(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘pandemic

“It is what it is”*…

COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have topped 700,000, which means that more Americans have died in the pandemic than died in every foreign conflict the U.S. has ever fought (combined combat deaths in all U.S foreign wars are estimated at 659,267).

This graphic is from r/dataisbeautiful.

Two things to note:

  1. Deaths in the American Civil War were equal or higher (they’re estimated to have been 620,000 and 750,000 soldiers dead, along with an undetermined number of civilian casualties).
  2. On a death-per-100,000-population basis, COVID-19 deaths are at roughly 211 per 100,000. That’s materially more than deaths in any U.S. foreign war except World War II (which had a death toll of 307 per 100,000). See here and here for the underlying data.

then-President Donald Trump, on COVID deaths

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As we mourn, we might recall that it was on this date in 1945 that Desmond Doss received the U.S. Medal of Honor. A conscientious objector serving as a U.S. Army medic, he saved 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa during World War II. (Prior to that, he had twice been awarded the Bronze Star for heroism in Guam and the Philippines.) He was the only conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions during the war; his story has been told in several books, a documentary (The Conscientious Objector), and the 2016 Oscar-winning film Hacksaw Ridge.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 12, 2021 at 1:00 am

“Demographics are destiny”*…

And demographics can help us shape our destiny…

The research seemed straightforward: Analyze 2020 death records in Minnesota and, among other things, quantify which deaths were attributable to Covid-19 in various slices of the population — young and old, black and white, people living in advantaged versus disadvantaged neighborhoods.

But when University of Minnesota demographer Elizabeth Wrigley-Field began to dig in, the numbers revealed complex trends.

The records showed that last year more Minnesotans — especially non-whites — died at home than in a typical year, having avoided hospitals because of the pandemic. Such deaths were almost never reported as Covid-related, even though many probably were. The analysis suggested that Covid deaths in minority groups were going underreported.

It’s the sort of intriguing finding that is likely to percolate to the surface more frequently as researchers study Covid-19 from a population — or demographic — perspective.

Soon after the pandemic hit, demographers leaped into action. Today, there are studies afoot to examine a broad swath of inquiry: from questions about life expectancy to whether school closures really averted infections to how a single Covid death affects surviving family members’ physical and mental health. Even the relationship between exercise habits and social-distancing trends in US counties is under scrutiny…

A sample of the findings that could– and surely should– shape the future of public health: “Demographers tackle Covid-19,” from Eryn Brown (@TheErynBrown).

[Via David Kotok]

* Arthur Kemp, Peter Peterson, Bill Campbell, and many others

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As we count on counting, we might recall that it was on this date in 1896 that the U.K. recorded its first automotive fatality. While on a terrace in the grounds of Crystal Palace, London, Mrs. Bridget Driscoll was knocked down by a car owned by the Anglo-French Motor Car (Roger-Benz) Company that was giving demonstration rides to the public, driven by employee Arthur Edsell. It was said that he was talking to the young lady passenger beside him. He had had been driving for only 3 weeks, and had tampered with a belt to cause the car to travel faster than the 4 mph to which it was meant to be limited. After a six-hour inquest, the jury’s verdict was “Accidental Death,” and no prosecution resulted against the driver or the company. The first car-driver crash fatality in Britain occurred in 1898.

Mrs. Driscoll, circled

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 17, 2021 at 1:00 am

“The loudest of doomsayers, so often, carry the weightiest of sin”*…

A quick look at how some of the grimmest prognoses for the pandemic’s effect have turned out…

When misfortunes multiplied during the coronavirus pandemic, observers seized on a four-letter word signaling end of days for the largest state with one-eighth the U.S. population and 14% of its gross domestic product. “California doom: Staggering $54 billion deficit looms,” the Associated Press concluded a year ago in May. “California Is Doomed,” declared Business Insider two months earlier. “Is California doomed to keep burning?” queried the New Republic in October. California is “Doomed” because of rising sea levels, according to an April EcoNews Report. Bulletins of people leaving the world’s fifth-biggest economy for lower-cost states because of high taxes and too much regulation stifling business continue unabated.

No one anticipated the latest data readout showing the Golden State has no peers among developed economies for expanding GDP, creating jobs, raising household income, manufacturing growth, investment in innovation, producing clean energy and unprecedented wealth through its stocks and bonds. All of which underlines Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement last month of the biggest state tax rebate in American history.

By adding 1.3 million people to its non-farm payrolls since April last year — equal to the entire workforce of Nevada — California easily surpassed also-rans Texas and New York. At the same time, California household income increased $164 billion, almost as much as Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania combined, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. No wonder California’s operating budget surplus, fueled by its surging economy and capital gains taxes, swelled to a record $75 billion

If anything, Covid-19 accelerated California’s record productivity. Quarterly revenue per employee of the publicly traded companies based in the state climbed to an all-time high of $1.5 million in May, 63% greater than its similar milestone a decade ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The rest of the U.S. was nothing special, with productivity among those members of the Russell 3000 Index, which is made up of both large and small companies, little changed during the past 10 years.

