2009, Hong Kong had a total of 24,415 cases and the epidemic growth curve, reconstructed by Lee and Wong (2010), had a small initial peak between the 55th and 60th day after its onset, then a brief nadir followed by rapid ascent to the ultimate short-lived plateau on day 135 and a relatively rapid decline: the event was over six months after it began (figure 2.4). The progress of seasonal influenza can be significantly modified by vaccination, notably in such crowded settings as universities, and by timely isolation of susceptible groups (closing schools). Nichol et al. (2010) showed that the total attack rate of 69% in the absence of vaccination was reduced to 45% with a preseason vaccination rate of just 20%, to less than 1% with preseason vaccination at 60%, and the rate was cut even when vaccinations were given 30 days after the outbreak onset. 
We can now get remarkably reliable information on an epidemic’s progress in near real-time, up to two weeks before it becomes available from traditional surveillance systems: McIver and Brownstein (2014) found that monitoring the frequency of daily searches for certain influenza- or health-related Wikipedia articles provided an excellent match (difference of less than 0.3% over a period of nearly 300 weeks) with data on the actual prevalence of influenza-like illness obtained later from the Centers for Disease Control. Wikipedia searches also accurately estimated the week of the peak of illness occurrence, and their trajectories conformed to the negative binomial curve of actual infections.  
Seasonal influenza epidemics cannot be prevented and their eventual intensity and human and economic toll cannot be predicted—and these conclusions apply equally well to the recurrence of a worldwide diffusion of influenza viruses causing pandemics and concurrent infestation of the world’s inhabited regions. These concerns have been with us ever since we understood the process of virulent epidemics, and it only got more complicated with the emergence of the H5N1 virus (bird flu) in 1997 and with a brief but worrisome episode of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). In addition, judging by the historical recurrence of influenza pandemics, we might be overdue for another major episode. 
We can identify at least four viral pandemics during the 18th century, in 1729–1730, 1732–1733, 1781–1782, and 1788–1789, and there have been six documented influenza pandemics during the last two centuries (Gust et al. 2001). In 1830–1833 and 1836–1837, the pandemic was caused by an unknown subtype originating in Russia. In 1889–1890, it was traced to subtypes H2 and H3, most likely coming again from Russia. In 1918–1919, it was an H1 subtype with unclear origins, either in the US or in China. In 1957–1958, it was subtype H2N2 from south China, and in 1968–1969 subtype H3N2 from Hong Kong. We have highly reliable mortality estimates only for the last two events, but there is no doubt that the 1918–1919 pandemic was by far the most virulent (Reid et al. 1999; Taubenberger and Morens 2006). 
The origins of the 1918–1919 pandemic have been contested. Jordan (1927) identified the British military camps in the United Kingdom (UK) and France, Kansas, and China as the three possible sites of its origin. China in the winter of 1917–1918 now seems the most likely region of origin and the infection spread as previously isolated populations came into contact with one another on the battlefields of WWI (Humphries 2013). By May 1918 the virus was present in eastern China, Japan, North Africa, and Western Europe, and it spread across entire US. By August 1918 it had reached India, Latin America, and Australia (Killingray and Phillips 2003; Barry 2005). The second, more virulent, wave took place between September and December 1918; the third one, between February and April 1919, was, again, more moderate. 
Data from the US and Europe make it clear that the pandemic had an unusual mortality pattern. Annual influenza epidemics have a typical U-shaped age-specific mortality (with young children and people over 70 being most vulnerable), but age-specific mortality during the 1918–1919 pandemic peaked between the ages of 15 and 35 years (the mean age for the US was 27.2 years) and virtually all deaths (many due to viral pneumonia) were in people younger than 65 (Morens and Fauci 2007). But there is no consensus about the total global toll: minimum estimates are around 20 million, the World Health Organization put it at upward of 40 million people, and Johnson and Mueller (2002) estimated it at 50 million. The highest total would be far higher than the global mortality caused by the plague in 1347–1351. Assuming that the official US death toll of 675,000 people (Crosby 1989) is fairly accurate, it surpassed all combat deaths of US troops in all of the wars of the 20th century. 
Pandemics have been also drivers of human genetic diversity and natural selection and some genetic differences have emerged to regulate infectious disease susceptibility and severity (Pittman et al. 2016). Quantitative reconstruction of their growth is impossible for events before the 20th century but good quality data on new infections and mortality make it possible to reconstruct epidemic curves of the great 1918–1919 pandemic and of all the subsequent pandemics. As expected, they conform closely to a normal distribution or to a negative binomial regardless of affected populations, regions, or localities. British data for combined influenza and pneumonia mortality weekly between June 1918 and May 1919 show three pandemic waves. The smallest, almost symmetric and peaking at just five deaths/1,000, was in July 1918. The highest, a negative binomial peaking at nearly 25 deaths/1,000 in October, and an intermediate wave (again a negative binomial peaking at just above 10 deaths/1,000) in late February of 1919 (Jordan 1927).  
Perhaps the most detailed reconstruction of epidemic waves traces not only transmission dynamics and mortality but also age-specific timing of deaths for New York City (Yang et al. 2014). Between February 1918 and April 1920, the city was struck by four pandemic waves (also by a heat wave). Teenagers had the highest mortality during the first wave, and the peak then shifted to young adults, with total excess mortality for all four waves peaking at the age of 28 years. Each wave was spread with a comparable early growth rate but the subsequent attenuations varied. The virulence of the pandemic is shown by daily mortality time series for the city’s entire population: the second wave’s peak reached 1,000 deaths per day compared to the baseline of 150–300 deaths (figure 2.5). When compared by using the fractional mortality increase (ratio of excess mortality to baseline mortality), the trajectories of the second and the third wave came closest to a negative binomial distribution, with the fourth wave displaying a very irregular pattern. 
Very similar patterns were demonstrated by analyses of many smaller populations. For example, a model fitted to reliable weekly records of incidences of influenza reported from Royal Air Force camps in the UK shows two negative binomial curves, the first one peaking about 5 weeks and the other one about 22 weeks after the infection outbreak (Mathews et al. 2007). The epidemic curve for the deaths of soldiers in the city of Hamilton (Ontario, Canada) between September and December 2018 shows a perfectly symmetrical principal wave peaking in the second week of October and a much smaller secondary wave peaking three weeks later (Mayer and Mayer 2006). 
Subsequent 20th-century pandemics were much less virulent. The death toll for the 1957–1958 outbreak was about 2 million, and low mortality (about 1 million people) during the 1968–1969 event is attributed to protection conferred on many people by the 1957 infection. None of the epidemics during the remainder of the 20th century grew into a pandemic (Kilbourne 2006). But new concerns arose due to the emergence of new avian influenza viruses that could be transmitted to people. By May 1997 a subtype of H5N1 virus mutated in Hong Kong’s poultry markets to a highly pathogenic form (able to kill virtually all affected birds within two days) that claimed its first human victim, a three-year-old boy (Sims et al. 2002). The virus eventually infected at least 18 people, causing six deaths and slaughter of 1.6 million birds, but it did not spread beyond South China (Snacken et al. 1999). 
WHO divides the progression of a pandemic into six phases (Rubin 2011). First, an animal influenza virus circulating among birds or mammals has not infected humans. Second, the infection occurs, creating a specific potential pandemic threat. Third, sporadic cases or small clusters of disease exist but there are no community-wide outbreaks. Such outbreaks mark the fourth phase. In the next phase, community-level outbreaks affect two or more countries in a region, and in the sixth phase outbreaks spread to at least one other region. Eventually the infections subside and influenza activity returns to levels seen commonly during seasonal outbreaks. Clearly, the first phase has been a recurrent reality, and the second and third phases have taken place repeatedly since 1997. But in April 2009, triple viral reassortment between two influenza lineages (that had been present in pigs for years) led to the emergence of swine flu (H1N1) in Mexico (Saunders-Hastings and Krewski 2016). 
The infection progressed rapidly to the fourth and fifth stage and by June 11, 2009, when WHO announced the start of an influenza pandemic, there were nearly 30,000 confirmed cases in 74 countries (Chan 2009). By the end of 2009, there were 18,500 laboratory-confirmed deaths worldwide but models suggest that the actual excess mortality attributable to the pandemics was between 151,700 and 575,400 cases (Simonsen et al. 2013). The disease progressed everywhere in typical waves, but their number, timing, and duration differed: there were three waves (spring, summer, fall) in Mexico, two waves (spring-summer and fall) in the US and Canada, three waves (September and December 2009, and August 2010) in India. 
There is no doubt that improved preparedness (due to the previous concerns about H5N1 avian flu in Asia and the SARS outbreak in 2002)—a combination of school closures, antiviral treatment, and mass-scale prophylactic vaccination—reduced the overall impact of this pandemic. The overall mortality remained small (only about 2% of infected people developed a severe illness) but the new H1N1 virus was preferentially infecting younger people under the age of 25 years, while the majority of severe and fatal infections was in adults aged 30–50 years (in the US the average age of laboratory confirmed deaths was just 37 years). As a result, in terms of years of life lost (a metric taking into account the age of the deceased), the maximum estimate of 1.973 million years was comparable to the mortality during the 1968 pandemic.  
Simulations of an influenza pandemic in Italy by Rizzo et al. (2008) provide a good example of the possible impact of the two key control measures, antiviral prophylaxis and social distancing. In their absence, the epidemic on the peninsula would follow a Gaussian curve, peaking about four months after the identification of the first cases at more than 50 cases per 1,000 inhabitants, and it would last about seven months. Antivirals for eight weeks would reduce the peak infection rate by about 25%, and social distancing starting at the pandemic’s second week would cut the spread by two-thirds. Economic consequences of social distancing (lost school and work days, delayed travel) are much more difficult to model. 
As expected, the diffusion of influenza virus is closely associated with population structure and mobility, and superspreaders, including health-care workers, students, and flight attendants, play a major role in disseminating the virus locally, regionally, and internationally (Lloyd-Smith et al. 2005). The critical role played by schoolchildren in the spatial spread of pandemic influenza was confirmed by Gog et al. (2014). They found that the protracted spread of American influenza in fall 2009 was dominated by short-distance diffusion (that was partially promoted by school openings) rather than (as is usually the case with seasonal influenza) long-distance transmission.  
Modern transportation is, obviously, the key superspreading conduit. Scales range from local (subways, buses) and regional (trains, domestic flights, especially high-volume connections such as those between Tokyo and Sapporo, Beijing and Shanghai, or New York and Los Angeles that carry millions of passengers a year) to intercontinental flights that enable rapid global propagation (Yoneyama and Krishnamoorthy 2012). In 1918, the Atlantic crossing took six days on a liner able to carry mostly between 2,000 and 3,000 passengers and crew; now it takes six to seven hours on a jetliner carrying 250–450 people, and more than 3 million passengers now travel annually just between London’s Heathrow and New York’s JFK airport. The combination of flight frequency, speed, and volume makes it impractical to prevent the spread by quarantine measures: in order to succeed they would have to be instantaneous and enforced without exception.  
And the unpredictability of this airborne diffusion of contagious diseases was best illustrated by the transmission of the SARS virus from China to Canada, where its establishment among vulnerable hospital populations led to a second unexpected outbreak (PHAC 2004; Abraham 2005; CEHA 2016). A Chinese doctor infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome (caused by a coronavirus) after treating a patient in Guangdong travelled to Hong Kong, where he stayed on the same hotel floor as an elderly Chinese Canadian woman who got infected and brought the disease to Toronto on February 23, 2003. 
As a result, while none of other large North American cities with daily flights to Hong Kong (Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York) was affected, Toronto experienced a taxing wave of infections, with some hospitals closed to visitors. Transmission within Toronto peaked during the week of March 16–23, 2003 and the number of cases was down to one by the third week of April; a month later, the WHO declared Toronto SARS-free—but that was a premature announcement because then came the second, quite unexpected wave, whose contagion rate matched the March peak by the last week of May before it rapidly subsided.

