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Weekend reading: Boom

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What caught my eye this week.

Always remember the stock market strives to make as many people who express an opinion look as foolish as possible.

Indices – especially in the US – have been rising despite Covid-19 still spreading across the globe.

People said it was dumb. They blamed day-traders on their iPhones.

Warren Buffett looked shell-shocked at his pandemic-poopered shareholder meeting on 2 May, as he explained why he wasn’t buying anything – why far from grabbing bargains with both hands, he’d pulled the ripcord on his holdings in airline stocks.

Americans were rioting.

Even I owned enough gold to give Mr T a hernia. (Okay, only about 5% of my portfolio, plus a couple of percent in a miner. But still, enough to send my 2012-self into a fury).

And then… on Friday we saw ‘the biggest payroll surprise in history’. It revealed that US employers are now hiring not firing.

And the Internet finance kids went wild.

[Video referenced was taken down, presumably due to multiple copyright violations…]

Thinking about everything that has happened over the the past four years and this crazy 2020, if you told me I was living in an extra-terrestrial’s plaything – a sort of The Sims meets The Truman Show – and some Martian producer’s child had been accidentally left in charge of the controls…

Anyway, we hope you didn’t sell.

Have a great weekend all.

From Monevator

Negative yields on bonds: what do they mean? – Monevator

What is behind the coronavirus trading boom – Monevator

From the archive-ator: Personal time management for fun and profit – Monevator


Note: Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view you can click to read the piece without being a paid subscriber. Try privacy/incognito mode to avoid cookies. Consider subscribing if you read them a lot!1

The US adds 2.5 million jobs in May. Economists had expected eight million job losses – Reuters

UK house prices fall for third month in a row as Covid-19 stifles market – Guardian

Bank of England will ramp up QE to near-£1 trillion over next year, says Capital Economics – ThisIsMoney

One in seven Help to Buy homes lose value despite local house prices soaring – Which?

Clothing prices falling at a record pace as beleaguered shops prepare to reopen – ThisIsMoney

Australia is in its first recession for 29 years – 7 News

Poll: Four out of five families in UK have more money to spend since lockdown – ThisIsMoney

Misconduct has risen among work-from-home traders – FN London

Hong Kong: Tens of thousands defy ban to attend Tiananmen vigil – BBC

[Click to enlarge the economic chasm]

The grim racial inequalities behind America’s protests – The Economist

Products and services

Will a coronavirus payment holiday impact your credit score? – Which?

Ominous: Marcus’ new fixed-rate savings account pays less (1%) than its easy access deal (1.05%) – ThisIsMoney

Sign-up to Freetrade via my link and we can both get a free share worth between £3 and £200 – Freetrade

Seedrs partners with equity management platform Capdesk as secondary market hits £1m – Alt Fi

Homes with workshops [Gallery]Guardian

Comment and opinion

As of 3 June, the US S&P 500 was up 39.6%, for the best 50-day rally ever… – Ryan Detrick via Twitter

…which is extraordinary, so don’t beat yourself up if you hedged or prevaricated – Josh Brown

Massive up and down stock moves in the same year are commoner than you think – A Wealth of Common Sense

Currency hedging: fine for bonds, not for stocks [US but relevant]Morningstar

Spooked by the crash, an early retiree considers going back to work – Simple Living in Somerset

The upside of a down market – Humble Dollar

Three reasons stocks are rising – The Atlantic

Larry Swedroe: Think carefully before you add gold to your portfolio – Seeking Alpha

Naughty corner: Active antics

Steadfast, greedy, or fearful? – Elm Funds

Oil is the only sector of the US market that still looks truly under-valued – Morningstar

How Facebook and Google created a ‘kill zone’ – Klement on Investing

The importance of consistently covered dividends – UK Value Investor

20 global investment trusts compared – IT Investor

Who should we believe about tail-risk hedging? – BNN Bloomberg

Covid corner

“At any given time between 17 May and 30 May 2020, we estimated that an average of 0.10% of the community population had COVID-19 (95% confidence interval: 0.05% to 0.18%); this equates to an average of 53,000 people in England (95% confidence interval: 25,000 to 99,000)”ONS

Cambridge researchers say coronavirus transmission rate may be rising in the East of England – ITV

Could more UK lives have been saved? – BBC

Flatten it? In Iceland they eliminated the curve – New Yorker

South Korea is to start logging citizens who go to nightclubs as part of tackling Covid-19 – Reuters

Karl Friston: ‘Germany may have more immunological “dark matter”’Guardian & Unherd Interview [Video]

Sweden is accelerating the launch of an inquiry into its no-lockdown coronavirus strategy – Business Insider

The good and bad lessons from Sweden – Karen Landman via Medium

The post-lockdown economy explained [Video]The Economist

Quarantine tips and lessons from 17th Century Florence [Video]YouTube

Black Americans are twice as likely to be hospitalized from Covid-19 – MarketWatch

Kindle book bargains

The Anti-Procrastination Mindset by Harry Heijligers – £0.99 on Kindle

The Perils of Perception: Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything by Bobby Duffy – £1.99 on Kindle

How To Day Trade For A Living by Andrew Aziz [Wealth warning!]£0.99 on Kindle

The Spider Network: The Wild Story of a Maths Genius and One of the Greatest Scams in Financial History by David Enrich – £1.99 on Kindle

Off our beat

The UK electricity system was coal-free in May, thanks to the sunny weather and lockdown – Guardian

Consider a gap year – Seth Godin

‘I’ve never felt so close to anyone this quickly’: the whirlwind romances of lockdown – Guardian

Tobi Lutke, founder of Shopify, on building a modern business [Podcast]Invest Like the Best

How to convince your boss you need time off – Harvard Business Review

“It’s like a burning theater, and everyone is trying to get to the door”: Oil traders on the day prices went negative – Vanity Fair [h/t Abnormal Returns]

And finally…

“I like to say, “Experience is what you got when you didn’t get what you wanted.”
– Howard Marks, The Most Important Thing

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{ 105 comments… add one }
  • 1 Alistair Marshall June 6, 2020, 5:43 am

    “Currency hedging: fine for stocks, not for bonds [US but relevant] – Morningstar”

    Shouldn’t these be the other way around?

  • 2 Learner June 6, 2020, 6:11 am

    Not sure “hiring not firing” is accurate. Still firing but outweighed by some sectors forcing employees back to work, perhaps? There were 1.9M new unemployment claims last week alone.

    Couldn’t agree more with the lede though! After an early flutter I haven’t touched anything and have largely recovered. The bounce taught me I really don’t know jack.

  • 3 JimJim June 6, 2020, 6:50 am

    The Atlantic article is especially good, and informative. And @Learner, no one knows Jack, we just have best guesses, which, as time goes by are usually proved off to various degrees. The more I know about active investment, the more I feel I should be passive. 🙂

  • 4 jim June 6, 2020, 7:12 am

    I topped up my LISA start of tax year, thought i’d wait for the bonus before investing the whole amount in usual VLS product. What an idiot. The bottom of this period seemed to marry up perfectly around 5th April. Only just received the bonus and invested this week. Will probably do a ‘dead cat bounce’ on me now!
    Oh well 30 years till I see this money anyway…

  • Mogul
    5 The Accumulator June 6, 2020, 7:12 am

    Bangin’ video. #Leverup 😉

  • 6 Warren Bogle June 6, 2020, 7:44 am

    Love the video

  • 7 David June 6, 2020, 8:30 am

    Thanks for the links as ever, I’m looking forward to reading through them. I really missed the daily Corona updates from @Snowman and the others last week. Let’s hope we can keep on topic this time so that @TI doesn’t decide to close the comments again.

  • 8 Richard June 6, 2020, 8:59 am

    Is the best approach to gold holding it in via an ETC with perhaps a few low value bars at home to buy toilet roll in the next crisis? Coins appear to have a much higher cost of entry so look less appealing. Or is keeping any gold at home tin hat territory?

  • 9 xxd09 June 6, 2020, 9:39 am

    Not knowing “Jack” seems to me such an appropriate remark as it reminds me of the great “Saint Jack” John Bogle of Vanguard index fame
    His conclusions and advice was based on the premise that the average amateur investor-( and most “experts”- 99.9% of us-knows Jack all about what the Stockmarket will do
    So it has proved time and time again
    Buy the market as cheaply as you can -equities and bonds-with an index tracker fund/ETF and “Stay the course”,” Tune out the noise-It is sound and fury signifying nothing “,”Don’t look for the needle in the haystack-buy the haystack!” etc etc
    A bit boring-not a bit of it-personally I really enjoy financial blogs where investors constantly struggle to beat the market
    And of course there are lots of mechanics to learn about-SIPPS,ISAS,SWR.s,Tax etc etc

  • 10 The Investor June 6, 2020, 10:22 am

    @Alistair — Oops, absolutely, fixed now! (Also the Morningstar link is now going to a premium sign-up page for me, so I’ve switched it for a Google Search result to the same article. Hopefully this works for everyone again).

  • 11 159F June 6, 2020, 10:59 am

    If you remember one thing – DO NOT ****ING SELL….errr except for now maybe.

  • 12 Vanguardfan June 6, 2020, 11:22 am

    Thanks for the latest ONS update. Section 5 is interesting, especially (for me) the data about work settings, which I think might be part of the reason for the R rate, and overall death toll, varying by region. Also interesting was the approximately 70% asymptomatic rate (although there are very limited details of how they collected symptom data, how they defined symptoms etc, and for accurate assessment of asymptomatic infection you need longitudinal data).

    Slightly ominously, this report was released late, and I note there is no date for the next release. Also no update on the antibody survey. I do hope this doesn’t presage a quiet dropping of this critical data…

    Just to keep on topic, I am still nursing losses from the badly timed CGT sale in March. I am now fully back invested though, so we will see. I think my lesson is, skip the CGT management at a time of volatility….Also, I haven’t yet managed to invest this year’s ISA and SIPP money, it always seems that stock markets are surging….

  • 13 Alex June 6, 2020, 11:28 am
  • 14 Indecisive June 6, 2020, 11:28 am

    Also, I haven’t yet managed to invest this year’s ISA and SIPP money, it always seems that stock markets are surging….

    You and me both!

  • 15 tom_grlla June 6, 2020, 12:29 pm

    @Richard. THIS IS NOT ADVICE.

    Britannia and Sovereign coins have long had one benefit – they are considered legal tender so there is no CGT payable on Gains. Caveat: tax rules can change, though this seems harmless until everybody’s doing it.

    Otherwise Bars and Coins usually have quite a bad buy/sell spread, which usually contracts somewhat the bigger the bar.

    If buying ETCs, some people think they are not all created equally i.e. you need to check if the gold is being lent out as collateral etc. & who the counterparties are.

    Some people rate the Sprott Trusts in the US/Canada which seem to have quite good governance etc. though as above, Do Your Own Research.

    I’ve noticed that some of the more respectable UK funds seem to be using the Wisdomtree Physical Swiss Gold ETC, I haven’t looked into it, but would guess that the Swiss are better at looking after their gold than many others.

    There may be a Monevator feature on all this already… though from above it sounds like TI is normally not a fan, not unreasonably.

    Anyway – the papers often have articles on should you/shouldn’t you buy gold, but they don’t usually point out that there are these potential traps in buying/owning it!

  • 16 Jonathan June 6, 2020, 12:54 pm

    Thanks for some thought provoking links as always.

    The New Yorker account of Covid control in Iceland was illuminating. Compare and contrast with a government closer to home …

    While I see where Seth Godin is coming from about gap years, those are also affected by the virus. My daughter is currently on a gap year, with all sorts of problems in “committing time with intention”. She took a job; ended up furloughed. She got accepted to spend a few months volunteering in Africa; cancelled. She set herself various targets for her non-academic enthusiasms; mostly cancelled though she continues music lessons by Skype. She is going to accept what her university can provide for a course this September, deferring another year is not attractive.

  • 17 Vanguardfan June 6, 2020, 1:20 pm

    Gosh the Seth Godin blog was pretty content free wasn’t it?
    As parent to an 18 year old nervously awaiting the output of the DfE computer to give him his grades, I can say that few of his cohort want a gap year. No jobs, no travel, no point. Even trying to be a UK based volunteer at present seems to be bottom of the queue for lockdown easing. After 6 months hanging around non intentionally at home he is desperate to move on…

  • 18 The Investor June 6, 2020, 1:44 pm

    @tom_grlla @Richard — I have written about gold a few times:





    @TA also mentioned them briefly here (I think he has a bigger article in the works, because I’m sure I’ve read it and it’s not on the site. Maybe it was in the book draft, which believe it or not has been 95% finished for nearly a year now! 😐 )


    There may be a Monevator feature on all this already… though from above it sounds like TI is normally not a fan, not unreasonably.

    If one doesn’t have a complicated relationship with gold as a veteran investor then I think one hasn’t been paying attention! 🙂

    It’s demonstrably done good work in allocations like The Permanent Portfolio (and some of @PortfolioCharts work):


    …but it is not an asset class that behaves according to anything like rules, a schedule, or expectations (at least not over the short-term). Also the long-term returns are very mediocre, albeit just about ahead of inflation.

    I’m less of a fan of gold bugs than gold itself!

    To which end, I’m cautious about become some Gollum-type figure as I age. It’s notable to me that I have c.5% in gold now I have something to lose, much as I’d justify it as being there for diversification or because nominal interest rates are very low or whatnot.

    The history books going back hundreds of years (and online forums more recently) are packed full of grumpy and typically old men bemoaning the world going to hell in a handcart, shouting about debasement, and sitting on a pile of gold.

    I don’t want to become one of those! 🙂

  • 19 Gentlemans Family Finances June 6, 2020, 2:00 pm

    Surging stock prices might have something to do with the wall of freshly printed Covid cash coming.
    A welcome boost to my finances but it shows the massive difference between wall St and main st.
    Howlong will it continue? Don’t know. This could be a great entry point to the market or the best chance you have to jump ship before the second leg down / wave hits

  • 20 Richard June 6, 2020, 2:14 pm

    @Tom_grlla, @TI – thanks. I have generally ignored gold and own none at the moment. Probably for a similar reason I largely ignored bonds (except a bit for rebalancing). I didn’t care about volatility and was looking for best returns over the long term. Though best returns using the passive tracker approach so it was low maintenance / effort and not excessively on the risky side (with some cash on the side) . Whenever I looked at gold, it was always bars/coins because it always felt like the reason to hold it was for dire emergency or governments getting cash grabby. But then I look at the prices to enter and start to think how that money would be better in the tracker.

    But I feel like I am getting to the mid-life of accumulation and starting to think I need to take volatility a bit more seriously. Esp when I look at the crazy returns on my trackers over the last few years – Covid included.

    As you can proboably tell, I am having a mid life investing crisis! Need to read up on measuring and managing volitility and start to come up with the next phase strategy…

  • 21 MrOptimistic June 6, 2020, 2:28 pm
  • 22 The Investor June 6, 2020, 2:39 pm


    Surging stock prices might have something to do with the wall of freshly printed Covid cash coming.
    A welcome boost to my finances but it shows the massive difference between wall St and main st.

    Um, that was last week’s consensus, please keep up. 😉

    The point of the surprise jobs number is that economists were 10 million jobs out — they expected 8 million job losses and the economy apparently added 2 million new jobs.

    This suggests in fact that ‘Main Street’ is recovering fine and the stock market had already sniffed this out, rather than just being bonkers.

    Also it’s worth reading some of the links here over the past few weeks about US household income. It’s actually gone UP in the US over the past couple of months, because the relief funds to furloughed (typically very low-paid) workers is actually higher than their normal income.

    If the US economy can keep adding jobs like this (still a big if) then it might just pull off the suspended-animation trick of full lockdown and release after all. (Second waves et cetera notwithstanding).

    It’s going to be tricky, because economic disruption is typically harder to repair than break (think of putting cooked spaghetti back into a bag etc). You’d expect plenty of delicate linkages to have been broken.

    On the other hand if we really have accelerated what was coming anyway (more remote working, more Internet retail, etc) then perhaps it could be a productivity boost and a ripping off of the Band Aid that will actually offset much of the associated friction.

    Pretty fascinating to watch. 🙂

  • 23 Sparschwein June 6, 2020, 3:03 pm

    Party like it’s 1999. I think the dislocations in the economy are underestimated, as is the probability of a second wave. But what do I know.

  • 24 Sparschwein June 6, 2020, 3:27 pm

    Re gold. If you use an ETF, you definitely want one that is backed with physical. I’d avoid any fund based on commodity futures. Lending, as @tom mentioned is another catch.

    After reading “Crashed” last year (highly recommended btw) I wanted some insurance against the tail risks in the monetary/financial system. Hence I converted most of my gold ETFs into physical. With a bit of persistence and patience it’s possible to buy from trustworthy sources for ~1% over spot. Those who own enough other “real” assets may not need physical gold.

    Grumpiness & age come naturally, now a pile big enough to sit on would be nice 🙂

  • 25 Learner June 6, 2020, 4:26 pm

    We’ll see how things look in the US after July. The ppp loan/grants expire this month and the additional fed unemployment payments expire next month. Restaurants cannot survive at 25-50% capacity without assistance. Don’t get me wrong, I hope for a genuine hiring recovery. I’d love to be choosing from 50 potential new jobs instead of 5. The next 3 months (figures released the month after) will tell a story.

  • 26 Naeclue June 6, 2020, 4:45 pm

    My kids inherited some gold sovereigns recently. They don’t want them and neither do I, so I have been looking into how to get rid of them. The best prices I can find from online dealers imply an 8% spread between buy and sell prices. So quite wide, but there is no CGT on eventual disposal and no holding costs, unlike with ETCs. Unless you pay for a safety deposit box. For those who want to hold for decades, I would have thought a combination of coins which you rarely trade and more liquid ETCs for rebalancing would be a good combination.

    If you do hold gold coins, you do actually need to tell someone you have them and where you have put them. It took us quite some time to find my dad’s hoard.

    Holding gold coins didn’t help my father much, but he may have been a little happier knowing he had them. They are pretty little trinkets and I can see why some people get very attached to them.

    If anyone knows how to sell inside the 8% spread, I would be very interested to hear about it. I looked at ebay, but dealers are better after ebay and paypal fees. I have been tracking sovereign prices on ebay and some do go above the online dealers selling prices, but still not at prices that would make sense for me as a private seller.

  • 27 Learner June 6, 2020, 4:47 pm

    And check out the first chart in the Reuters story. Retail up but government jobs plummeting. Half a million public sector job losses in May and I don’t see that turning around given the er state of State budgets. That is going to have an enormous hit on services, and on regular people who were in or were heading into the sector, not least for the student loan forgiveness program.

  • 28 ermine June 6, 2020, 5:47 pm

    @TI #18

    packed full of grumpy and typically old men bemoaning the world going to hell in a handcart, shouting about debasement, and sitting on a pile of gold.

    I don’t want to become one of those!

    ROFL – The principle is always the same. Some is good, more is not always better!

  • 29 MrOptimistic June 6, 2020, 6:00 pm

    Not sure I buy in to the holding physical gold thing. Ok if removes one layer of potential loss but if it gets to the stage where it is the last resort then credit cards won’t work so distant travel is out, and once you venture out to try to use it your touting a high denomination asset and risk unwanted attention.
    So the survival tip is to panic early and get out while credit cards still work.
    Happy with physical gold etcs.

  • 30 Matthew June 6, 2020, 6:06 pm

    When I see the protests on tv, we (and other places) are going to have a significant covid spike, and death. Maybe some of these disenfranchised (more so younger) people want herd immunity to be reached quickly and get back to their lives, I could imagine some of them wouldn’t listen to the government and would accept some elderly deaths

    As to the inequality (esp in america) I do think they are more segregated than here and so they don’t get the same education, don’t meet the same contacts, don’t therefore get good careers advice or have as much optimism, I think with time and integration there will be ever more successful people able to improve all that for their children

    I’m aware that a candidate might appear less “polished” if they had an accent too – if your clients have racism – ie wouldn’t trust a scouser to look after their money – then in order to please your customers, excuses are found.
    I have to say that of the africans I’ve met, since they are non-eu they have tended to have to be highly skilled people to earn enough to satisfy earnings thresholds – theyve been doctors, bankers, etc in my eyes – same with asians, but EU citizens didn’t need to satisfy earnings thresholds, so are percieved more as low skilled, because thats what you encounter, especially with perceptions of the old soviet economy

  • 31 Snowman June 6, 2020, 6:08 pm

    Excellent and aesthetically pleasing talk by Creon Levit on the adaptive immune system, in particular in relation to the role of T cells. The talk starts at about 2 mins 50 seconds.


    Gives some insight into the possible biological explanations of the dark matter that Karl Friston (see links above) has identified mathematically. And ends up with the intriguing Cell journal paper ‘Targets of T Cell Responses to SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus in Humans with COVID-19 Disease and Unexposed Individuals” that we discussed a few weeks ago.

    So when you hear people say that in the UK the ONS (serology) antibody %s show what percentageof the poulation are potentially immune, remember that is potentially missing very large numbers who have fought off the virus without producing detectable antibodies. But it’s an open question so we shall see….

  • 32 Sparschwein June 6, 2020, 6:12 pm

    @Naeclue – spreads seem better in Germany & Austria. I looked at Britannias on occasion and always found the Royal Mint too expensive.
    When I checked last year, Pro Aurum offered close to spot for 1 oz coins. They are one of the biggest dealers in Germany and come recommended from a friend who is a finance pro. Not sure if they deal with the UK though.

  • 33 Snowman June 6, 2020, 6:45 pm

    To add to my previous post…

    A discussion on the Ivor Cummins podcast with Creon Levit categorising the possible categories of people who may have encountered the virus without a detectable antibody response.


  • 34 Naeclue June 6, 2020, 8:11 pm

    @Sparschwein, Hatton Garden Metals also seem to pay the gold spot price, or very close to it, for sovereigns. Most other UK dealers want a 3-4% discount from spot, but Hatton Garden Metals have the best price I have found in the UK so far, assuming their prices are to be believed. I might cycle over with a sovereign to check them out at some point.

    When I said the spread was about 8% I was talking about small numbers. Anyone willing to buy thousands of coins can get big discounts, down to about 4% over the gold spot price.

    As far as I can tell, gold coins all sell at a premium above the gold spot price, which makes sense due to manufacturing costs, but no dealer wants to pay above the gold spot price for anything, which again makes sense.

  • 35 Jonathan June 6, 2020, 9:00 pm

    @Snowman, don’t have the patience to sit through those videos but there was a news item on the BBC website today about overlapping symptoms with the OC43 common cold coronavirus (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-52935644). And an article in The Guardian yesterday about an Oxford professor who thought that cold coronaviruses might confer protection against Covid without resulting in SARS-Cov-2 antibodies (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/05/the-costs-are-too-high-the-scientist-who-wants-lockdown-lifted-faster-sunetra-gupta).

    More interesting – but I am afraid I can’t find the web link now – was a manuscript describing an analysis of the difference between the Covid declines in different regions of the UK and relating that to the number of recorded deaths. They created a plausible mathematical model whereby the faster decline in London than (say) Northwest England could be attributed to different levels of immunity from previous infections.

    In theory you might get people with a T cell response but no detectable antibodies, but I am not sure there is direct evidence for that.

  • 36 ZXSpectrum48k June 6, 2020, 9:46 pm

    @Gentlemen’s Family Finances. “it shows the massive difference between Wall St and Main st.”

    That’s something many of us say but really it’s just built into the math. That divergence has always been there. It’s simply due to the distribution of long-run stock returns being massively positively skewed.

    Essentially, the vast majority of people work for companies that aren’t doing that well. Hence Main Street always looks pretty rubbish. A small minority work for companies who are knocking the lights out. Wall Street returns are driven by that minority. The top 0.25% of US firms have generated 35% of equity returns over the past 30 years. The top 1% of 60% of returns. The top 5%, 85% of returns. Conversely, 55%+ of US stocks have underperformed T-bills. That pattern repeats globally.

    When people compare Main Street with Wall Street, they are comparing two different things. There is no reason for one to track the other.

  • 37 Jonathan June 6, 2020, 10:29 pm

    Postscript to above Covid comment: I have identified the study I referred to, it is a month old now so the data will have been updated. But it is consistent with a fair proportion of the population having some sort of immunity.


  • 38 Richard June 6, 2020, 10:47 pm

    @naeclue – whenever I look at physical gold I am drawn to coins for the CGT benefits. But then I think this is pretty niche benefit and I would either need a load of gold I want to dispose of in one go or I am disposing of a lot a assets not in tax shelters at the same time. Not convinced either scenario is really likely to happen for me. Plus as others have said, once you have gold you turn into Smaug… I guess it could be a form of inheritance planning, pass on the coins and years later they could sell them in bulk and not pay any CGT to buy a house or something (perhaps what you are doing). But my attraction to coins feels like the tax tail wagging the dog….

    @MrOptimistic – this is the other reason I don’t like the look of coins. The cheapest ones I can find are around £400. Not really suitable to go out and buy food with (though maybe food will be worth more than my coin in a complete breakdown). The cheaper bars look a better option here. But ultimately I am not considering it for a breakdown of society scenario, so will take a look at a few of the ETCs suggested.

  • 39 Naeclue June 6, 2020, 11:50 pm

    @Richard, the only interest I have in gold is getting shot of it at the best price I can.

  • 40 Sparschwein June 6, 2020, 11:50 pm

    @Naeclue – That’s good to know. Another option for selling close to spot. This is what really made physical a viable option for me – finding out how to buy and sell for 2% or less total spread. Then it’s about the same as holding an ETC for 10 years, and the risk diversification, from central bankers & hackers to thieves & forgetfulness, is free.

  • 41 Snowman June 7, 2020, 7:50 am


    Thanks. I did previously see the Manchester study, but must admit I didn’t find it very convincing in terms of their methodology which I don’t think they explained clearly enough for any judgment on it to be made. It seemed a very indirect way to get to the 25%, and they seemed way too sure of their conclusions when I previously looked at that. But it may be my inability to get a feel for what they were doing numerically that is the issue there. And the answer may be right but the logic may not be.

    I’ve said before that studying the asymptomatic who have tested positive under the antigen test over time, would be interesting, and it was frustrating that no such antibody studies were being done.

    There was the earlier study that TI found that we talked about where from memory, it talked about ‘minor disease’ but where really all but 5 of the study participants (all who had tested positive under the antigen test at some point but none had been hospitalised) had had what they classed as ‘major symptoms’, and that left a group of 5 with ‘minor symptoms’. All but 1 had detectable antibodies, but that just seemed to indicate that those with major symptoms usually had a detectable antibody response. There was no information about how many if any of the 5 with ‘minor symptoms’ were asymptomatic.

    However there do now seem to be studies coming out in the past week or so that are properly looking at the asymptomatic as part of the study. The video I linked to previously referenced a German study ‘Antibody profiling of COVID-19 patients in an urban low-incidence region in Northern Germany’. Within that study (I’ve skim read it) there were 10 asymptomatic people who had tested positive under antigen testing; they were identified through contact tracing. Of those 10, 6 did not go on to produce detectable antibodies over time.

