The Ireland Event

For the past year, I’ve been consumed with how Covid numbers are used/manipulated to create political narratives. From China to WHO to don’t-test-don’t-tell to Covid Trutherism in all its forms … that’s been the windmill I’ve tilted at for almost 12 months now.

Last week I became consumed by a new twist on all this – Covid numbers that were being largely ignored. Insane infection numbers coming out of UK and Ireland, apparently driven by a new virus strain, that we acknowledged over here but didn’t seem to be too mussed about.

It reminded me of the Covid numbers coming out of Italy last February. Was Europe once again our crystal ball? Were we once again going to ignore THAT?

And when I say “insane infection numbers” I mean a 30x spike in Covid cases in Ireland over the span of two weeks in late December, where the R number – the basic reproductive rate of the disease – went from something around 1.2 to something around 3. Where you suddenly went from a few hundred new Covid cases every day to more than six thousand cases every day. All in a country the size of Alabama (which, btw, currently has about 4 thousand cases every day).

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  1. Avatar for TARS TARS says:

    Anyone buying the popular narrative that we’ll avoid hyperinflation? Another massive outbreak, and a large round of stimulus on top of that, seems inevitable. Also seems as though we’ve already reached hyperinflation when looking at assets like real estate. What am I missing here, and how can we protect the value of our holdings?

  2. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    An “Ireland Event” outbreak, with draconian shutdowns, an unemployment shock and small business bankruptcies, would be massively deflationary.

  3. Hi Ben,

    Thanks for another fantastic and frightening analysis.
    Writing from my smug position in Sydney I hope you’re wrong of course.

    It’s worth considering the Australian and New Zealand perspective on shut-downs.
    I grant that we have certain favourable conditions (being an island is one), but our leaders, nationally in NZ and state based here in OZ, have done exactly what you said the public would not accept, namely lockdowns over a few cases. Other state borders to New South Wales shut over Christmas when we had less than a hundred cases in total (all cases here come from overseas arrival quarantine lapses).Apart from inconvenienced holiday makers trying to cross borders, no one has really complained.

    In Queensland, the state with one of the stricter border closure policies in 2020, the government was re-elected last year with an increased majority.

    That the UK and US are only now demanding overseas arrivals be COVID free quite frankly seems insane to us

    I don’t know if it’s more effective messaging, a compliant national character, whatever, the go hard go early policies adopted in this part of the world have worked spectacularly well, so far at least.

    Good luck up there.


  4. Yes, the voters will forgive our politicians for locking down an entire city over a few cases… But guess what? In China where there is no worry about voter reaction, that is exactly what they are doing. They are being every bit as draconian over a few cases today as they were back in Wuhan in March. The Chinese know what they are dealing with; no need to spin it this way or that. They are just getting it done no matter what. As if we needed anything else to push us further behind China!

  5. Maybe we have herd immunity… maybe not… Either way, God bless the front line workers, first responders and the medical professionals. My experience would lead me to understand that more tests = more positives. Most of the positives that I interact with have had a cold. Hope that is all there is to it, and prayers for those who’ve experienced much worse because I know that is true also. That is what is awful about CV19… both experiences are true. No Fear… Hold the Line… Lead from the Front.

  6. Wish you had an “Edit” function here. My topic sentence is blown!
    Meant to say voters in US will definitely NOT forgive politicians for any further lockdowns…

  7. So Ben, what percent chance is “nontrivial”? Obviously, the crowd is positioned for the vaccine to save us, that we want have the exponential virus growth like a 1918 pandemic year. US dollar down and 10 year treasury down had gold and silver trading higher. US dollar down and 10 year treasury yield up has put a halt on gold and silver with real rates rising. Having puts on HYG going into spring last year was my single best trade, but that’s been neutered by the Fed. Gotta believe 10 year treasury yields would be cut in half by a deflationary event, would also take the air out of the banks. And ohhhhh those bitcoin bulls would just get crushed. The problem with any of those trades, what is the Fed’s response to an “Ireland event” and how quickly would they be pushed to the point of buying equities. I live in a suburb of Houston, Texas, just my anecdotal view, virus was rampant in July/August, but mostly controlled before cases started rising again in the last 30 days. I grew up in the small town of Meridian, Mississippi, parents and friends still live there. Virus has been steady there since July, just know that up whatsoever. My friend is an RN at the local hospital in Meridian, they have been on drive-by on/off for the last 45 days with only 2 hospitals in the small town. With the poverty rate in Mississippi and lack of resources, and Ireland event would be devastating. *** If any part of this comment crosses the line for Ben and Rusty’s lawyers, don’t hesitate to delete. I write these comments as much for myself, as anything else. What I’d really like is for everyone to tell me where I’m wrong?

