≡ Menu

Weekend reading: Is your ISA keeping up with the Joneses?

Weekend reading logo

What caught my eye this week.

Seekers after financial freedom like us don’t posture about the car we drive or plonk our new handbag or iPhone down in the middle of the table when we meet our friends.

But you do still see one-upmanship in this community:

  • “Call this a bear market? I don’t even look at my portfolio unless at least one major High Street bank has gone bust.”
  • “Call 15% a savings rate? That’s more like a rounding error compared to what I sock away by living in my tent in the Rhondda valley.”
  • “You call shopping at Oxfam frugal? I get Oxfam to donate its clothes to me!”

Okay, I exaggerate. But it’s with fondness. And only a bit.

To be fair, very few of us throw our net worth around without a few humble disclaimers.

Which is confounding, because I bet most of us would love to know more about how other people are getting on.

Not in a monetary game of phallic wonga-waving, you understand. More to put their words into context. And to get a better sense of our own progress on the journey.

Years ago, I used to spend many hours a day on investing forums. And it would drive me mad when a poster would reveal they’d bought this or that controversial stock, to the admiration – or the condemnation – of the peanut gallery.

You can have an opinion of the odds of a particular investment working out, of course.

Yet most posters were happy to ascribe bravery, stupidity, foolishness, heroism, and the like to the action, too.

Very rarely did we know what the investment represented to the person in question. They could be a multi-millionaire investing beer money, or a student investing their entire loan. Which matters.

Because unless you know somebody’s full financial picture – and the magnitude of the investment – you can’t say much about the dangers or prudence of their actions.

It’s similar in online Financial Independence circles.

Somebody will say, for instance, that they can get by on £18,000 a year.

They’ll be labelled delusional by people who don’t know how old they are, where in the country they live, whether they own their own home, whether they have dependents, and so on.

The flip-side is equally true, too. £50,000 a year doesn’t go half as far in London as in Hull.


So I’m sure many readers will be very glad to read through the latest ISA statistics to be published by HMRC.

If you’re anything like me you’ll immediately compare yourself to your cohort and ask yourself some serious questions about your life pat yourself on the back.

Maybe it hasn’t all been for nothing!

Only time will tell. But certainly it’s interesting to see how much others are saving, or how your total pot compares to others your age or earning the same as you.

And hey presto…

Average annual ISA subscription:

Pot size by age:

(Click to enlarge)

Pot size by income cohort:

(Click to enlarge)

Want more? You can download the full report from HMRC’s website as a PDF.

I hope you find what you’re looking for!

From Monevator

How much will you lose if bond prices fall? (And what if they rise?) – Monevator

Lars Kroijer on…avoiding Covid-19 losers, ultra-low interest rates, and dividend cuts [Videos]Monevator

From the archive-ator: Am I saving enough for retirement? – 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 pound is becoming an emerging market currency, says BoA analyst [Search result]FT

NS&I reveals savers cost it £887m last year, as borrowing costs were so low – ThisIsMoney

What’s gotten into the price of cheese? – New York Times

Tech unlocks the door to retail investor fundraising [Search result]FT

The latest house price predictions for the UK from Savills begin with a 7.5% fall in 2020 – ThisIsMoney

Wirecard collapses, owing $5.8 billion – SMH

‘The atmosphere was ugly’: Bournemouth aghast at beach chaos – Guardian

A top-heavy stock market is nothing new – The Evidence-based Investor

Products and services

Yorkshire Building Society relaunches 90% mortgages for first-time buyers – Guardian

Invest in Ripple’s new wind farm, get electricity cheap/free [Do research the risks]Ripple Energy

FCA permanently bans mini-bond ads – Which?

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

Revealed: The most in-demand seaside towns for home buyers – Which?

Bungalows for sale [Gallery]Guardian

Comment and opinion

When your money makes more money than you do – Banker on FIRE

Main Street, Wall Street, and all the other places – Klement on Investing

Understanding the ‘Spock Market’ – MSN Money

Investing legend Burton Malkiel on day-trading millennials and the end of the 60/40 portfolio – CNBC

How would investors react if we finally got some inflation? – A Wealth of Common Sense

More: Worried about inflation? Don’t change a thing – Bloomberg via Yahoo Finance

VAT has always been a stealth tax – it’s about time we cut it – Guardian

Bonds have lost their superpower status, driving funds into alternative assets – CFA Institute

[Brings new meaning to side hustle] The man who runs his wife’s OnlyFans account – Guardian

Mr Money Mustache talks retiring earlier and punching Covid-19 in the face – The Motley Fool

Deuce [Happy birthday!]Indeedably

Naughty corner: Active antics

Even if you don’t like it, you have to accept the Fed is a player – The Reformed Broker

How to find quality companies producing consistent and sustainable growth – UK Value Investor

Always worth reading Cullen Roche’s take on the market – Pragmatic Capitalism

European Opportunities Trust: whacked by Wirecard – IT Investor

The performance of hedge fund performance fees [Research paper]SSRN (h/t Abnormal Returns)

Coronavirus corner

From nose to toe, the Covid-19 virus attacks like no other ‘respiratory’ infection – Stat News

Dexamethasone and the Recovery Trial’s high-speed science – Wired

Coronavirus death rates falling in hospitals – BBC News

Weddings of up to 30 people will be allowed from early July, but restrictions are still in place – Which?

A brief look at viral seasonal dynamics [Video, cherry picking?] – Ivor Cummins via YouTube

“I hereby declare this pandemic over!”The Escape Artist

Why the hell did lockdown have to end? [Song, video, funny]YouTube

Kindle book bargains

Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore The Obvious by Margaret Heffernan – £0.99 on Kindle

Escape To The Farmhouse by Jo Thomas – £0.99 on Kindle

Why We Work by Barry Schwartz – £0.99 on Kindle

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

Off our beat

Tim Harford: The risk of harm and the greater good [Search result]FT

Why it’s so damn hot in the Arctic right now – Vox

Tea, biscuits, and empire: The long con of Britishness – Longreads

US woman sparks trans-Atlantic tea war with hostile brew – Guardian

You’re showering too much – The Atlantic

And finally…

“Investing isn’t about beating others at their game. It’s about controlling yourself at your own game.”
– Ben Graham, The Intelligent Investor

Like these links? Subscribe to get them every Friday!