    Let’s work with that say:

    The ONS surveillance study (in TI’s links above) showed that of the people that tested positive for COVID-19 over the study period, only 29% reported experiencing symptoms at any point in the period around testing positive. This included some who had had a follow up visit. Now some of the other 71% may be those who have just been identified as antigen positive, haven’t had a follow up yet which MAY show ultimately that they are in a pre-symptomatic period. But let’s just reduce that 71% and say that 60% are genuinely asymptomatic throughout.

    Now let’s apply the German study 60% asymptomatic who don’t have detectable antibodies to that. That gives 60% of 60% so 36% who have had the virus but don’t have detectable antibodies. They likely have significant immunity (although that needs to be determined).

    But we are still missing huge groups here who may have some immunity of sorts. So there is the probably (?) bigger group who will never test positive for the virus because perhaps they fought off the virus with their innate immune system. If they encounter the virus again they may similarly bat it off and may never realistically be classed as transmitters. And so potentially they form part of community immunity.

    So you can quite quickly arrive without heroic assumptions to a ‘feel’ that you can at least double the numbers under the ONS serology testing %s to get the true population who are no longer susceptible to the virus.

    And let’s sense check this by looking at Karl Friston’s purely mathematical approach, yep doesn’t seem inconsistent.

    In regions such as London where about 17% may have detectable antibodies, that means a feel that at least 34% have some sort of immunity.

  • 42 Snowman June 7, 2020, 9:12 am

    To clarify as re-reading my calculation explanation isn’t clear.

    If the ONS serology test was ‘improved’ to pick up everyone who would have tested antigen positive at some point in the past not just those with detectable antibodies.

    Then for each 1,563 positive under the ‘improved’ serology test, based on the ONS survey data, tweeked for the pre-symptomatic, 938 might be genuine asymptomatic cases and 625 symptomatic (where 938 is 60% of 1,563).

    However based on the German study currently the ONS serology antibody test might only pick up 375 of the asymptomatic (938 x 0.4) and all 625 of the symptomatic so 1,000 positives (= 375 + 625) in total.

    So really the current 1000 positive serology results (antibody only) detected should be perhaps 1,563 positive ‘improved’ serology tests

    Allowing for those who would never test antigen positive (those who bat off the virus with their innate immune system) then that might get us up to above 2,000 with some sort of immunity.

    And hence we might guess we could double the number currently detected through ONS serology tests to wildly speculate at real immunity.

    (it will be interesting to see the ONS follow through their antigen positive, asymptomatic cases to see what antibody response occurs over time, will that mirror the German study results?)

  • 43 The Investor June 7, 2020, 9:33 am

    @Snowman — Interesting attempt to put numbers on the ‘dark matter’.

    Related-ish (well, one for the wish list) — one of my ‘virus friends’ from the earlier when we were all obsessed has continued to pay attention to Premier League footballers, who as you probably know are all being tested as part of that sport’s reopening. As far as I understand it they’re only testing for live infections (they found one last week, out of 1,000+ players).

    It’d be interesting if they were also doing antibody testing on this group. Because they’re being monitored so consistently (weekly as I understand it) then assuming Covid-19 doesn’t die out very quickly in the next few weeks (possible, and liable to make 1,000+ too small to see many infected anyway) you could get a useful sample of healthy young individuals who might test positive for ‘live’ Covid-19 at some point but be asymptomatic, and could then see if they developed antibodies.

    The frequency and consistency of testing would be the useful key with this group.

  • 44 xxd09 June 7, 2020, 9:49 am

    Protests override Covid social distancing rules making a mockery of authority for good reasons?
    Can opening up the economy be far behind with same rational?
    Politics will always take centre stage-perhaps as it should?

  • 45 Vanguardfan June 7, 2020, 9:58 am

    @snowman. I agree regarding the Manchester study. Regarding the ONS study, I was also curious about the high level of ‘asymptomatic’ positive tests compared to other studies. I have a friend who was a participant in the last wave. The data collection about symptoms is very basic – yes/no tick box to a list which only includes the classic covid symptoms (fever, cough, extreme fatigue, loss of taste). So ‘asymptomatic’ doesn’t actually mean ‘no signs of being unwell at all’. And as you point out, it’s a snap shot rather than repeated data collection. Also the antigen testing is self swabbing (as is much of our UK testing) and there are reports of up to 30% false negatives (my friend said it was difficult, intuitively you would expect better results when swabbed by an experienced third party. The UK picks cheap over effective as usual).

    In the UK we persist in using a very narrow definition of symptoms , https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/symptoms/ whereas other countries are using many more symptoms to identify possible covid cases https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_3 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html

    As you say, at the moment there are many unanswered questions about how many remain susceptible to coronavirus. If there are individuals who are innately not susceptible to symptomatic infection, and don’t produce antibodies (as opposed to simply having a low initial viral load for eg) we don’t know what part they play in transmission – can they transmit? Can they become infected repeatedly? Can they become symptomatically infected on another occasion? We assume that an antibody response confers immunity – it would be unusual if it didn’t, but we don’t know for sure or importantly for how long. I have to say though I am encouraged by @jonathans reports about potential cross immunity from other circulating coronaviruses – I find this intuitively more convincing than other hypotheses to explain non-susceptibility.

    We do know that even without infection control measures, many infected people don’t transmit the disease onwards, even within the same household, while some people infect many others. So the more we can learn about the behaviours and circumstances of transmission, the more focused our control measures can be. It would help if we had been doing basic epidemiology on our cases.

    Clearly, even without high levels of immunity, any increase in the rate of transmission as we ease lockdown is not going to look the same as the first ‘wave’, because we are now behaving differently, and because the reservoir of infection is differently distributed. It remains vital that we improve our test and trace capability (still pitifully inadequate and with massive flaws in design relating to speed and lack of local data on cases). And it’s critical we get on top of the transmission in hospitals (and care settings) if we’re ever going to get the NHS functioning at close to normal capacity – the biggest lie in all of this is that the NHS ‘coped’ – three months on and many routine services are not yet running normally. NHS staff still not being routinely tested. Masks are cheaper and more obvious to the public I guess….

    Apologies for off topic ramble. There’s nothing I more can say about my investments! Although through my work I’m picking up more signs of job losses out there.

  • 46 ZXSpectrum48k June 7, 2020, 10:49 am

    I note TI missed the fact that Sweden’s lead on the COVID response, Anders Tegnell, is admitting they bogged it up and have too many deaths.

    This article was rather less positive about “dark matter”
    “We must discard any foolish optimism about “immunological dark matter” that will mysteriously prevent infection, or any other clutching at straws. ”

    Another article today mentioning “dark matter”

    I think these articles are not really understanding Friston’s approach and selectively quoting him. He’s just applying the variational Bayesian methods to biological systems to build a phenomenological model. It’s analogous to using the Principle of Least Action. The great thing about phenomenological models is that you don’t care about hidden variables. His point is that there may be “dark matter” but his approach doesn’t need to understand what that is are or how it works.

  • 47 The Investor June 7, 2020, 11:14 am

    @ZXSpectrum48k: I did include a Sweden link above talking about how their accelerating their inquiry. I saw some Tegnell comment this week, it’s always a bit of a judgement call what goes in, and newspaper spin is increasing each week. 🙂

    E.g. By the same token, I didn’t include Ferguson’s comments to the Lords saying he was looking closely at the Swedish results, which some papers have reported as “praise”. The Telegraph take is behind a paywall, unfortunately, so here’s some comment from The Sun:

    Prof Ferguson yesterday told the Lords’ Science and Technology committee that he had the “greatest respect” for Sweden.

    He said: “They came to a different policy conclusion, but based really on quite similar science.

    “I don’t agree with it – but scientifically, they’re not that far from scientists in any part of the world.”

    Sweden’s infection rate – or R – is thought to be at one, meaning each infected person infects an average of one other.


    But it is estimated at just 0.7 to 1 in the UK, meaning it is dying out.

    Prof Ferguson added: “It is interesting that adopting a policy which is short of a full lockdown – they have closed secondary schools and universities and there is a significant amount of social distancing, but it’s not a full lockdown – they have got quite a long way to the same effect.

    “That is something we are looking at very closely.

    “Lockdowns are very crude policies, and what we’d like to do is have much more targeted controlled transmission going forward, which doesn’t have the same economic impacts.”


    I remain more impressed than not of Sweden’s attitude. It may prove misguided in the end but I don’t think it’s irrational or reckless. Their results are hardly wildly off-base compared to the UK, Spain, Italy, New York, and there may yet be factors why they’ve suffered more deaths than their Scandinavian neighbours.

    Still think it’s far too early to be sure what’s been going on.

    p.s. Liked your comment about Wall Street versus Main Street up the thread. I’ve been making the point that hairdressers and nail salons et cetera aren’t listed company, but your way of generalizing it out is better!

  • 48 Indecisive June 7, 2020, 11:33 am

    I am “enjoying” (mixed with envy atm) watching a thread about people actively trading. So much money being made at present.


  • 49 ZXSpectrum48k June 7, 2020, 12:02 pm

    @TI. Sweden’s results look terrible vs. their closest comparables – Norway, Denmark and Finland – with 4-10x the per capita death rate. Yes, if you compare them with all the worst performers – UK, Italy, Spain – they look ok. Moreover, they are not a major global travel hub, no strong links with China, and don’t have especially high population density, so they can’t even fall back on the usual excuses. I agree eventually we may find reasons why one country did better than another. I think, however, countries should be basing their response on what they know, not experimenting with their population as Sweden has done. Right now, I just can’t see any quantitative evidence Sweden has done anything other than very badly.

  • 50 Nearlyrich June 7, 2020, 12:06 pm

    This weeks comments reminded me of the episode from Dad’s Goldbugs.


    Can’t beat a bit of rebalancing by candlelight.

  • 51 Algernond June 7, 2020, 12:15 pm

    Hi @ZXSpectrum48k – ‘I think, however, countries should be basing their response on what they know, not experimenting with their population…..’
    Do you not think the lockdown has been a massive experiment?

  • 52 The Investor June 7, 2020, 12:35 pm

    @TI. Sweden’s results look terrible vs. their closest comparables – Norway, Denmark and Finland – with 4-10x the per capita death rate.

    They are geographically and mostly culturally similar, but there are differences I’m sure.

    Just off the top of my head, the population of Sweden is about twice that of either Norway or Denmark. Population size does seem to be a factor. From visiting all of them Stockholm feels much more like a ‘big’ capital city, and without having time to Google I’m sure its population is at least a third bigger than the other two.

    Sweden is definitely more ethnically diverse, perhaps substantially so. I recall it has a very old population, though this may true of Denmark and Norway, too. This is relevant due to death rates among BAME communities and also different living patterns (household/generational density etc)

    I expect you’re right about the travel hub, they probably all get similar traffic.

    I’ve read Tegnell say a few times that he (like us and so many others) was surprised / missed the care home factor. If we’re going to be learning lessons then I still think a greater emphasis should have been put from day one on the elderly and vulnerable. The ‘all in it together’ didn’t preclude more attention/care here, of course as we’d all agree, but I wonder how many messages in an emergency the public and government can process/enact.

    Maybe Sweden has some particular way of dealing with care homes et cetera that hasn’t helped.

    With all that said, I’m sure a softer lockdown does result in more infections and more deaths. It seems certain. The question is how many more over a meaningfully long period, and how much quality of life years were lost?

    Obviously one interpretation (I don’t want to say ‘side’) picks Sweden, the other side is fond of citing Australia and New Zealand — low population islands on the other side of the world that were still in the last days of summer/warmer weather when the virus hit.

    Yes, it’d have been great to purge the virus like they did to a great extent or somewhere like Iceland (link above) but given as I see it the virus was circulating widely in the UK by February I wonder how feasible, really.

    Those in favour of ultra-lockdown also seem to me incurious about intra-country differences. Why did New York see a massive cluster / mega-death count, and New Orleans or Chicago not? I read the other day that if you ex-out New York from the American stats then it’s about the same death rate as much-applauded Germany, so that’s not a trivial point.

    (Probably its status as a supreme travel hub, sure. But then why Madrid?)

    Clearly “It’s complicated” as we used to say. 🙂 Time will tell.

  • 53 Snowman June 7, 2020, 12:37 pm


    Re: “I note TI missed the fact that Sweden’s lead on the COVID response, Anders Tegnell, is admitting they bogged it up and have too many deaths.”

    As far as I can tell, there has been no such admission.

    There is an article in the Sunday Telegraph today following an interview with Anders Tegnell himself which I can access through my local library app titled ‘I haven’t changed my mind insists Swedish expert against lockdown’.

    He is saying that a lot of the recent articles came out of a wrongly put together radio interview that was very wrongly advertised.

    He is quoted as saying “What I said was that after this, we’re going to do a lot of evaluation, and of course there are going to be things we think in Sweden that we think we did right and there are things in other countries that are going to be proven right”

    I recall him saying earlier that they hadn’t been able to protect care homes as they should have done, to me that shows a commendable ability to reflect on things.

  • 54 Grumpy Old Paul June 7, 2020, 2:31 pm

    The worldometers website lists stats for 215 countries. Sort by the death rate/per million and scrutinise the top 12 countries excluding the tiny countries of Andorra, San Marino and Sint Maarten leaving 9 countries in descending order:


    It’s the 5th worst major country in the world! Now drill down to the detailed stats for Sweden and observe the rising moving 7-day averages for new cases.

    Its government’s approach has been a miserable failure regardless of what Tegnell says yesterday, today or tomorrow. Like ours.

  • 55 ZXSpectrum48k June 7, 2020, 2:55 pm

    @TI. “Australia and New Zealand — low population islands on the other side of the world that were still in the last days of summer/warmer weather when the virus hit.”

    Australia is one of the most urbanized countries in the world. Actually more than the UK. It’s not low density. Moreover, it has even stronger air travel links with China. Australia’s per capita death rate is 4. Ours is 600. That’s 150x worse. We’re talking 2 orders of magnitude difference. That’s hard to explain due to down to population density, age demographics or even “dark matter”.

    Australia did well very simply because it acted fast. It closed the borders, quarantined everyone, stopped unnecessary state movement, firewalled care homes. As a result the disease never went exponential. The overall level of lockdown, however, was less severe than the UK. The economy is still in recession but suffering less. If anything, they have been too cautious in reducing the lockdown given the very low levels of cases.

    You keep basically saying that people couldn’t have known in Feb. Yet any idiot, even me, who actually bothered to listen to what the local experts involved in both the Chinese and South Korean responses to COVID were saying knew that there was a clear response to this. It seems places like Australia did listen and did follow their advice.

    The UK didn’t. The UK thought it knew better. The UK thought it was exceptional. Well we now have exceptional stats to prove it.

  • 56 The Investor June 7, 2020, 3:06 pm

    @ZX48k — Fair response, except I don’t think I’ve ever particularly defended the UK’s approach. We were talking about Sweden.

    I think one can argue the UK was the worst of both worlds — slow to lockdown and shield (as I noted FWIW several times in early March articles) and then tight economy-crippling lockdown, and now a lackadaisical exit that defies even its own terms and logic (e.g. the already seemingly redundant rating scale).

  • 57 The Investor June 7, 2020, 3:28 pm

    @Grumpy Old Paul: Nobody is denying people have died in Sweden. The question is to what extent excess were killed by their loose approach, and to what extent there’ll be an excess over the long-term.

    (e.g. If ‘second-wavers’ are right and the virus keeps flaring up whenever you loosen lockdown, then they may have bought some greater immunity for more deaths up front and fewer in the future. With that said I don’t particularly think the second-wavers look like being right in a meaningful way on the evidence right now (we’ll have to see how long presumed antibody protection lasts though etc) and treatments are advancing fast which may increase the cost of those early deaths. So we’ll see.)

    Your drill down into active cases isn’t particularly useful, because active cases is also an artifact of more/better-targeted testing. (E.g. Our active case count went up for many weeks after live infections were declining from peak).

    It’s more insightful to look at deaths from the virus, for this reason.

    If you look at the 7-day average for Sweden, you’ll see this is indeed coming down, albeit more slowly than countries who did a full lockdown — but according to more extreme articulations of the power/need for full lockdown, deaths should still be climbing as the virus runs out of control.

    It isn’t running out of control, it’s dying off. Perhaps that reflects citizen-based superior self-isolation, perhaps better care home shielding, or perhaps the virus has a natural history where this happens. A combination of all three would be my guess.

  • 58 Richard June 7, 2020, 3:35 pm

    Maybe I am naive (no maybe about it… ) but I was under the impression the government were being lead by the scientists/science. I remeber Whitty saying very early on that locking down too early would mean people would tire and not bother with it when it was needed most. This was the argument (from him at least) why we didn’t do more faster. So do we think he is just a political pawn, saying what the government want? Or should our ‘anger’ be directed at the experts and not the government who is listening to them this time (unlike Brexit)…

  • 59 Jonathan June 7, 2020, 4:01 pm

    I think all governments had to make decisions on scanty data in early March: it is unfair to tell them what in hindsight they should have done better. The UK government seems to have decided to do little until it was clear that infections were out of control (and even then to send mixed messages initially). The Swedish government decided it was better to make mild restrictions at an early stage with the aim of keeping infections within manageable limits. There will have been a good two months when people here would have been happy if the UK had kept deaths below 100 a day throughout (it looks as if Sweden only exceeded 100 on days of catch-up from low weekend reporting).

    Both countries made bad mistakes in not protecting the elderly sufficiently, especially in institutional settings. (I feel OK making this judgement with hindsight since it was something I thought at the time). And the UK – don’t know about Sweden – failed in not increasing testing capacity, or at the early stage at least contingency planning for that. I am sure Johnson would defend himself on that point by saying it was PHE who got operational arrangements wrong, but their approach should have been scrutinised by the government and there doesn’t seem to be evidence it was. Johnson himself didn’t bother to turn up to the meetings.

    As well as excess deaths which can only be properly analysed when it is all over, the interesting comparison between Sweden and the UK eventually will be on the economic damage done. Both will surely suffer. But it is conceivable that Sweden will have more resilience to bounce back since I imagine fewer of their small businesses will have been hit as hard. However in both countries, much of economic recovery will depend on what is happening to their trading partners.

  • 60 Vanguardfan June 7, 2020, 4:44 pm

    On the whole, I think there is only point in debating what mistakes have been made (many) and where culpability should lie (some were forgiveable, others less so) if we can learn from such analysis and do better in future (god knows we need to).