  8. Assessing the reaction function of retail odd lot call option buyers topped off with more stimulus checks (and hopes of even more) that know the Fed has their backs! There’s something I never thought I would be contemplating while trying to devise a set of trades for a potentially wrong-footed consensus. There are so many crowed, consensus trades. But I wonder if all that buy the dip retail money won’t just flow back into the stay at home stocks again as rates would collapse, they are perceived as less vulnerable to fundamental misses, and they are very long duration vehicles. Some parts of the market seem to be figuring out the path ahead- like REIT’s that haven’t overcome the first vaccine Monday opening print in mid-November. But, the balance of action seems to be driven by either cash that is put back in as every potential risk event passes or hedges are unwound.

    If past is prologue credit stress has to be a driver for a break as it forces unwinds of carry trades, slows share repurchase, and pressures quant driven strategies. Forecasts of a 9% default rate in '21 have scared no one off of the Fed put in HYG. I would say shorts in the Russell 2000, where everyone is moving for the reopening trade will work again. And, so many investors are in that trade just for beta, there is no real market cap worth worrying about from an index perspective. But, it may take until after Valentine’s Day for all of the fund flow to finish getting over their skis there.

  9. In my home state of Mississippi, Oct 1, 2020 started the MOM campaign. All my FB friends were buying T-shirts and using profile picture filters for MOM. That is “Mask Off Mississippi”. It was great until the hospitals starting filling up and people started dying.

  10. I have followed Chris Cole since he started Artemis. That piece is a great read, particularly for those stuck in the Fed model, falling rates is all investors will ever navigate Wall St garbage. That is 100 years we are trying to propose hedges or profit from trades with a 100 day horizon here!

  11. I saw predictions recently of a million vaccines delivered a day… My simple human mind was impressed with this steady linear growth. Then I realized the enemy has the ability to compress time with exponential growth. Ben’s right, we are going to have trouble outrunning this new strain that seems to be rapidly approaching the cluster cluster stage. Buckle up and wash your hands.

    I got the first dose of the vaccine on Thursday, just trying to make it to day 10 without getting sick!

  12. A not so happy Valentine’s Day indeed.

  13. Lol “a few cases”. You cannot be serious. Here’s how I know it’s not “few cases”: because the CCP says it’s a few cases. If you’re still putting your trust in numbers from China then you’ve missed a major subplot in the narrative.

  14. And I thought an Ireland Event was a potato famine… Maybe that will be next if the complex food supply chain breaks down.

  15. I have had it , let’s just say I don’t want it again.

  16. Respectfully, and I would put Chris Cole in the category of brilliant, that note above is a sales brochure saying, “my process is better than yours”. And his process probably is better than mine, but in 29 years of trading, March 2020 was my best month ever. Was some of it luck? Absolutely, but I also have an Amazon receipt where I bought mask on January 21, 2020. Did I buy puts on HYG in November 2019 because I knew a pandemic was coming? Absolutely not, trade was based on the product being crap and I thought it would blow up like XIV if there were some kind of credit event. I’m convinced it would be 0 without the Fed stepping in. 

    I don’t detail that to say my process is better than anyone else’s, I’ve had my ass handed to me too many times to count. What I’ve learned and even as the Artemis note details “most investors would rather fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally”, a little like Ben Hunt saying a “failure of imagination”. Our markets are increasingly becoming like pushing on a string, and the probability of significant events, in my opinion, are becoming more frequent. Again, another quote from the Artemis note “underperformance of the traditional portfolio is a systemic risk.”