  1. Note some articles can only be accessed through the search results if you’re using PC/desktop view (from mobile/tablet view they bring up the firewall/subscription page). To circumvent, switch your mobile browser to use the desktop view. On Chrome for Android: press the menu button followed by “Request Desktop Site”. []
{ 102 comments… add one }
  • 1 NewInvestor June 26, 2020, 10:00 pm

    The link for “NS&I reveals savers cost it £887m last year, as borrowing costs were so low – ThisIsMoney” is incorrect (a duplicate of the SMH Cardwire link).

  • 2 The Investor June 26, 2020, 10:47 pm

    @NewInvestor — Thanks so much! Fixed now.

  • 3 Marco June 26, 2020, 11:21 pm

    Lol, loved the lockdown song. Only introverts will understand. Speaking of which, having 2 young kids at home all the time is very hard for introverts too.

  • 4 Matthew June 27, 2020, 6:25 am

    As a mostly passive I enjoy a good brag about how humble I am :p
    You do get one group feeling superior than others – ie daytrading seeing indexes as “dumb money”, and vice versa. Really though us financials are otherwise weedy little people who need something macho to brag about for our self esteem, to feel like a providor in a hunter gatherer sense (gathering at tescos)

    Personal circumstances should be listened to I suppose to understand intergenerational issues

  • 5 JimJim June 27, 2020, 6:47 am

    Reading the stats, what stood out for me was the gender equality ones, pretty much not what I was expecting especially as it was similar in most age profiles. The other stat. that interested me was chart 5, £10,000 – 19999 income band. Most accounts and a high spot on the curve for value. I wonder if this includes self employed people who pay themselves in dividends and declare a small income – and perhaps ISA rich retirees?

  • 6 Matthew June 27, 2020, 7:15 am

    @jim – I wasnt sure what to expect gender wise because women may generally earn less, but are known to be more cautious with money, it may also be that if the husband does earn more that is lost on bills etc. Both genders spend for different reasons – some men like cars, some women like clothes (and cars) – both can like bling (ie mr T) – its hard to judge which can be mire spendthrift

    Also at the higher end you will get either partner trying to make use of the others allowance, and with pensions too you want to make full use of tax bands

  • 7 Vanguardfan June 27, 2020, 7:47 am

    Well I pored over that ISA report but wasn’t sure what to conclude, too many moving parts and no analysis of multiple variables (age and income need separating out for a start). Of course the obvious relationship between age and wealth is evident. My main conclusion is that for people with wealth/savings, income is not a very useful indicator.

    I note the escape artist seems to have shut down comments, so I will just note here that I found his choice of cartoon supremely ironic.

    I also find it slightly alarming how quickly (some) people think the pandemic is ‘over’ and that we ‘over-reacted’. The further we travel through and the more we learn, the more it seems to me that optimism about the virus disappearing/attenuating/somehow being something we have dealt with in the past seems misplaced. My timeline for return to ‘normality’ is getting stretched further and further into the future. In January I probably thought it wouldn’t be a big issue for the UK. In March I thought six months was a cautious timeframe for being over the worst. Now I think that this winter and probably January/Feb could be the worst time in the UK, and that internationally there look to be some major disasters in the making in populous poorer countries. It seems to me fairly obvious that simple but crude distancing measures work well to contain transmission, and indeed are the main factor restraining the epidemic at present (locally and globally), and the virus will spread in direct correlation to the extent that people distance/reduce social contact. I am beginning to think that the nightmare scenario of waves necessitating successive tightening and relaxing of distancing measures might not be so wide of the mark. And that we will see more disparities in virus flare ups between population groups who can and will to choose to protect themselves (the richer and older) and those who cannot, or choose not to (the young and the financially precarious). Testing times for social cohesion and democracy, and surely therefore, for the health of economies. Before you even start on climate change (scary Vox article).

    In the light of this, I find the stock market behaviour totally inexplicable. But hey, the market is bound to be more right than lil ol me, yes? So I’m staying the course with my passive portfolio. @TI I’d be interested, given that you were an early mover in anticipating big impact on markets from covid, what you think now?

  • 8 Vanguardfan June 27, 2020, 7:52 am

    I also think therefore that we are moving towards the scenario long advocated by TI and others, that young people will go out and get infected in large number, while older people attempt to avoid infection. It will be interesting to see if this kind of segregation-by-choice does actually ‘work’ (assuming the desired outcome is lower deaths while maximising economic and social activity).

  • 9 ceratonia June 27, 2020, 7:58 am

    Loved the longreads piece about Britain, lots to think about there. Rhondda, not Rhonda though (‘dd’ in Welsh is pronounced like the th in thing).

  • 10 Playing with Fire June 27, 2020, 8:21 am

    We are a strange bunch with the things that we brag about aren’t we?!

    I find it unfathomable that the number of subscribers to Cash ISAs is so high, and doesn’t seem to have significantly reduced following the Personal Savings Allowance in 2016. Cash ISAs make sense for money that is destined for an S&S ISA but doing duty as an e-fund in the short term and when rates are reasonable (after tax if necessary), but have few other uses.

    “Tea, biscuits, and empire” was a great read. The author really captured the strange sensation when two nearly opposite ideas are both true.

    I don’t recommend the Anti-Procrastination Mindset, I found the writing very clunky and dated so I couldn’t get through the first 10 pages.

  • 11 Vanguardfan June 27, 2020, 8:26 am

    Btw that Ivor Cummings video is so scurrilously unscientific that it’s hardly worthy of a link, except as a reminder of how easy it is to peddle such stuff. (Here’s three countries I’ve chosen to confirm my beliefs, together with a fancy graph and reference to an expert). Btw seasonality is something generally observed in established endemic viruses. I’ve no doubt seasonal effects will be important for transmission, we already know that spread is much more likely indoors and in colder environments.

  • 12 FI Warrior June 27, 2020, 8:34 am

    Those ISAs like all savings may soon look very different when the full costs of the lockdown have to be squared after the media-friendly delays in payment. Then we’ll see how patient young people are about taking the brunt of the suffering as usual while not having enjoyed the good times. I remember the London riots a few years ago and was shocked at the time having been in Clapham junction just the day before it was trashed but felt no hint at the potential. It was unnerving that everyone seemed normal even though just a few hours separated the two states of being, mundane activity and chaos.

  • 13 Vanguardfan June 27, 2020, 8:37 am

    @playing with FIRE, the vast majority of people have only cash savings. You’d be surprised (I was!) how many people amass quite sizeable savings and have no concept of investing.

    Further, the zero rated band for savings income is relatively recent (five years ish?), before that any taxpayer would have been taxed on interest, so putting your cash savings in an ISA was a pretty sensible thing to do. So I’m not at all surprised that at those cash ISA figures -most households with some savings probably have one.

    (I get some insight into how the general population saves from working for Pensionwise. There are really a quite a number of people with six figures of cash savings carefully built up over a lifetime’s work in averagely paid employment…)

  • 14 Snowman June 27, 2020, 8:56 am

    The point of the seasonal dynamics video is to point out that coronaviruses are typically seasonal in nature as is the influenza virus, and the resulting seasonal patterns in the southern hemisphere, northern hemisphere, northern tropics and southern tropics have been known and studied for many decades as per Hope Simpson’s pioneering data driven work over 50 years. We may not know exactly all the causal factors and interactions that determine those seasonal dynamics, but we have observed the resulting seasonality for years.

    And in the chart from the medscape article included in the video, coronaviruses occur usually a few months after influenza viruses (in the northern hemisphere)

    Covid-19 has hit countries at roughly the same latitude (e.g. Italy) slightly late, but still roughly at the time of year we would expect, and then moved to the tropics (e.g. Brazil), and not really hit the Southern hemisphere (e.g. Australia and New Zealand) with any force so far, just as we would expect of a coronavirus exhibiting typical seasonal dynamics.

    And yet there seems to have been an assumption throughout that covid-19 either does not exhibit seasonal characteristics, as it’s a ‘novel’ virus it probably won’t be seasonal, or that seasonal aspects are irrelevant despite coronaviruses generally being seasonal and covid-19 data strongly suggesting a seasonal pattern to us. It’s like most of the experts are seeing something that looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck in front of them, and assuming it’s a crocodile until they get conclusive proof otherwise.

    How often has seasonality been discussed by most of the scientists if at all? And is it not striking that the shape of the graphs of deaths against time across countries in northern Europe have gone upwards at roughly the same time at roughly the same latitudes, had a big spike for two or three months, and then deaths have declined in such a uniformly steady way regardless of how lockdown measures have been released. It’s not just about seasonality of course but that seems to be a major part.

    So I wouldn’t take the transposition of the very simple Hope Simpson bar charts onto the Italy/Brazil graphs too literally, or spend time debating whether Ivor Cummins should have chosen other countries. While I understand those comments, it’s missing the point. Better to see it as a communicative device, with a big dose of frustration and humour thrown in (it nearly made me fall off my chair laughing at the end) to say in a short 2 minute video, hang on this covid-19 thingy is showing classic seasonality dynamics, why on earth can’t you see the obvious and at least discuss it?

    The longer video linked to in the video description produced over a month ago gives a more detailed discussion of the seasonality dynamics.

  • 15 xxd09 June 27, 2020, 9:49 am

    I think Vanguard,s remark -“I find the Stockmarket,s behaviour totally inexplicable” most revealing
    We as Investors must learn to cope / invest with what appears an inherently fluid/fast moving/unstable etc etc situation
    Of course it was always so
    It just seems to be more unstable in some times than others -like now
    Covid is an unpleasant little beggar
    However it seems to focus mainly on the old and younger people with underlying conditions
    If you get it -some seem to be very slow to recover-5000 cases?
    The rest of us have to carry on and carry on investing
    The inflexion point of disease precautions versus economic collapse seems to have been reached
    The people seem to taking matters into their own hands whether it’s a protest/riot or going to the beach
    Boris is just about keeping up. Nicola sits comfortably just behind the curve
    Properly structured Portfolios have all recovered
    On to the next crisis!

  • 16 ChesterDog June 27, 2020, 9:51 am

    Typo alert:

    “…they can get buy on £18,000…”

    It’s pleasingly apt when the typos have a financial flavour to them.

  • 17 Banker On FIRE June 27, 2020, 10:03 am

    Another good set of links (and thanks for the feature!)

    Over and above comments above, one other challenge with ISA stats is that people’s incomes vary widely, even over a period of a few years. This is very true in my industry (an average managing director lasts less than two years) but am sure applies to other sectors as well.

    That being said, encouraging to see people take greater advantage of tax-deferred vehicles over time in your first graph.


  • 18 The Investor June 27, 2020, 10:06 am

    @ChesterDog — Eek, two errors in the same post! Thanks. I may need to try again to scale back compiling these links. This effort took the whole of Friday, pretty much, and I was too cross-eyed by the end to do a proper final proof.

    @all — Thanks for the comments so far! I want to get away from the screen for at least a few hours today, but will circle back later with a few thoughts. 🙂

  • 19 Xailter June 27, 2020, 10:23 am

    I do find it interesting that the (N)ISA yearly limit is so high – the vast majority of people in the UK don’t earn nearly enough to be able to have a spare £20k to chuck into savings / investments a year after rent / mortgage and bills. It wasn’t so long ago the max was about £7k and when I started my first job I just about managed to fill it (earning £25k gross).

    It’s a great boon if you have the income to make use of the full allowance every year – but I do wonder sometimes if it’s too generous a tax perk to higher earners (and I say that as someone who takes full advantage of it).

  • 20 Matthew June 27, 2020, 10:27 am

    @xailter – someone on a low income might recieve a big inheritence and then take a few years to isa and pension it – if theyre on a low income they are limited in what they can put into pension, and by the time they do inherit they probably wont have much mortgage to otherwise put the money to work

  • 21 ermine June 27, 2020, 10:51 am

    Those ISA amounts look a fair way lower than I would expect. Obviously younger folk haven’t had years of accumulation but even looking at the headline figures for the over 65s they still seem lower than I’ve have expected. We are on a FI/RE blog, so perhaps that’s normal, as you said in the intro, a fascinating insight!

  • 22 The Rhino June 27, 2020, 10:55 am

    @TI have you thought about joining forces with the fire shrink for weekly links? He’s doing a very similar job, could be synergies as they say

  • 23 Matthew June 27, 2020, 11:13 am

    @ermine – mortgage overpayments could be lowering the numbers, considering that for many thats the only place to dump money they see – either cash or mortgage

    I suppose for the older what they accumulated in cash hasnt been keeping up with the tremendous inflation theres been in their lifetime, and maybe approaching retirement they spend what they dont need on cruises, new kitchens, etc

  • 24 The Rhino June 27, 2020, 11:22 am

    Apologies if it’s a vulgar question but I’m going to ask it anyway…

    Has anyone here managed to hit a 7 figure ISA yet?

  • 25 FIRE v London June 27, 2020, 11:31 am

    The dominance of Cash ISAs is somewhat depressing. I’m not sure I understand most of it – since the interest tax free allowance was introduced in 2016, what exactly is the point of using a Cash ISA? Getting £1k of interest in the current interest rates environment needs a great deal of money saved!

    Can you subsequently turn a Cash ISA into a S&S ISA? If so then that makes more sense to me, under the Use It Or Lose It nature of the scheme.

  • 26 xeny June 27, 2020, 12:23 pm

    @25 – yes, you can do a Cash -> S&S ISA transfer. In my experience it is thankfully a faster process than a S&S transfer.

  • 27 Marco June 27, 2020, 12:42 pm

    I have a theory as to why earners in the 10 – 19k have high ISA savings.

    1) could mostly be in a family with one high earner who fills both ISAs

    2) the 10 – 19k is mostly investment/pension income so they are asset rich

  • 28 ZXSpectrum48k June 27, 2020, 12:57 pm

    @Rhino. ISAs started in 99/00. The total amount you could have contributed is £206,560. So to hit £1mm requires a return of about 15.5%/annum; punchy given equity returns in the 2000s were fairly dismal. Many who exceed £1mm often include their PEP contributions which started in 1987.

    Personally, my ISA is above £1mm but that’s because I cheated and swerved £700k+ from my pension into the ISA using option structures. Without the swerve, my ISA would still be below £1mm. In USD terms, my ISA return since 99/00 is just 10.5%, compared to overall returns on my portfolio of 12%, and that’s post tax.

    For me the ISA tax advantage simply hasn’t offset the inflexibility of what you can/cannot invest in via an ISA. We allow retail investors to loan money via an P2P IFISA into speculative property developments, one of the highest risk fixed income credit trades you can imagine. Or stick toxic mini-bonds into ISAs. Yet when you want to buy a constrained downside call/put option on the S&P or buy a low-risk hedge fund that’s considered too risky. It’s sort of insane.

  • 29 Vanguardfan June 27, 2020, 1:00 pm

    @marco are you reading the same graph I’m reading? Pot size increases with income level. The number of people with an ISA is highest in the £10-19k income group – not the amount invested. That’s because there are a lot of people in that income bracket, and I agree this peak in number of holders may largely reflect pensioners. But that’s what I mean – too many confounders to say much about any crude univariate association.

  • 30 Matthew June 27, 2020, 1:03 pm

    Low earners might also be saving for a house/flat purchase too, needing thousands, and might use a help to buy/lisa

    For a lot of people though with cash isas its not just fear of investing, they don’t even generally have a good savings account, it’s just inertia – they were told once that their cash isa was a competitive account at the time and they just never switched out of it

    Good for us though, they’re not making our investments more expensive – if they can’t be bothered to persue a decent rate or learn to invest then let them pay the price for our benefit on an individual level, if they saw the power of compound interest they might become frugal and not consume, and yields would be even lower for us

  • 31 ZXSpectrum48k June 27, 2020, 2:30 pm

    Have to say this and you can ban me. The TEA article is disgusting. Honestly, his attitude is so anti-science, so anti-mathematical modelling. The guy has zero scientific background but he think he knows better than academic experts. The “real epidemiologists were full of shit”. What? Of course without “full of shit” medical scientists, he probably wouldn’t be alive because life expectancies would still be 40.

    Zero mathematical modelling experience yet he thinks he can put down all mathematical modelling as useless. “Mathematical models are only impressive to those people that have never built them”. What the hell would he know about modelling. He’s was just a bloody accountant. That wouldn’t doesn’t even qualify as financial modelling experience. Of course without those mathematical models he wouldn’t be writing this nonsense on a computer … because it wouldn’t have been invented. Try living a modern life when nobody understand “useless models” like Newtonian mechanics, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics. Not going to happen mate.

    Quote “the problem with academics is that they don’t have skin in the game. In other words, they have safe jobs and don’t get fired when they’re wrong. And they’re wrong a lot.” What the hell does he know about academia? That’s another zero. I’m in finance like he was. Life in finance is infinitely less stressful than academia. It’s a bloody doddle. Obscenely better pay, better job security. No killing yourself for a decade on the post-doc track, hoping for tenure. These academics are worth 100x people like him or I. We’re just do BS jobs. These people actually matter.

    This guy pretends to be some philosopher-savant but he’s just a lifestyle guru, a snakeoil salesperson selling mystical nonsense to the weak-minded.

  • 32 Vanguardfan June 27, 2020, 2:37 pm

    @ZX, I know it’s not the forum, but since the guy has prevented scrutiny on his own site, I have to say hear hear.
    The amount of anti-science claptrap that is being spouted by people is alarming and dangerous (i put the Ivor video in the same category, lots more I could rebut about that. But I won’t).

  • 33 The Investor June 27, 2020, 3:01 pm

    Have to say this and you can ban me. The TEA article is disgusting. Honestly, his attitude is so anti-science, so anti-mathematical modelling.

    As I often say, I include plenty of links in here that I don’t agree with, if I think they’re in some way reflective of how a lot of people are thinking, make me think, or give me clues as to how other people are thinking (especially if there’s a market angle, which isn’t the case here).