    It really doesn’t help the situation when the government flat out denies the undeniable – ‘I am certain no lives were lost due to late lockdown’ says Matt Hancock.
    With lies like this, how can we be confident that the government is a) doing its best to protect us and b) open to learning and improving?
    At least the Swedes are up for debate, and acknowledge the obvious truth that things could have been done differently and better with the benefit of hindsight.

  • 61 ZXSpectrum48k June 7, 2020, 5:01 pm

    @Richard. I sat through a huge number of conference calls in Feb where one of the speakers was a Chinese/Korean expert, directly involved with combating COVID, and the other was someone in the UK Govt, advising the UK Govt, or PHE. The people you see at 5pm most weekdays.

    What left me angry is the attitude of the UK speakers, most particularly their condescending attitude toward the foreign experts. The foreign experts told us what to expect, what to do. They told us to take COVID seriously. They were right.

    The UK speakers basically pooh-poohed those comments, telling us that “it won’t happen here”, “we have to be careful not to overreact”, “quarantines/lockdowns/face masks are unnecessary”. We even had UK speakers telling the foreign speaker not to be hysterical. Even more idiotic was the Cabinet Minister who told us “COVID can’t be a major issue since the market is doing fine”. Led by the science or led by the market?

    The problem here is that both the UK and Sweden both took views on something they didn’t understand and couldn’t quantify. The UK tried to ignore it and Sweden decided to warehouse the risk and ride it out. The thing is, when you’re faced with genuine “Knightian uncertainty”, you shouldn’t get caught taking big views you can’t hold. Yes, you might be absolutely right about the terminal outcome but the path dependence is possibly going to kill you. Every part of the phase space becomes almost equally probable. So the chance your strategy survives contact with the enemy is small. The chance you have to stop-out on the strategy is high. So the right response is to stop out quickly, derisk the situation, stay on the front-foot and keep the initiative.

    It’s quite possible Australia has handled this crisis well because just before this had made a total clusterf**k of the bushfires. Their PM, “Scotty from Marketing” simply couldn’t risk another PR disaster. By comparison, BoJo thought he was invincible and was focussed on Brexit, reshuffles etc.

    So the UK holds an untenable position of ‘ignore’ for a month and then has to take a late stop-loss (in hindsight we may find possibly close to the bottom). Sweden does better holding their view but is now under pressure. It’s like their “investors” are saying “why has our SEK fund lost 4-10x as much as those NOK and DKK funds?”

    So it’s not about good science. The scientists don’t know. The aim is to give them time to find out. It’s about good risk management and some countries are failing badly and others are managing well.

  • 62 Sparschwein June 7, 2020, 5:15 pm

    “Follow the science” is just the usual sloganeering. Same principle as “get brexit done”, “strong and stable”, etc. If the populists know one thing then it’s how to manipulate public opinion, and apparently such slogans work.

    There is only one “science”. Not one for the UK and a different one for the rest of the world.
    If the UK government followed “the science” in Feb/Mar by doing nothing, then
    – the dozens of countries that enacted earlier and more stringent lockdowns, didn’t “follow the science” ?
    – the WHO, whose recommendations the UK chose to ignore, didn’t “follow the science” ?
    – the German govt, notably Merkel (PhD in physics), Lauterbach (health politician and Harvard professor for epidemiology), Drosten (leading virologist, one of the discoverers of SARS-CoV in 2003), the RKI, all didn’t “follow the science” ?

    Of course the UK govt’s decisions were, and still are, entirely *political*.

  • 63 Ruby June 7, 2020, 7:38 pm

    @ Snowman @ ZKSpectrum – Johan Giesecke, who I believe was Anders Tegnell’s predecessor, while agreeing that Sweden’s deaths currently looked poor relative to it’s neighbours, suggested that in a year or so’s time the rates would be much the same and advised against being too judgemental now. This was for the simple reason that as the neighbours lifted their lock downs more people will get infected and die and the death rates will equalise. It’s for this reason that one might be a little fearful for Australia and New Zealand as it’s all very well cutting oneself off from the world but at some point one has to re-engage and with the percentage of infections being asymptomatic they’ll do well to keep their fatalities where they are. As for our lot, I quietly despair – we all know they were dealt a particularly difficult hand but a little humility wouldn’t go amiss. Everyone knows they have ballsed some things up but at this rate they’ll spin themselves into the abyss.

  • 64 Ruby June 7, 2020, 8:03 pm

    ps I was at a (socially distanced!) lunch today and chatted to a couple of doctors – one an A&E Consultant and one a general surgeon. The former has been ‘very quiet’ the last few months and the latter has not had that many customers as people ‘are afraid to come to the hospital’. All elective surgery cancelled and only emergency cancer surgery taking place. Apparently one department has been performing 5% of the procedures it would normally perform. There is a whole load of misery coming down the pipe in this country. So take your exercise, eat your greens and hope that you don’t require their services, for if you do, you’ll be at the end of a very long line.

  • 65 Richard June 7, 2020, 8:27 pm

    @ZX – interesting. Perhaps misguided but I see the CMO as an expert or at least the mouth piece of experts. Not as a politician or a mouth piece of polititians. So for him to stand next to Boris and, in my view, explain the rationale for the governments approach back at the start was significant. Of course this is where my naivety comes in and he was probably under extreme pressure to take the governments position. Or at least say the science is so unclear / undecided you should do as you like. He was appointed by this government so maybe that says it all (though he will likely be in office long after they have gone) . But while he did say the science was unclear he also said things like ‘we didn’t want to lock down too early in case people get bored of it’. So he at least was complicint with the approach. Maybe he is just BJs scape goat.

    I take your point on the risk. I like to think I would lock down if it was my call. But then I can see the choice at the time as very difficult. I know a lot of people who are going to be thrown out into the (poor) job market very soon with mortgages and kids etc. At an individual level it is not going to be fun for a lot of people (even if the zombie companies going to the wall is likely to be good for the economy long term). No one should die before their time though….

  • 66 britinkiwi June 8, 2020, 10:30 am

    @Ruby – your comment is very pertinent! It will be interesting to see whether we end up with a South Sea Bubble (!) with Australia and the South Pacific Islands and closed borders until a vaccine comes along or the pandemic burns out elsewhere in the world. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for my pre-covid booked break in Rarotonga in October!

    And the sheer humanity of our PM shines through – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTskXsdMwc0

    @ZX and @Richard – the latest BMJ has a brief debate on the lock-down and that it’s more nuanced in terms of relative harms (and that we don’t know enough to make a good call) – https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1924?

    The science is not settled on Covid 19.

  • 67 Matthew June 8, 2020, 1:33 pm

    Apparantly the statue that was pulled down of Edward coulsten (coleslaw!) Was there because of some great acts of philandering he did;

    “Colston supported and endowed schools, almshouses, hospitals and churches in Bristol, London and elsewhere. Many of his charitable foundations survive to this day”

    Did this outweigh the bad he did as a slave trader?

  • 68 Vanguardfan June 8, 2020, 1:55 pm

    @matthew, it is spectacularly missing the point to try to reach some kind of overall cost-benefit judgement of Colston’s life. The point is whether in contemporary Britain it is appropriate to continue to commemorate a long dead man, who was responsible for trafficking over 100,000 fellow human beings as slaves, 20% of whom did not survive the journey. I mean, we wouldn’t have a statue to Jimmy Savile in public now, even though he raised lots of money for good causes.

    But I agree it is pertinent to be made aware of just how much of our country’s wealth was built off the back of slavery. History can help us understand the present.

  • 69 Tony June 8, 2020, 2:19 pm

    Matthew – yes, it probably does. But I guess he was a convenient target, and was already on the danger list from the last couple of years of cancel culture.

    I wonder if and when people will remember that Nobel invented Dynamite. Will we all be expected to boycott even the notion of the Nobel peace prize because of it?

    The big trouble with any form of super-retrospective deprecation of individuals’ actions from totally “different times” is to some degree we would have no heroes at all, for actions rightly seen as major transgressions now, but were just the norm for the times.

    That said, we are a democracy, so perhaps some localised referendums on the appropriateness of statues and name plates could be a good thing, and perhaps open up the market for some new sculptures of more relevant people.

  • 70 Tony June 8, 2020, 2:41 pm

    @Naeclue – Atkinsons online sell for almost exactly spot price. They charge a fair bit (5% at the moment) more to buy, but as you are selling I guess that is irrelevant.

    Current exact price is:
    To sell random date Sovs = £313.68, or £42.85 per gram of gold
    Spot price is currently £42.86 per gram, so literally within a rounding error.
    (Note, it is possible you may have a rare date sovereign, so it is worth checking the dates v specific dated sellers they and others have on their sites. Won’t make a fortune but could be a good few quid more)

    Sell price is £45 per gram for 10, slightly more for fewer, very slightly less for more.

    This is the highest sell price to spot I have seen, I suspect they are desperate for stock, so they are taking all their spread on the sell to the public side, to encourage owners to sell to them.


  • 71 Grumpy Old Paul June 8, 2020, 3:51 pm

    @Matthew, you brought a smile to my face with your reference to “philandering”!
    @Vanguardfan, I think your comment was spot on. I’d have thought that a good place for the statue would have been in a Bristol museum about the slave trade.

  • 72 The Investor June 8, 2020, 4:17 pm

    I am at least as wary of mob rule as the next book-ish Poundshop intellectual.