While pundits have long insisted California policies are bad for business, reality belies them. In a sign of investor demand, the weight of California companies in the benchmark S&P 500 Index increased 3 percentage points since a year ago, the most among all states, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Faith in California credit was similarly superlative, with the weight of corporate bonds sold by companies based in the state rising the most among all states, to 12.5 percentage points from 11.7 percentage points, according to the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate Bond Index. Translation: Investors had the greatest confidence in California companies during the pandemic.

The most trusted measure of economic strength says California is the world-beater among democracies. The state’s gross domestic product increased 21% during the past five years, dwarfing No. 2 New York (14%) and No. 3 Texas (12%), according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The gains added $530 billion to the Golden State, 30% more than the increase for New York and Texas combined and equivalent to the entire economy of Sweden. Among the five largest economies, California outperforms the U.S., Japan and Germany with a growth rate exceeded only by China.

Even with the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic, California cemented its position as the No. 1 state for global trade, with its Los Angeles and Long Beach ports seeing growth that led all U.S. rivals for the first time in nine years in 2020. Much has been made of the state reporting its first yearly loss in population, or 182,000 last year. Had it not been for the Trump administration preventing new visas, depriving as many as 150,000 people from moving to California from other countries annually, the 2020 outcome would have been more favorable.

Even so, Republicans, opposed to Newsom’s policies favoring immigration, criminal justice reform and greater benefits for housing, health and child care, want voters to decide whether he should be replaced in a potential recall election later this year. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican who is among those running to succeed him, said Newsom, a Democrat, hurt the state’s small businesses.

That’s not what the data shows. The 373 California-based companies in the Russell 2000 Index, which includes small-cap companies across the U.S., appreciated 39% the past two years and 85% since 2016, beating the benchmark’s 34% and 67%, respectively. The same California companies reported revenue growth of 56% the past five years, dwarfing the benchmark’s 34%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. More important, California companies invested 16% of their revenues in R&D, or their future, when the rest of the U.S. put aside just 1%. 

Investing in the future is California’s way, the opposite of doom.

The Golden State has no peers when it comes to expanding GDP, raising household income, investing in innovation, and a host of other key metrics: “California Defies Doom With No. 1 U.S. Economy.” From Matthew Winkler (@Matthew_Winkler).

Someone ought to publish a book about the doomsayers who keep publishing books about the end of publishing

Evgeny Morozov

* Ta-Nehisi Coates

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As we check the facts, we might recall that it was on this date in 1978 that the Rainbow Flag was flown for the first time during the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. Created by Gilbert Baker, it has become a sign of LGBTQ pride worldwide.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 25, 2021 at 1:00 am

“A party without cake is really just a meeting”*…

The pandemic has been, for many, a time of home confinement. So, in search of both solace and diversion, lots of folks turned to baking… with mixed results…

27 more at “Failed Quarantine Baking Attempts.”

* Julia Child

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As we go back to the bakery, we might recall that today is National Empanada Day. The savory turnovers were born in Galicia, the northwest corner of Spain (and across the border in Portugal), where they were large baked “pies” served in slices; they made their way with Spanish settlers to Latin America, where they took their current form. They are typically baked, but sometimes fried (in which form, your correspondent can attest, they are at least as delicious as they are baked).

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 8, 2021 at 1:01 am

“The essence of investment management is the management of risks, not the management of returns”*…

Paris Bourse

In 1754, the infamous scam artist, diarist, and womanizer Giacomo Girolamo Casanova reported that a certain type of high-stakes wager had come into vogue at the Ridotto. The bet was known as a martingale, which we would immediately recognize as a rather basic coin toss. In a matter of seconds, the martingale could deliver dizzying jackpots or, equally as often, ruination. In terms of duration, it was the equivalent of today’s high-speed trade. The only extraordinary fact about the otherwise simple martingale was that everybody knew the infallible strategy for winning: if a player were to put money on the same outcome every time, again and again ad infinitum, the laws of probability dictated that not only would he win back all he may have previously lost, he would double his money. The only catch was that he would have to double down each time, a strategy that could be sustained only as long as the gambler remained solvent. On numerous occasions, martingales left Casanova bankrupt.

In modern finance, the coin toss has come to represent a great deal more than heads or tails. The concept of the martingale is a bulwark of what economists call the efficient-market hypothesis, the meaning of which can be grasped by an oft-repeated saying on Wall Street: for every person who believes a stock will rise—the buyer—there will be some other equal and opposite person who believes the stock will fall—the seller. Even as markets go haywire, brokers and traders repeat the mantra: for every buyer, there is a seller. But the avowed aim of the hedge fund, like the fantasy of a coin-tosser on the brink of bankruptcy, was to evade the rigid fifty-fifty chances of the martingale. The dream was heads I win, tails you lose.