    There’s little denying the lockdown/virus debate has bifurcated. I still find myself somewhere in the middle, as with most things (except Brexit, though I’ve really tried to at least understand the other side’s better motivations) and I know plenty of readers think his way.

    You’ll have to do a lot more than a sensible well-argued response to get banned from here my friend. 🙂

  • 34 D June 27, 2020, 3:22 pm

    I’ve got to say I stopped reading The Escape Artist site some time ago, but as there was a link on the Weekend Reading and I’m interested in the Coronavirus I thought I’d give it another go. But that article really “pushed my buttons” and I found myself reacting in the same way as when I read any material that’s clearly designed for that purpose (Daily Mail, etc). I hope I resist the temptation to visit his site again because it just winds me up for no reason – the anti-science and attacks on the media reminded me of Trump’s tirades against “Fake News”! I wouldn’t worry about the comments being disabled as I doubt anything you write would be published unless it said something like “Great article” – and somewhere on Monevator there was a discussion on precisely that subject a while back.

    There are some really high quality articles on the Escape Artist from its early days, with many clearly inspired by Mr Money Mustache. I met the site’s owner at one of the events he organised in London, and he seemed to have a grand plan to disseminate the FIRE concepts more widely, but was lamenting the lack of support from other popular financial bloggers, so maybe he gave up on that idea.

    His site seems to have taken a strange turn with the more recent incendiary articles on controversial subjects like sexual equality. I can only assume this is for some dubious financial reason linked to hits and reader engagement. But you have to wonder why he bothers as he’s already a rich man and is hardly covering himself in glory.

  • 35 ermine June 27, 2020, 4:20 pm

    @ Matthew
    > Low earners might also be saving for a house/flat purchase too, needing thousands, and might use a help to buy/lisa

    Isn’t that one good application of a cash ISA? You get a 20% bung from the gov, and hopefully the target deposit amount is in say five-ish years or thereabouts, where arguably the stock market isn’t the right place for the capital due to the short time horizon.

    A 20% uplift over say 5 years is 4% p.a. Not riveting in other times, but better than anything else you can do with cash at the mo

    ZXSpectrum48k: I want to start your fan club 😉

  • 36 Matthew June 27, 2020, 4:47 pm

    TEA didn’t back up what he said, which in itself would make me not trust that, but I am curious as to why doubting experts generates such intense feeling – almost like “I worked and studied incredibly hard and you didn’t, how dare you question me” but the public don’t see the hoops you jumped through or why you conclude what you do, they don’t know that you are impartial, and in a democracy the unimformed masses do have the vote, or at least an opinion, and there is no system on the internet or media to rate opinions by valudity.

    I think in cases like TEA he oppposes lockdown but you don’t have to necessarily deny the numbers to do that, just find better ways to articulate things; I e how much living do you sacrifice to preserve life? – Theres a balance to be struck between safety and freedom/economy. Also saying X number of deaths is not as informative as number of years lost / quantifying the quality of life affected – covid deaths cost fewer years of living than the spanish flu did, but in our society all deaths are treated the same

  • 37 Learner June 27, 2020, 6:05 pm

    > My main conclusion is that for people with wealth/savings, income is not a very useful indicator.

    Agree. Comparison on some single metric or other really is pointless. Finance reddit regularly has “post your income and city” type surveys as if this identifies wealth/security/class while ignoring dominant factors like housing, inheritance, pensions, college debt.

  • 38 Learner June 27, 2020, 6:10 pm

    For all the bluster, TEA gives the game away at the end

    > And, if I’m wrong and I now catch CV-19 and die, well…shit happens and I did warn you that I’m not an epidemiologist.

  • 39 NewInvestor June 27, 2020, 6:12 pm

    @ZXSpectrum48k #31 and @D #34

    Glad it’s not just me. For some reason, in the year or so I’ve been coming to this site and following links, I had never been to TEA’s until a week or so ago. I spent a few hours reading through some of his posts.

    As D says, it has some genuinely useful material on there but he seems to have descended into rant posts in more recent times, none backed by any evidence, just self-opinionated dross (I take this as a warning of what can happen when one becomes FI and answer to no one anymore). The one that got me in particular was his idea that sun block is not only unnecessary but invented “to allow package holidays for office-based lab rats…” Moreover, he was affronted that schools might try to advise/protect their pupils somehow (he didn’t actually specify what the schools had actually said/done so one can’t form an opinion as to whether their actions were reasonable or not).

  • 40 JimJim June 27, 2020, 6:24 pm

    I follow TEA because a lot of the time he talks sense, but then we all have our moments. He is a little off on this one for my own beliefs but he still has value to me, his opinion may not be my own but it does not mean he is necessarily wrong or misguided, just opinionated. I don’t think he has called it right (I could be wrong) but it will not stop me reading him. I am two minded on the way to go on corona virus, but mainly fall towards the way New Zealand handled it. Early and completely. What that means for opening up to the rest of the world is another matter. Thanks ZX for voicing this. I think you have a point.

  • 41 The Wobbler June 27, 2020, 6:43 pm

    As a small business owner, together with The Missus, we both pay ourselves to the NI limit and take divi’s for the rest. We also max out our ISA’s each year and use them as our main savings/FIRE/retirement vehicle aside from contributing to a work pension at a lower level. I suspect that I can’t be alone in this as small business owners (or, at least, careful ones) are often thinking about the potential pitfalls of small businesses being more fragile than larger ones. If my pension soaked up the majority of my spare cash, I might be exposed should the worst happen and I can, at least, access my ISA’s to provide an income.

    Perhaps this can help to explain the increase ISA pots from lower earners, if dividend income is not counted? Monevator posts seem to assume that most people are salaried and have a work place pension with employer contributions. Is anyone else in my position?

    Btw, completely agree about TEA and I have read ERN blogs during the pandemic that have been quite unpalatable too.

  • 42 Sparschwein June 27, 2020, 7:11 pm

    I want to applaud @ZXSpectrum’s rant. The amount of anti-scientific nonsense around Covid is astonishing, and it is getting ever more difficult to bear. To quote the latest Science magazine editorial: “…there is a massive, churning, finely tuned digital misinformation machine that has seized social media to ensure that a portion of the population doesn’t accept science.”

    So the TEA hit piece got its well-deserved thrashing, and the Cummins video deserves the same. The guy has *zero* qualification in virology or epidemiology, and his video is a textbook example how to abuse data for propagandistic purpose:
    – extreme cherry-picking
    – Covid-19 = influenza?? (different kinds of virus, for the millionth time FFS)
    – correlation = causation??
    – extreme oversimplification (let’s reduce a complex process to just the one factor we like!)

    If it really is a question if social distancing “worked”, then instead of listening to such charlatans one could read the studies from actual experts e.g.

    Again, from the Science editorial: “The scientific community is losing the battle against misinformation.”
    At least we can keep calling out the BS.

  • 43 Sparschwein June 27, 2020, 7:49 pm

    If it really is a question if social distancing “worked”, then instead of listening to such charlatans one could read the studies from actual experts.
    (Posting links here doesn’t seem to work.)

    Again, from the Science editorial: “The scientific community is losing the battle against misinformation.”
    At least we can keep calling out the BS.

  • 44 Marco June 27, 2020, 8:00 pm

    The chart has a double Y axis

  • 45 Cantseethewoodsforthetrees June 27, 2020, 8:36 pm

    @zxspectrum48k completely agree with your comments re TEA article. On a separate comment could you share a little more about the options you used to transfer pension to ISA please? Is this route still open to people?

    Not enough is known or reported on the longer term consequences of covid. A lot of focus on those dying or in hospital but there’s very little on those with ‘mild’ symptoms some of whom are taking months to recover with no end in sight I understand. I hear it’s not like the flu at all and is really taking it out of some. There’s nothing similar to that in the uk you can get from just breathing next to someone. It’s worth remaining cautious until more is known in my view even if the risks of catching it are low.

  • 46 Seeking Fire June 27, 2020, 8:46 pm

    I recognise I haven’t a clue. Introspection prevents me from taking unwise courses of action even if I may sound off a little. Don’t listen to what someone say, observe what they do. Seems a bit early to claim CV is in full retreat. A likely scenario seems a second bout of this in the Autumn / Winter as seasonality plays a part, social distancing breaks down etc with hospitals better prepared and local measures taken. Young have to get on with it / old shield as Vanguard Fan says. This doesn’t seem like a V shaped recovery more of an Zig Zag. Plan for the worst hope for the best. P/F wise – £ seems increasingly less stable per the article (Brexit / Persistent Current Account Deficit / CV). I feel (note my first sentence) that tail risks in the UK are rising and accordingly I measure wealth in $ as well as £ to minimise smoke and mirrors and have allocated liquidity to $. That’s not to say the $ isn’t challenged just feels like the £ is closer to the gurgler. Equities seem expensive but the nominal risk free rate’s zero / wall street is not the high street and do I really know more than others? And so throughout all of this…..I’ve done absolutely nothing at all allocation wise even though volatility has risen. As for bloggers – there seems to be a fairly easy way to tell if someone is worth following in the PF world. If they are a bit suspect they’ll tend to say all you need to do is acquire 25x your annual income and you are done for ever. The good ones, like this one, will say let’s have a chat about this…..

  • 47 Playing with Fire June 27, 2020, 9:26 pm

    @Vanguardfan #13 Yes, I agree that there are many people who have vast cash savings, my point was that this is unlikely to be optimal for most of them, and it’s a shame. The new contributions into Cash ISAs didn’t drop significantly after the change in tax on savings so it isn’t just the legacy money. It’s a lot of spending power being eroded by inflation.

  • 48 The Rhino June 27, 2020, 9:28 pm

    @ZX yes I was thinking of allowing pre 99 rollover of peps tessas.

    So did you buy some option in your ISA off yourself from your pension which you somehow knew would massively appreciated in value?

    So we have one ISA millionaire at least. I think even ones pretty good going.

    I was going to go of and mathematically model when I might get there but was reminded that mathematical models are horse shit so I won’t bother

    My current 58k ISA allowance is insane. How it can be seen as anything other than a tax break for the exceedingly wealthy is now really beyond me. Maybe it’s the Ying to the relatively massively constrained pension Yang? (I’m thinking the enormous reductions in annual and lifetime allowances)

  • 49 NewInvestor June 27, 2020, 9:57 pm

    @The Rhino

    I was going to go of and mathematically model when I might get there but was reminded that mathematical models are horse shit so I won’t bother

    Just as well you didn’t: 95% of spreadsheets in business have errors so it’s unlikely that you would have got it right. 😉

  • 50 FIRE v London June 27, 2020, 10:50 pm

    Erm, maybe I’m the one who needs banning…. and yes I’m definitely a fully paid-up member of the ZX48k fan club too. But I read the TEA article after seeing these comments and, erm, thought it made set of reasonable points.

    I know academia well. I know financial modelling, and its pitfalls, 95% well. I don’t know epidemiology well but I do know and dislike difficult-to-rely-on software (https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/forget-ferguson-s-personal-failures-it-s-his-science-that-needs-scrutiny). I know the difference between 1st order and 2nd order (and it’s nothing to do with dessert). And I too find the Health & Safety-ism culture alarming.

    I don’t think Maitlis/Peston etc have been clowns but I don’t follow the broadcast media much. Morgan’s antics certainly seem less clown-like than his Trump worship was before that.

    Anyway, I thought TEA’s blog was a decent contribution to the blog debate and am surprised by the vitriol it seems to have provoked. I don’t read TEA routinely these days but am grateful to this blog and its comments for drawing this post to my attention. I think TEA deserves a lot of credit for his leadership in the blogosphere/FIRE/etc community and his post doesn’t change my view.

    I’ll just have to agree to disagree with some of the fine folk commenting above.

