Quite a month

March was, without a doubt, the strangest month that I’ve ever been privy to. It had ups, and it had downs. Mostly downs.

We’re still waiting for answers to questions over the health and wellness of the US, and the world at large. The financial sector continues to be in an uproar, and unemployment claims are skyrocketing. And all anyone can really ask is, “When will it end?”

The best news in times like these is to remember that it will end. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to move near-fast enough towards its resolution. But we don’t always get to control the speed. All we get to control is how we respond to it.

Some are better prepared. Some are less affected. Some are struggling to get by. Yet, we’re all a part of the new landscape, and its unclear still what the new normal will be.

The weekend provides little relief

It’s been a crazy two weeks, hasn’t it? The health concerns, markets, price of oil, And the weekend isn’t providing much in the way of relief. Now the Fed is dropping interest rates to zero for the first time since 2008 (though that cut lasted until 2015).

The cheaper borrowing may provide an incentive for businesses to borrow or start new programs or build or expand. However, workers feeling the financial crunch that business closures will cause won’t find much hope in a lower Fed rate.

Fear is fear. That which we don’t understand keeps us fettered. While the world waits for answers and relief, each of us throwing our own matchsticks into the night, we expect that the morning will come soon. We hope for it, and we wait for it.

Weekly Rundown

  • The Outsider… I wanted to watch this show but was waiting. I waited until I heard the Fresh Air interview from Terry Gross with Ben Mendelsohn. I hadn’t known he was Australian. The series is adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name and follows the story of a detective investigating a homicide that was committed while the main suspect was sixty miles away on camera. Supernatural and mysterious, the season finale airs this Sunday night on HBO.
  • Super Tuesday. There’s a lot of talk about this day being the day that a clear frontrunner emerges from the primaries. But, where did it come from? This brief history from NPR’s Domenico Montanaro gives the rundown of the term from its start in 1980 and illustrates which elections since then have enjoyed an absence of nomination battles.
  • A quote worth mentioning: “But the traveler’s world is not the ordinary one, for travel itself, even the most commonplace, is an implicit quest for anomaly.” – Paul Fussell
  • Stock Market ups and downs. It’s been an odd couple of weeks, with China being hit hard by the novel coronavirus, and pandemic fears reaching across borders. But, incredibly interesting to watch.
  • And a little bit more from Knives Out director Rian Johnson, this time on why a villain in a movie won’t use an iPhone.

 

Why facts and figures are just facts and figures

There’s a lot to be said for statistical analysis. Aside from the obvious, “There are three kinds of lies,” statistics help interpret the real world into manageable bits that our brains can digest. Because, if all we took in was raw data all the time, it would be difficult to make sense of anything.

Once information [from sensory organs] is processed to a degree, an attention filter decides how important the signal is and which cognitive processes it should be made available to. For example, although your brain processes every blade of grass when you look down at your shoes, a healthy attention filter prevents you from noticing them individually. In contrast, you might pick out your name, even when spoken in a noisy room. There are many stages of processing, and the results of processing are modulated by attention repeatedly.

Teach-nology

Statistics works much the same way that our brains filter out “noise”. By collecting data points from related information, we can visualize or understand more complicated systems of data that may otherwise be beyond our grasp.

When we look at a positive trend in the stock market followed by a precipitous decline of share values it can look like the world is coming to an end. But if we retrace the historical data points of the market we recognize its cyclical nature and understand that, at some point, the decline will cease and the market will rise again.

Mark Twain was attributed with the quote as saying, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”

So I guess what I’m saying is while we may not have the specific facts of a situation to rely on, we can believe that there is a historical context with which we can view it. Knowing that the Spanish Influenza killed approximately 50 million people between 1918-1919 isn’t as important as recognizing that these kinds of pandemics happen, such as in 1957, 1968, and 2009. Investigating what worked and what didn’t can help us today.

And these cycles occur across all industries, geopolitical affairs, and economies. It’s just a matter of finding an applicable context to compare then to now.

 

 

Stock Market Crumbles

It’s was a week of heightened concern for investors. While I generally view downturns as an opportunity for reentering the market, I know it can be disconcerting when you watch 10% of your investment balance just disappear.

From the Wall Street Journal: “Investors are bracing for more volatility ahead. The Cboe Volatility Index, or VIX, jumped to 45.67 early Friday, the highest level since at least October 2011. The VIX, which is based on options on the S&P 500, tends to rise when stocks are falling and decline as markets rise.”

Questions as to how bad the Coronavirus spread will be, or what the resulting financial ramifications may do to the economy are running through the newspapers and television networks. When health becomes a concern, it’s easy to forget rationality.

There are things to consider when it comes to selloffs. Most importantly, it’s primarily led by investment bankers who are concerned about the long-term profitability of their holdings given the health concern. It is in no way an admonition about the stability of any individual company. Some industries will face losses in this cycle, but we’ve seen time and again that cyclical losses are to be expected.

While it’s never clear how long something like this might last, it’s good to remember that it can’t last indefinitely.

A New Rundown

Postponed the Rundown for me to ruminate on six months of daily posting yesterday. I still can’t believe it.

My goal with the weekly rundown was to share things of value, and not waste anyone’s time. I’m not sure that it’s been exactly as I intended. Most weeks I struggle to find something to at least list as what I’m listening to or doing. And they’re not actionable by anyone reading. Beyond that, I’ve been delinquent in monthly reading lists for December and January, so I need to rectify that as well.

What then should a weekly rundown from me look like? As I consider it, I’ll probably try a few different things. It’ll likely change with Alaska influencing me as well.

Anyway, here are just a couple of things I’m sharing with you this week.