Monday, April 6, 2020


Jamie Dimon's 2019 Letter to Shareholders (LINK)

Coronavirus and Credibility - by Paul Graham (LINK)

The Bare Necessities You Need for a Bear Market - by Jason Zweig ($) (LINK)

Daniel Kahneman: Why We Underestimated COVID-19 (LINK)

The World Has No Pause Button (LINK)

Unlikely Optimism: The Conjunctive Events Bias (LINK)

Sunday, April 5, 2020


Bill Gates speaks with Trevor Noah about coronavirus testing, accelerating vaccine development and how the world will rebound (video) (LINK)

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Sells Huge Blocks of Delta, Southwest Stock (LINK)

Oaktree Insights: Risks and Opportunities in EM amid a Global Slowdown (LINK)

The Shock Cycle - by Morgan Housel (LINK)

The High Cost of Low Interest Rates (LINK)

A Pandemic and a Price War Have Together Brought Energy Markets to a Crisis - by Daniel Yergin (LINK)

The Most Profitable Trade: ‘Oil All Over the Oceans Right Now’ (LINK)

Value Investing with Legends Podcast: C.T. Fitzpatrick: Value Investing in Times of Deep Distress (LINK)

Exponent Podcast: 184 — Good is Better than Perfect (LINK)

Ben Carlson sits down with investor, author and market historian William Bernstein (video) (LINK)

Bad News Wrapped in Protein: Inside the Coronavirus Genome (LINK)

