Forward Observer: A Brief Q&A on COVID-19 Preparations

Chief intelligence analyst Sam Culper at Forward Observer posts a brief Q&A on coronavirus issues/preparation.

Hey Gang – I’m getting enough questions that it’s more economical for me to write a blog post rather than trying to answer them individually.

Question: Is COVID-19 that big of a threat?

Answer: For the average American, the greater risk is actually the financial and economic impact of COVID-19.

I’m not concerned about catching COVID-19, as 80 percent of cases are mild. The older you are and the worse shape you’re in, the more you should be concerned.

If you’re reasonably healthy, then you have less to worry about.

I’m way more concerned about impacts to the economy.


Q: On “panic buying” — is it prudent to go buy a month’s worth of supplies if I don’t already have them?

A: Yes, I believe that’s prudent. Here’s why:

Health experts, risk management firms, and financial asset managers are warning that COVID-19 outbreaks will likely last for months.

– Morgan Stanley advised clients that economic disruption could last into Q3, which is July to September.

– Supplier delivery times have started to tick up, which is bad news for just-in-time inventory. China is struggling to resume production, which will be self-evident in the coming weeks.

– Goldman Sachs is warning of “severe” global supply shortages if China can’t get back to normal by the end of the month. Meanwhile, production facilities in China’s coastal regions are operating at 70-80 percent capacity, but many factories are still experiencing labor shortages.

– Prominent hedge fund and asset managers have warned about coming supply and demand shocks.

– The Federal Reserve made an emergency cut to interest rates this week, and the futures markets are pricing in another rate cut this month. What exactly is the Fed trying to get ahead of?

There’s no need to panic and the world isn’t ending. In light of the data, however, it’s prudent to get what you need soon or face the risk of shortages later.

As we’ve seen in Washington, Arizona, California, and other states that experience community outbreaks, there will be more panic buying. There will be more lines at Costco, more purchase limits, and more empty shelves.

As one friend put it, buying things today is preparing for the panic to come, not “panic buying.” Preparing now for anywhere between two to four weeks is prudent.


Q: Will the U.S. be as hard hit as China has been?

A: Right now, that looks unlikely in the near term. The fact is that no one knows just how bad this will get. I’m confident in saying that conditions will get much worse before they get better.

Chinese officials initially ignored the outbreaks, which exacerbated the problem.

You may have seen news that major corporations like Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Boeing, and others are cancelling events. Expect a lot more of that.

Domestic air travel ticketing is down 20 percent through May. Expect more disruption to the travel and tourism industry. (In fact, airline executives met with Vice President Pence this week to discuss air travel during the COVID-19 epidemic.)

We have a far better healthcare system than China does, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to overcrowded and understaffed medical facilities. According to epidemiologists, one bad community outbreak could quickly overwhelm local or regional medical infrastructure.


Q: But, but, but more people die from common influenza.

A: That’s not a question, but you’re right.

We expect influenza every year. Influenza has a season. We currently don’t know how long COVID-19 outbreaks will last, nor do we fully understand the extent of the economic or psychological impacts.

I’m reading through these earnings guidance calls from Fortune 500 companies and they don’t know how to estimate the financial impact of COVID-19 for Q2 of this year. There’s simply too much uncertainty.

Professional number crunchers who can accurately forecast how much their company will earn in the next quarter (April-June) are shrugging when asked about the impact. If they don’t know, then certainly no one else does.

As far as I can tell, health officials have said this will last for months, and some have said it will last into next year. That’s a long time for the type of disruption we’re already starting to see.

I’ve seen some people say that warmer weather will kill COVID-19. I look at Australia, which is coming out of summer and heading into fall, and they’re accumulating more COVID-19 cases. It’s warmer there than it is here, and I’m in Texas.

The bottom line in all of this is that authorities are trying to keep the lid on panic.

The absolute best ways to avoid panic is to have realistic expectations of the future so you’re not surprised, and to be prepared.

I can’t help you with your day to day preparations, but I CAN HELP YOU gain a better perspective on the future.

I can help you to understand what’s more likely and less likely to happen. I can provide you with intelligence that reduces your uncertainty about the future.

Try me out: