Tuesday morning I woke up to reports of impending snowmageddon. I looked at the weather app, it said six to 10 inches. I looked out the window, it was gray and raining.
When I came out of the bedroom to make a shot of espresso I commented to my wife, “Looks like some serious 10-inch snow storm is coming.” Ever the positive realist she replied, “WGN changed it, now it’s only 2-3, no big deal.”
I looked at my app again, it hadn’t changed. I scrolled down to the radar, the system was huge, and full of swirling colors out of the south. It looked complicated and beyond my ability to predict.
As I was driving my son to school the first snow flakes were drifting through the air; when I left the Y an hour later it was all snow. By the time you read this you will know who was right. Either we got 10 inches of snow, or my wife was right and will have said I was being dramatic. A clear no-win situation.
The scenario is a whimsical, low-risk microcosm of the situation evolving with the Wuhan coronavirus. Like a complicated weather system, the coronavirus situation is fluid, confusing and subject to a wide range of interpretation and potential outcome. A little less than a month ago I wrote about this topic. At the time the official toll said 4,400 people had contracted the illness. I compared the outbreak to the SARS pandemic in 2003, and suggested using this situation as a frame of reference. I was wrong.
Tuesday morning, the official number of people who have contracted the coronavirus is 80,347. The death rate of the illness is 3.3%. The official recovery rate is 34%. The level of human suffering being experienced in China is beyond anything I have ever observed as tens of millions of people remain under government enforced quarantine. There are now material pockets of infection on three continents. This is way beyond the scope of SARS.
If you regularly read my column then you know I am quick to jump on the the Federal government’s case, regardless of which party is in control, to blame it for all sorts of messes. In this situation however, the U.S. government deserves nothing but praise. In my opinion our government reacted quickly, and has done an excellent job keeping illness rates in the nation low and under control.
Unfortunately, with the virus gaining steam in Europe, this herculean task will likely become impossible. Even now, however, the American CDC is working to get ahead of what is coming and with our high capacity, highly professional health care system I have faith America will be ready.
The entire situation, however, is now literally unprecedented and full of unknown unknowns. Financial markets don’t deal well with unknown unknowns. The stock market early this week began coming to grips with the full range of coronavirus scenarios. The result was, of course, a sell off.
So, am I being dramatic? Maybe, but maybe not. I have come to the realization SARS is not an appropriate frame of reference, but I have also come to the conclusion that neither is the “the flu.” This pandemic is something new, and the range of outcomes are broad and at this point unknowable with existing information.
As investors in a global economy I believe fortitude will be required while this situation evolves. Even with this week’s volatility it's not too late to fine tune your risk level if needed.
Remember, stocks are long term investments, but in order to realize the benefit of long term growth, we have to endure short terms like this, and it is OK to make course corrections. As investors and human beings, I believe it's always best to be aware and be prepared.
Opinions are solely the writer's and are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Stock investing involves risk, including loss of principal. Marc Ruiz is a wealth advisor and partner with Oak Partners and registered representative of LPL Financial. Contact Marc at firstname.lastname@example.org. Securities offered through LPL Financial, member FINRA/SIPC.