    However the fact is decisions of the sort that @Tony is calling for *have* been made about this and other statues, and in many cases nothing comes of it.

    A decision was made for the Colston statue to have an amended information panel back in 2018, but the wording got endlessly stalled as ‘the other side’ wanted the remarks watered down etc.

    See this thread by Professor Kate Williams:


  • 73 The Investor June 8, 2020, 4:21 pm

    p.s. I am not sure why this has come up in a discussion on Monevator?

    @Matthew, you randomly posted about BLM protests on the thread about negative yields on bonds last week. It’s one thing for political discussion — fractious though they are — to emerge on Monevator where they crossover with our main beat of investing and money, but this was really stretching things. There was no connection. I applaud your interest in politics but there are more appropriate communities on the Internet to have such discussions.

    EDIT: Oops, the thread “last week” of course. Me and @TA are neck deep in follow-up negative yield posts, and I’ve lost track of time clearly… 😉

  • 74 Matthew June 8, 2020, 5:51 pm

    @TI – race featured in the links, protests got a mention, and we do talk about stuff that might have an impact – ie covid, and yes – there are other places, but not this intelligent immunity, I do appologise for pushing things though, but I do think we all carry diverse interests

    @vanguardfan – I suppose for public display purposes the bad outweighs the good when you have plenty of examples in life of uncontroversial good people

    @tony – quite true, I think a lot of humanity’s progress doesn’t need to be attributed to anyone, it doesn’t matter to us how we got here – just that we did, posthumous credit/suffering is not relevant today

  • 75 The Investor June 8, 2020, 7:13 pm

    @Matthew — Yes, in these links but I meant in the negative yield article. I didn’t see your comment here as referencing the article in the links particularly, though it is obviously tangentially related.

  • 76 tom_grlla June 9, 2020, 9:58 am

    @TI – of course you had a ton of stuff on gold already! You have built up such a treasure trove of info.

    Seems not unreasonable to have 5% or so in the yellow stuff, as long as you don’t fall in love with the stuff/become a gold bug.

    It calls to some of my readings on Howard Marks and Stan Druckenmiller i.e. HM: I know that I don’t know (because I can’t really value it), and SD: Macro-wise, it has been working, and there are times when there’s no point in fighting the market (even if you don’t understand/agree with it).

    However generally it’s best not to talk about it too much, as opinions tend to be as volatile as the price…

  • 77 Tony June 9, 2020, 10:25 am

    I just want to point out I’ve been posting for a while and someone else using the same user name posted at 69 and 70. Is there a way to avoid name duplication of this nature pls Monevator?

  • 78 Indecisive June 9, 2020, 11:32 am

    Hi Tony, not something that’s possible unless registration is enforced.

    Let’s embrace the limitation and make next week Australia week: everyone posts as “Bruce” or “Sheila”.

  • 79 The Investor June 9, 2020, 12:34 pm

    @Tony — Sadly not, at present. We are thinking about introducing some sort of membership/registration option soon and it’ll be first dibs when that happens! 🙂

  • 80 Seeking Fire June 9, 2020, 12:42 pm

    interesting debate as ever with some high quality comments and a few weird ones ….statues ffs! So purely on topic – gold, yup historically a terrible investment, no income, low returns, volatile, in a guns & ammo scenario probably useless, security risk if held physically etc but…..I am a keen holder in a non gollum way (haven’t looked at them for min five years I would guess). I hold physical coins – sovs, krugers, canadian maples etc. I’ve based it on a certain amount of current expenditure. – it’s a v small part of my portfolio % wise. Never plan to sell, will likely accumulate a bit more. I view it as not very good insurance over a possible set of events I hope and expect never come to pass. Those possible events could be anything from rapid inflation, capital controls, state encroachment, civil unrest, environmental concerns, a more serious pandemic, implementing a bug out plan, mass unemployment etc etc etc. My families life span is >100 years. So that’s my time length. In any one year one laughs at these possible events. Over 100 years not so much. In the last 20 years there’s been a couple of occasions when it’s proved a bit of comfort – 2008 ish, March 2020. Totally get the view not to hold any, it’s just personal preference that’s all – I’m sure I’m giving up some return by holding them.

    Main Street vs Wall Street is a useful comparison. I’ve got a few friends whose entire wealth / job is plugged into the local economy – house / local business based on tourism. They are seriously worried as you would be. In that scenario a globally diversified index fund / low risk bond fund is a great diversifier. Enables you to hunker down and ride out the storm of war, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. sorry about that last part.

  • 81 The Investor June 9, 2020, 1:50 pm

    @all — Interesting paper that uses satellite imagery of car park traffic and web search traffic to infer that Covid-19 was circulating in Southern China several months before the official Wuhan cluster was identified:


  • 82 David June 9, 2020, 4:14 pm
  • 83 Naeclue June 9, 2020, 4:49 pm

    @Tony, thanks for the Atkinsons link. They are 1.4% better than Hatton Garden Metals right now. HGM seem to be less competitive than last week, so maybe you are right about the prices dealers offer being a stock availability thing. Atkinsons are in Birmingham, so not so easy to just pop in. I might go along to HGM to see if they would be prepared to match Atkinsons’ price, or get closer to it.

    We are only talking £4.76 per sovereign here though and it would cost me about £12 for special delivery via post up to £2,500 insurance, so a maximum of 7 sovereigns per package. That’s about £20 more after delivery costs per package, but if a package does go missing I have the hassle of claiming.

  • 84 ZXSpectrum48k June 9, 2020, 4:52 pm

    Main Street vs. Wall Street. So this year the Fed’s balance sheet has expanded by about $3 trillion. Of that, the Main Street Lending Program is … well … umm … zero dollars.

    By comparison (this fact has been pointed out to me by a few people) since the low on Mar 23, then, as of last night, every single stock in the S&P has rallied. Every single one. Even the ones that declared bankruptcy in the intervening period! Another clear example of stunning market efficiency and capital allocation. Given enough Fed liquidity, even s**t can float.

    This is hysterically funny. Well it is for those of us with large assets portfolios and/or whose job is totally uncorrelated with Main Street. For those on Main Street, however, it’s not a laughing matter.

  • 85 MrOptimistic June 9, 2020, 6:58 pm

    That’s reassuring, I should be able to keep my head above water then.
    Comment that Hertz stock has risen more than 800% since it declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy gives pause for thought.

  • 86 xxd09 June 9, 2020, 8:13 pm

    Truly strange times for investors-really quite difficult to understand what is going on
    A lot of wishful thinking?
    And we Brits have Brexit still to come
    I am retiring to a small island and becoming a hermit for a while!
    On the other hand if I stay -it’s very exciting
    I think doing nothing and staying is the wisest course
    A good British compromise!

  • 87 Ruby June 9, 2020, 9:14 pm

    @ ZK Spectrum – it goes against the passive grain I know but I am half inclined to lighten from 60/40 e/b to 50/50. Nothing fundamental to this analysis really but the party atmosphere in the market is all a bit unnerving, and the link earlier in this thread to a car enthusiasts forum in which the forumites were discussing all the money they were making punting was a bit hair raising. In 2000/01 I saw the tech boom and bust up rather close and watched in a rather bemused fashion as colleagues met companies on a Monday and IPO’d the following Thursday and I’m similarly twitchy. I also see today that people are dissing Uncle Warren and his airline sales and suggesting he’s old, past it, lost the plot etc. All anecdotal I know, but one assumes there has to be a financial reckoning for this virus and I suspect the exit will be long and messy, which is as much an assessment of our incompetent administration than anything else.

    This post may or may not age well!

  • 88 Ruby June 9, 2020, 9:18 pm

    @ ZX Spectrum – apologies – got your initials wrong and have been doing so for a while; I need to up the dose on my glasses.

  • 89 Snowman June 10, 2020, 8:29 am

    Over half of people tested in Italy’s Bergamo have COVID-19 antibodies


    Would be nice to have some more detail on exactly how they picked their sample. The Italian National Statistics Institute are reported to have said their sample is ‘random’ but then said ‘most of those in the sample were residents of the worst-hit areas’.

    A random sample of the population of Bergamo (120K population) is different to a random sample of the metropolitan district of Bergamo (500K population), and is different to a random sample of a small area of the main city of Bergamo, and is different to a random sample of people who had reported coronavirus symptoms in Bergamo. We will hopefully find out more what ‘random’ means here. And how many asked to provide blood samples did so, and could there be biases in those who selected to do so.

    57% antibodies in those worst hit areas but only 30% of health workers, doesn’t seem logical. What is their explanation for this?

    And what antibody test did they use and how sensitive was it?

    So lots of question marks about this. But perhaps one to very tentatively place in the ‘immunity is mostly antibodies’ column of the evidence weigh up until we can find out more. The lack of similar high percentages pretty much anywhere else sits in the other column.

  • 90 Vanguardfan June 10, 2020, 8:55 am

    @snowman, re the healthcare staff. Maybe they had more effective PPE in Italy? And perhaps the healthcare workers were diligent about not infecting their household.
    Overall though, at least the people of Bergamo have some substantial immunity to show for their suffering.

  • 91 The Investor June 10, 2020, 9:16 am

    57% antibodies in those worst hit areas but only 30% of health workers, doesn’t seem logical. What is their explanation for this?