  • 51 Fatbritabroad June 27, 2020, 11:33 pm

    It doesn’t surprise me the level of isa investing tbh. It could just be the level of financial education in the general populous tbh. I knew enough to know the personal allowance made the cash isa obsolete 8 years ago but not enough to twig that I should also be investing in a s and s isa. And I work in finance (insurance but still I have access to ifas at work in the same office.) it took me till then for the penny to drop that Isas are effectively the opposite of pensions and just a box. And that as I had been gaily prioritising pensions and never given it a thought throughout the ups and downs of the market why would I not also use Isas. This simple knowledge was the single biggest light bulb moment for me and I know for a fact alot haven’t made the connection from the ‘investing is risky you could lose money’ mantra despite auto enrolment meaning virtually everyone is now an investor. If me as an obsessive about this stuff had only got as far as knowing I should be making the most of general cash saving and getting the highest interest what hope for the general population

  • 52 Fatbritabroad June 27, 2020, 11:38 pm

    Made the cash isa obsolete for me personally I should say. And I was ‘investing’ but really gambling with a small amount of money on single shares as I knew no better. Reading John bogles book opened my eyes enough that all but my emergency fund is now invested and I was able to weather the recent down turn in 100% equities despite being more than my annual salary down (bar a wobble about holding enough cash)

  • 53 xxd09 June 28, 2020, 12:06 am

    It does seem that the art/science of investing are much the same as the art/science of medicine
    I was veterinary surgeon for 34 years-my fixed medical points kept moving!
    God does not live in the laboratory.It is fortunately/fortunately inhabited by human beings with all the foibles that entails
    Science (and Investing )is based on hypotheses that have to be continually re-evaluated as new facts emerge
    The saddest fact of our present situation is that people take up fixed positions and will not debate the fast moving fluid situation we are currently in and that doesn’t work apart from not being scientific -as I understand science
    The hardest hit part of the population are the children who are not at risk ,have no vote but will cope because children are tough -it’s just very sad for them (I have 8 grandchildren)
    There is no holy grail-keep debating !

  • 54 FI Warrior June 28, 2020, 6:27 am

    @FIRE v London, I agree with your analysis of the TEA article and am guessing others do even if it’s the minority report, but in times of great fear, nobody wants to stick their head above the parapet and even ask questions. In the past we’ve seen that experts can be found to line up on both sides whatever the debate, so its understandable if some now doubt their integrity or even competence. (and the irony of this brexit govt. professing to respect the guidance of experts is simply beyond parody)

  • 55 Snowman June 28, 2020, 7:50 am

    Wise words from xxdo9 indeed.

    The Ivor Cummins video was excellent as an expression of his frustration that the science wasn’t being discussed. But it is important to watch it alongside his excellent scientific discussion linked to in the video description with Rahul Kalippurayil Moozhipurath based on his pre-print paper Evidence of Protective Role of Ultraviolet-B (UVB) Radiation in Reducing COVID-19 Deaths. Yes real science. And science includes critical evaluation of ideas that don’t conform with the consensus, our biases or our prior beliefs. Have the lessons from the treatment of Ignaz Semmelweis in relation to hand washing, ironically something most agree on as a preventative measure in relation to covid-19, been learned? Despite Semmelweis’s publications of results that hand washing reduced childbed fever mortality to below 1%, his observations conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions of the time and his ideas were rejected by the medical community.

    And let’s stop this eminence based we should only listen to the views of the Annointed, and I’m a scientist and you’re not nonsense. Take experience into account by all means, but not at the expense of failing to discuss any alternative data driven and well constructed and evidenced ideas derived from studies of scientific papers.

    I guess it is easier to make an angry strawman comment about the 2 minute video rather than to look at the actual science itself. If you watch that full discussion you will hear a healthy scientific discussion accepting uncertainties and not mixing association and causation amongst other things. And a common major factor connecting different viral infections is hypothesised as relating to vitamin D status, and in simple terms this may explain how the appearance of covid-19 outbreaks by latitudes appears in similar seasonal patterns experienced over the years with influenza outbreaks.

  • 56 Richard June 28, 2020, 8:00 am

    Nearly everyone has a certain amount of bias. Perhaps you hate this government because of Brexit and it can do no right. Perhaps you feel you are being hurt financially by lockdown so will argue till you are blue in the face that it should be lifted / shouldn’t have happened. Perhaps you are being hurt financially or even at greater risk of dying because the lockdown did not happen fast enough or hard enough and will argue till you are blue in the face the other way. Experts are usually troted in to support a position already formed. I for one am not sure there is a clear right answer as everything is hazy and unknown at the moment. Time will tell, but even then I find it hard to blame people who had very difficult and unknown decisions to make if they didn’t get it 100% right.

    One other thing is that even experts can have their own agendas. They generally can take positions on issues as they often don’t have to take any risk of the consequences of those positions (other than say the CMO). If they are right it could be career making – every business is showbusiness, even academia….

  • 57 two shillings and sixpence June 28, 2020, 8:35 am

    Was listening to a podcast on the “What’s the point of blood types”
    which was discussing different blood types. The possibility that your blood type can make you more or less resistant to an infection like COVID. Another piece of the COVID puzzle


  • 58 The Investor June 28, 2020, 9:41 am

    Thanks for the excellent discussion so far.

    Re: ISAs, excellent discussion. Good point @Matthew about Lifetime / Help to Buy ISAs factoring in at that lower cohort, I am sure you must be right. Like others I was surprised by the low numbers here. Of course most people have few/no savings, but this is the subset of people who *do* have savings (and presumably an ability to save). I guess this is why Monevator is a popular niche site, as opposed to an Internet juggernaut. 😉

    Regarding Covid-19, lockdowns, and so forth. As I said up the thread, this debate long ago became bifurcated and is now increasingly emotionally loaded. So it’s not enough to disagree with somebody — they must be reckless, stupid, murderers, ignorant, terrified, cowards, snowflakes, etc.

    The reality is the science is still uncertain. Yes we seem to see some extremely strong trends/indicators, but everyone who has followed this knows much remains unproven. Funnily enough, it is often those who cling strongest to the authority of appointed scientists who also seem to denounce anything that’s unproven! Yet the scientific method is all about considering a range of possibilities and hypothesis.

    It would be one thing if we were talking about measles or mumps or some other centuries old disease. But we’re talking about a six month old disease, which has confounded experts in various ways, and where the policy responses are still not obviously 100% right or wrong.