    Peter, you are probably right on the “buy the dip” crowd, no reason for anyone not to continue what’s worked based on the Fed put. I’m conflicted on what the difference in probability is between a humanitarian event and market event. It’s weird that we even state that, but 4000+ deaths per day now and the market does not care. If the high-frequency data starts showing weakness, the Fed doesn’t have the luxury of lowering rates without going negative. And they probably need to put significant pressure on Pres. and Congress to give new authorization for any SPV’s. Interesting headline as I write this on Bloomberg … “US covert hospitalizations on cusp of 1st decline in months”. All these twitter followers Ben pissed off must’ve let their subscription to ET expire.

    Full disclosure: I have no clients, trade only for myself, held multiple securities licenses in the early 90s, but simply a lover of markets and the game. And fyi, does not have to be late at night, I’ve said plenty of stupid things in the middle of the day. :slight_smile: #ExcitingTimeToBeAlive

  17. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    No one is more suspicious of Chinese data than I am. That was the topic that first grabbed me a year ago, and that was the subject of the ET note - “Body Count” - that started all of our efforts here.

    But the issue here isn’t whether there are 150 new Covid cases in China today, or 1,500 or 15,000. The issue isn’t the CCP-reported Covid data. The issue is the CCP response function to new Covid cases. I think that William’s point is that this response function is an order of magnitude more draconian than anything in the West, regardless of stimulus in the form of “true” number of cases. I agree with that point.

  18. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Yes, Ireland has reinstituted (and significantly added to) all of the Covid policy restrictions that they relaxed going into the Christmas holidays. Unfortunately, once you have an event like this, that’s the only way to get it under control - really draconian lockdown policies with strict enforcement.

  19. I’m going to respectfully push back a little here. The Total Draconian Response Index is benchmarked against cases. If this is China’s response and the case count is indeed under 1,000 then that looks very, very harsh and draconian. But if it’s 10x or 20x that, do we judge it the same? I do not. I hear what you’re saying, but I’m still viewing it relative to what human beings actually do IRL. First we underreact, then we overreact. My bigger issue is we don’t know if this is China overreacting or if this is warranted because the case count is that bad.

  20. Ben:

    You had me at " display of competency by officials" a year back.

    In this instance I think you overlooked the GCR (Guiness Consumption Ratio) Factor.

  21. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Fair. I think there’s enough data that comes in from non-official sources (consulates, local HCW social media posts, etc.) to identify when things get REALLY bad, like in Wuhan last year. But I’ll grant you that we have no idea whether the caseload in Shijiazhuang is 100 cases per day or 2,000 cases per day. Even in the latter case, I would characterize their response function as close to the totally draconian, policies that would be met with near riots (I think) if they were imposed in, say, LA. Can we agree that China has a more hair-trigger response function than the West, and that this hair-trigger is attached to a bazooka rather than a 12-gauge shotgun?

  22. I would absolutely agree with that. And I don’t even want to think of what would happen if the US responded similarly in the current environment. My God. It keeps me up at night.

  23. Avatar for PJSPHD PJSPHD says:

    I believe it was the MS governor who made similar, mathematical points about the absurdity of encouraging herd immunity. This was months ago. I know little about him, but I respected him for going against the tide of his party’s narrative.

  24. Ben, This has dropped off the radar. Written on January 12, you stated that “I think we’re already at Day 30 in a dozen states. I suspect we’re already at Day 50 in a few.” We are now at day 62. I am reading about a third wave in Europe and Italy is shutting down for Easter. But although the news mentions mutated strains: Germany is witnessing the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic as the cases of infection spiked in the country after the rapid spread of the mutated strains, as per media reports.
    The coronavirus cases have also surged in the Netherlands, Sweden, Ukraine, and Greece".

    I see no data on whether the more infectious mutated strains are now dominant. Fauci is cautioning against relaxing restrictions in the U.S. The CNBC article mentions relaxed restrictions and slow roll-out of vaccinations in Europe but no mention of the newer strains. Why are we not reading about this important (?) factor in the third wave? Do you have updated thoughts?

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