    New York has seen lower antibodies in health care workers than in the wider population, too. As Vanguardfan says, this could well be down to PPE. And/or just being more generally aware and instructive to family members than a typical non-healthcare worker, I suppose?

  • 92 ZXSpectrum48k June 10, 2020, 1:57 pm

    OECD released it’s forecasts today. http://www.oecd.org/economic-outlook/june-2020/.

    So not only do we have one of the worst per capita death rates but we also now lead in terms of having the one of the highest forecast economic contractions. UK exceptionalism strikes again.

  • 93 The Investor June 10, 2020, 3:10 pm

    Very interesting research on how Covid-19 got into the UK:

    Coronavirus was brought into the UK on at least 1,300 separate occasions, a major analysis of the genetics of the virus shows.

    The study, by the Covid-19 Genomics UK consortium (Cog-UK), completely quashes the idea that a single “patient zero” started the whole UK outbreak.

    The analysis also finds China, where the pandemic started, had a negligible impact on cases in the UK.

    Report from BBC and paper:



  • 94 Vanguardfan June 10, 2020, 6:29 pm


    Interesting study in HCW in a London hospital showing seroconversion rates (higher than the Italians)

  • 95 Sparschwein June 10, 2020, 9:00 pm

    These OECD numbers are just bloody scary, even the single-hit scenario. And a second wave looks likely in the countries that are still poorly prepared such as the UK.
    Arguably the US won’t get a “second” wave because they never contained the first one.

    As for the fallout to come – e.g.

    In better news, German football is back on.

  • 96 Snowman June 11, 2020, 8:59 am

    Never thought I would say this but what a joy to read the Telegraph this morning. So lucky I can download that for free on our local library app. There are articles today titled:

    – Parent ‘more frightened than they need to be’ about reopening

    – Putting off a full reopening of schools is a dereliction of duty

    – Chancellor keeps pressure on PM to get schools open

    – Peak toll may be less than half official figures, top official claims

    – Germany went too far with its lockdown says leading expert

    – Scrap social distancing in schools to save our children’s education

    – The two metre rule has to be ditched

    – We are incapable of rational debate on covid-19
    [a must read article by Sherelle Jacobs mentioning a) the absurdity of the official covid-19 narrative, b) the suggested 10 million NHS waiting list coming out of this, c) pointing out the conflated, confused and corrupted scientific discussion and mentioning the latest odd Imperial report and why it is based on an imaginary counter universe that could never have existed, d) the good data based modelling such as Karl Friston and Michael Levitt going on at the margins e) respiratory infection research from University of Oxford that indicates infections fell significantly from March 15th, way before lockdown]

    The Telegraph have had the occasional reasonable article throughout, and some of the reader letters have been good, but really noticeable today the change in feel. Hopefully they will continue in this vein. Papers generally aren’t good at producing fact based articles but they are good at writing articles that sell papers. Is the Telegraph picking up a change of mood amongst an increasing proportion of the population (or not)? What do you think?

  • 97 Ruby June 11, 2020, 12:34 pm

    @ Snowman – At the start of this ‘crisis’ I whittled my bookmarked news sites down to 2 being a) The Telegraph and b) Spectator and i kept those simply because I’ve paid my subs. I enjoy the Spectator for, although it’s certainly right leaning, it’s prepared to publish the alternative view (Mary Whitehouse, commissioning editor being prepared to publish an article calling for the dismissal of her husband Dominic Cummings being an amusing example!) and has lots of arts stuff besides. It’s good for the flights we’re not taking.
    On the whole I have found the Telegraph to be a pretty dismal read throughout this episode – mostly lazy and hysterical journalists too idle to investigate the issues properly and searching for a headline grabbing soundbite. That said it’s probably had more of the contrarian articles than anywhere else – Levitt, Gupta & Co. To my mind, the real story here, at the risk of getting overwhelmed by the mob, is how the population of the this country have so meekly gone along with house arrest when the evidence supporting it is so flimsy. One suspects that a journalist of years gone past would have got his teeth into this issue, forensically trailed through the evidence and created a scene. Maybe the owners/editors just aren’t interested and take the easy option of running with the crowd.

  • 98 Grumpy Old Paul June 11, 2020, 1:24 pm

    See https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-techniques-from-physics-promise-better-covid-19-models-can-they-deliver-139925 for an alternative view on Karl Friston’s dynamic causal modelling techniques by a specialist in simulation and modelling who has actually worked on dark matter.

    I always look at the credentials of the author of any article before reading in order to decide how much weight to attach to it. Sherelle Jacobs, excellent journalist as she may be, has a degree in history from SOAS. (Nothing wrong with that!) I also check out whether an author has strong political views of any colour which may impact her judgement.

    I was intrigued by the reference to “Peak toll may be less than half official figures, top official claims”. A quick search produced an article in the Sun revealing that said “top official was Professor Karol Sikora. Have a glance at Sikora’s Wikipedia entry. See also @Sparschwein’s comment on Sikora in https://monevator.com/weekend-reading-winging-it-when-it-comes-to-the-economy/.

    I’m a big fan of Richard Feymann and particularly like this quote: “You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about. […] I don’t have to know an answer, I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is so far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me.”

  • 99 xxd09 June 11, 2020, 3:46 pm

    One of the joys of retirement is having control over your own time again
    I read from Breitbart, Fox News,Telegraph,Daily Mail,Times,BBC,Guardian and Independent ie across the spectrum
    Plus some mags Spectator and Prospect
    Boy -don’t they all have an agenda while purporting to report the facts/news!
    Very little to chose between them re probity-entertainment/ratings seem to be the main drivers
    They split Right and Left ,Remainers and Brexiteers, Conservative and Liberal as our society seems to do and slant their reporting with that in mind
    So where in the middle is the “truth” which I can reasonably arrive at in time
    We would be in poor shape without the fourth estate who take on Government and Councils which is beyond the power of the average citizen but their outpourings must be read with a very sceptical pair of glasses

  • 100 Sparschwein June 12, 2020, 1:56 am

    About Covid-19 matters, there is plenty of free and unbiased information in the science and medical journals. Nature and Science are considered highest quality (extremely selective, very hard to get published in) and aim to be understandable across disciplines.

    Their news and commentary pieces should be a breeze for the brainy Monevator crowd. The original research articles may be a bit tougher, but just the abstract, introduction and discussion is usually enough to get the gist.

    Notable new papers

    (summary links to Nature paper)

    Population-wide SARS-CoV-2 immunity tracked in Switzerland
    This is excellent work from Aguzzi. He is known as a top protein biochemist and it shows. Expect this in Nature, Science or Cell soon.

    Dissecting antibody- mediated protection against SARS- CoV-2 (Review)
    Immunology is *complicated*.

  • 101 Snowman June 12, 2020, 11:31 am

    ONS Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey pilot: England, 12 June 2020 now out


    They describe the main points as

    – In this bulletin, we refer to the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) infections within the community population; community in this instance refers to private households, and it excludes those in hospitals, care homes or other institutional settings.

    – At any given time between 25 May and 7 June 2020, we estimated that an average of 0.06% of the community population had COVID-19 (95% confidence interval: 0.02% to 0.12%); this equates to an average of 33,000 people in England (95% confidence interval: 14,000 to 68,000).

    – Modelling of the trend over time shows evidence that the number of people in England testing positive has decreased.

    – There were an estimated 31,600 new COVID-19 infections per week in England (95% confidence interval: 22,200 to 43,500) between 26 April and 7 June 2020, equating to an incidence rate per week of 0.06 new cases per 100 people.

    And re serology results they say

    The estimate for those testing positive for antibodies presented in this publication has not been updated and is the same as estimates presented in our previous publication. Once we have received additional blood sample results, we will provide updated antibodies analysis

  • 102 ZXSpectrum48k June 12, 2020, 11:58 am

    @GrumpyOldPaul. One of nicest ways to summarize the progression of science was stated by the theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler.

    “We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.”

    Notably Wheeler was also Feynman’s PhD supervisor at Princeton

  • 103 Snowman June 12, 2020, 12:43 pm

    Journal article titled ‘What Went Wrong: Corona and the World After the Full Stop’ (Dr Carlo Caduff) accessible here from this tweet


    The paper quotes from the latest Imperial College disease model report

    ‘We do not consider the wider social and economic costs of suppression, which will be high’ (Walker et al. 2020).

  • 104 Vanguardfan June 12, 2020, 5:09 pm

    And here’s an update to the analysis of covid mortality by area and deprivation. Highest mortality areas (NW London) have had 0.2% of their population die with covid19 between March and May. It would be so interesting to know the seroconversion prevalence at local authority level, but it would need massive sample size. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsinvolvingcovid19bylocalareasanddeprivation/deathsoccurringbetween1marchand31may2020

  • 105 Sparschwein June 13, 2020, 10:22 pm

    @GrumpyOldPaul – I enjoyed the article about Friston’s modelling. He is clearly an exceptional scientist, albeit not quite the expert in epidemiology. These mathematical models are frankly beyond me, but the idea of some “immunological dark matter” sounded very far-fetched. And in some countries but not the neighbours? And Germany “geographically isolated”? Hmmm.
    Unanimous Science Twitter commentary says “nonsense”:

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