Friday, April 3, 2020

The Lucretius problem

Indeed, our bodies discover probabilities in a very sophisticated manner and assess risks much better than our intellects do. To take one example, risk management professionals look in the past for information on the so-called worst-case scenario and use it to estimate future risks—this method is called “stress testing.” They take the worst historical recession, the worst war, the worst historical move in interest rates, or the worst point in unemployment as an exact estimate for the worst future outcome. But they never notice the following inconsistency: this so-called worst-case event, when it happened, exceeded the worst case at the time. 
I have called this mental defect the Lucretius problem, after the Latin poetic philosopher who wrote that the fool believes that the tallest mountain in the world will be equal to the tallest one he has observed. We consider the biggest object of any kind that we have seen in our lives or hear about as the largest item that can possibly exist. And we have been doing this for millennia. In Pharaonic Egypt, which happens to be the first complete top-down nation-state managed by bureaucrats, scribes tracked the high-water mark of the Nile and used it as an estimate for a future worst-case scenario. 
The same can be seen in the Fukushima nuclear reactor, which experienced a catastrophic failure in 2011 when a tsunami struck. It had been built to withstand the worst past historical earthquake, with the builders not imagining much worse—and not thinking that the worst past event had to be a surprise, as it had no precedent. Likewise, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Fragilista Doctor Alan Greenspan, in his apology to Congress offered the classic “It never happened before.” Well, nature, unlike Fragilista Greenspan, prepares for what has not happened before, assuming worse harm is possible
If humans fight the last war, nature fights the next one.

Directly-related links:

The Lucretius Problem: How History Blinds Us

Latticework Of Mental Models: Lucretius Problem

Indirectly-related link:

The man who's tutoring Bill Gates (2010 article)
Prof. Smil's 24th book, Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next 50 Years, has just been published in Canada. It offers a numbers-heavy but compact guide to all the main things we should be worrying about (or not), from natural disasters to population trends. Although he deliberately stays away from predictions, he concludes from the evidence that climate change is nowhere near the top of the list. What is? A genuine flu pandemic, which, he says, is a 100 per cent certainty. What we can't predict is how bad it will be. Prof. Smil is no alarmist, but he warns that even a least-worst-case epidemic "would pose challenges unseen in most countries for generations." 
Bill Gates has read it, and says it's great.

Thursday, April 2, 2020


My Learning Process - by Blas Moros (LINK)

Why Time Has Slowed - by Morgan Housel (LINK)

Bill Miller On Why Coronavirus Sell Off Is Buying Opportunity Of Generation (video) (LINK)

A Viral Market Meltdown V: Back to Basics! - by Aswath Damodaran (LINK)

Given the news on the company today, this may be worth revisiting (from a couple of months ago): An anonymous, detailed short thesis on Luckin Coffee

Jim Chanos on CNBC (video) (LINK)

Steve Bregman on Energy (audio) (LINK)

Invest Like the Best Podcast: Gavin Baker – Investing Through a Bear Market (LINK)

Grant’s Current Yield Podcast: The Grice Man cometh (LINK)

Freakonomics Radio: 411. Is $2 Trillion the Right Medicine for a Sick Economy? (LINK)

How I Built This with Guy Raz (podcast): Live with Guy Online: Jeni Britton Bauer (LINK)

The Peter Attia Drive (podcast): #102 - Michael Osterholm, Ph.D.: COVID-19—Lessons learned, challenges ahead, and reasons for optimism and concern (LINK)

The Four Rules of Pandemic Economics - by Derek Thompson (LINK)

Private Labs Are Fueling a New Coronavirus Testing Crisis (LINK)

A Coronavirus Fix That Passes the Smell Test - by Michael Lewis (LINK)

Is the Coronavirus Airborne? Should We All Wear Masks? - by Ed Yong (LINK)

Longform Podcast: 386: Ed Yong (LINK)
Related articles: 1) "How a Pandemic Might Play Out Under Trump" (December 2016); 2) "The Next Plague Is Coming. Is America Ready?" (July 2018); 3) "How the Pandemic Will End" (March 2020)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Bill Gates op-ed: Here’s how to make up for lost time on covid-19

Link to: Bill Gates: Here’s how to make up for lost time on covid-19
There’s no question the United States missed the opportunity to get ahead of the novel coronavirus. But the window for making important decisions hasn’t closed. The choices we and our leaders make now will have an enormous impact on how soon case numbers start to go down, how long the economy remains shut down and how many Americans will have to bury a loved one because of covid-19. 
Through my work with the Gates Foundation, I’ve spoken with experts and leaders in Washington and across the country. It’s become clear to me that we must take three steps.

Howard Marks Memo: Which Way Now?

Link to Memo: Which Way Now?
How should investors think about the economy and asset values when faced with unprecedented uncertainty surrounding the effects of the coronavirus and a complete absence of guidance from analogies to the past? Read Howard Marks’s latest memo, in which he lays out the views of both the optimist and the worrier.