One premonition as to how such hedged bets could be constructed appeared in print around the time when gambling reached an apex at the Ridotto casino, when an eighteenth-century financial writer named Nicolas Magens published “An Essay on Insurances.” Magens was the first to specify the word “option” as a contractual term: “The Sum given is called Premium, and the Liberty that the Giver of the Premium has to have the Contract fulfilled or not, is called Option . . .” The option is presented as a defense against financial loss, a structure that would eventually make it an indispensable tool for hedge funds.

By the middle of the next century, large-scale betting on stocks and bonds was under way on the Paris Bourse. The exchange, located behind a panoply of Corinthian columns, along with its unofficial partner market, called the Coulisse, was clearing more than a hundred billion francs that could change volume, speed, and direction. One of the most widely traded financial instruments on the Bourse was a debt vehicle known as a rente, which usually guaranteed a three-per-cent return in annual interest. As the offering dates and interest rates of these rentes shifted, their prices fluctuated in relationship to one another.

Somewhere among the traders lurked a young man named Louis Bachelier. Although he was born into a well-to-do family—his father was a wine merchant and his maternal grandfather a banker—his parents died when he was a teen-ager, and he had to put his academic ambitions on hold until his adulthood. Though no one knows exactly where he worked, everyone agrees that Bachelier was well acquainted with the workings of the Bourse. His subsequent research suggests that he had noted the propensity of the best traders to take an array of diverse and even contradictory positions. Though one might expect that placing so many bets in so many different directions on so many due dates would guarantee chaos, these expert traders did it in such a way as to decrease their risk. At twenty-two, after his obligatory military service, Bachelier was able to enroll at the Sorbonne. In 1900, he submitted his doctoral dissertation on a subject that few had ever researched before: a mathematical analysis of option trading on rentes.

Bachelier’s dissertation, “The Theory of Speculation,” is recognized as the first to use calculus to analyze trading on the floor of an exchange, and it contained a startling claim: “I have in fact known for several years that it would be possible . . . to imagine transactions where one of the parties makes a profit at all prices.” The best traders on the Bourse knew how to establish an intricate set of positions designed to protect themselves no matter which way or at what speed the market might move. Bachelier’s process was to separate out each element that had gone into the complex of bets at different prices, and write equations for them. His committee, supervised by the renowned mathematician and theoretical physicist Henri Poincaré, was impressed, but it was an unusual thesis. “The subject chosen by M. Bachelier is rather far away from those usually treated by our candidates,” the report noted. For work that would unleash billion-dollar torrents into the capital pools of future hedge funds, Bachelier received a grade of honorable instead of très honorable. It was a B.

Needless to say, Bachelier’s views of math’s application to finance [published in 1900] were ahead of his time. The implications of his work were not appreciated, much less exploited, by Wall Street until the nineteen-seventies, after his dissertation was discovered by the Nobel Prize winner Paul Samuelson, the author of one of the best-selling economics textbooks of all time, who pushed for its translation into English. Two economists, Fischer Black and Myron Scholes, read the work and, in a 1973 issue of the Journal of Political Economy, published one of the most famous articles in the history of quantitative finance.

Based on Bachelier’s dissertation, the economists developed the eponymous Black-Scholes model for option pricing. They established that an option could be priced from a set-in-stone mathematical equation, which allowed the Chicago Board Options Exchange (C.B.O.E.), a new organization, to expand their business to a new universe of financial derivatives. Within a year, more than twenty thousand option contracts were changing hands each day. Four years after that, the C.B.O.E. introduced the “put” option—thus institutionalizing the bet that the thing you were betting on would lose. “Profit at all prices” had joined the mainstream of both economic theory and practice…

From the remarkable story of the French dissertation that inspired the strategies that guide many modern investors ad al that it has wrought: “A Brief History of the Hedge Fund.”

Spoiler alert: it hasn’t always worked out so well (c.f. Long-Term Capital Management)… at least for investors. As Janet M. Tavakoli observed in Structured Finance and Collateralized Debt Obligations: New Developments in Cash and Synthetic Securitization

Hedge funds have made massive leveraged credit bets, knowing that their upside is billions in fees and their downside is millions in fees.

Benjamin Graham

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As we ruminate on risk, we might recall that it was on this date in 2020 that the Federal Reserve rode in to rescue financial markets to prevent their complete freezing up– which could have entered history books as another global mega-crash. The Dow Jones stock market index had hit an all-time record of 29,551 on February 12, 2020. Then, the coronavirus emerged in earnest in the U.S., unemployment soared, and on March 9 the DJIA took a dive of over 2,000 points; it continued to fall, down to 18,321 on March 23… at which point the Fed intervened, pouring vast sums of cash into the financial system, resulting in a stock market bonanza in the midst of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. The Dow stands at this writing at over 35,000.

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