    Take Sweden, everyone’s favourite punchbag. From where we’re standing now, I think it does look like they got it wrong and should have done a harder (though probably not ‘full’) lockdown at the start. But is this certain? No, not for me. I won’t list again all the counterfactuals, but they exist. Similarly we can all see the UK’s lockdown was, charitably, muddled and contradictory at the start, but was that really the difference between 1,000 deaths and 50,000? (Let alone Australia’s 104) That’s a stretch I think.

    It now seems Covid-19 was circulating in Barcelona in January; there’s a sketchy early finding (which seems unlikely to be verified) pointing to it in the water supply in March 2019! It seems very likely to me it was circulating here in January, too.

    I too found the Cummins video wanting. I included it because somebody who has contributed mightily to the discussion on this site suggested I did, but I added my qualifier in italics. It does seem reaching. However to condemn the concept of seasonality outright seems equally dogmatic — not least when our own experts say the risk of a second wave comes in Autumn / coincident with the influenza season! 🙂

    We are operating on the basis of a set of uncertainties, experts and amateurs alike. The former have the monopoly on making decisions and rightly so, but I think we’re all allowed to think about the science and what it means.

    As for proof, of course evidence/proof is not to be discounted/ignored. But let’s remember this virus began life (and I know, I was already on it!) as an odd virus that the world was assured did not spread from human-to-human (I think even the WHO said no proof of this, IIRC). From memory Taiwan said “screw that” and locked down anyway, as did several other Asian countries. They acted, in other words, on a balance of probabilities, before waiting for proof. Good for them, I fully agree, as things turned out. But I don’t think one can say “proven scientific fact is all that counts” on the one hand and “didn’t those countries do well to jump the gun?” on the other and be consistent.

    On the other hand, we have the Virus ‘deniers’, for want of a better word. The people who essentially argue that because lockdown worked, we didn’t need any lockdown after all! Clearly that’s fatuous, but their case has been made easier by the absolutism with which these things have been discussed.

    For instance, pointing out young people are very unlikely to be badly affected, versus “the virus does not discriminate” rhetoric. Somebody going for a walk in the countryside in lockdown being labelled a “murderer”. The public aren’t scientists, but they can see these absolutes don’t fit reality — behaviour that six weeks ago was damned as callous is now being urged on by the Prime Minister as a national duty. Yes we here understand that the R-number has fallen below 1 and it allows more flexibility, but firstly (a) people will die because we’ve loosened lockdown (although I’d argue people will be saved from other deaths, too) (b) nearly everyone, including scientists and financial types, are bad at exponentials. We counter that with over-simplification at our peril.

    I was lambasted on here early on for pointing out we make all kinds of accommodations with risk/death. “One death is too many” etc. Well one death is certainly a personal tragedy, however old and whatever the circumstances, but no, that’s not the way we run society, at all. We’d all be poorer (but perhaps happier?) if it was. As things stand, we are now trading deaths for an earlier release from lockdown, after all. Whether you see this as pragmatism, defeatism, or something in between will be a personal calibration, assuming you don’t make a living shouting on Twitter. 🙂

    The public looks at a disease that they were told could kill them all and then looks at the statistics and sees the average age of death is 81, who have a propensity to die compared to a 30 year old, and even then mostly in people with other things going on. Due to our response (mostly but not entirely warranted IMHO) we’re in the sharpest recession on record, and millions haven’t worked for months. People are literally *rioting* due to lockdown! Of course there’s going to be a range of opinions about all this.

    Yes it would be great (in this one respect!) if we all lived in a computer model and we weren’t really human beings, but the fact is we don’t, we are human beings, and on top of that the world we live in is chaotic, and reflexive. *Everything* is complicated. Both ‘sides’ would do well to concede that.

    None of which is to particular defend the tenor of @TEA’s post; there wasn’t massive amount of subtlety in it for my tastes. But I included it because as I say, I know plenty think that way, which is interesting in itself, and because it’s good for us to see how others are thinking. If a prominent member of our community is writing articles like this, there’s information in that, in other words.

    Similarly I know a couple of people who still won’t leave the house out of personal fear, and who think the entire world is gaslighting them when they see people on the beach at Brighton. The other extreme.

    Re: @Vanguard’s question about the economy and markets, well naturally I’m not sure! 🙂

    As you note, I do think like it or not the US and the UK have decided to tough it out without closing their economies fully again, for good or ill. I think there’s a decent chance we’ll see other economies end up having to do this if we keep seeing flare-ups as seem to be happening, albeit at a vastly smaller scale at present. One of my arguments against ‘full lockdown’ was that it was always going to be unsustainable, politically if not economically (and I think it is economically, personally) so all we were doing was probably to damage the economy more along the way to get where we’d end up anyway.

    Against that, treatment or at least outcomes are improving (see the article above, citing falling hospital death rates) and we’re probably inching closer to a vaccine.

    My early call on the markets/recession was a far simpler one — helped along by some inside knowledge of China, I saw a tsunami coming away that wasn’t AT ALL being factored into the markets. It’s impossible to say anything like that today. All the world has done is think about Covid-19 and the consequences for three months. Most of the money has been re-positioned to reflect this new reality, surely; those able / wanting to take more risk buying it, those wanting out selling it.

    My (FWIW!) observation day-to-day is that markets are behaving pretty rationally, leaving aside a few speculative stocks. Yes they seem a bit heady in pockets, but usually that’s where there’s an economic case to back it up; and underwriting everything is massive stimulus and ultra-ultra low rates.

    So we’re *probably* really quibbling about an extended V-shaped recovery versus a protracted U-shaped recovery. This sort of thing is IMHO hard to factor into short-term market moves/noise. Personally I still think the lockdown/recession is likely to be worse/more disruptive than many expected but I’m not adamant about that and it’s hard to price anyway.

    A year or two of lost earnings isn’t worth more than 5-10% for the average share; even less so for growth stocks based on very distant future earnings. At the stock level, of course, some companies will probably still go bust, but at the index level I don’t think we’re wildly out of whack, balancing up the chances of recovery with the potential downside.

    Personally I am being very tactical (e.g I went from more than 70% equities a few weeks ago to less than 60% right now) but naturally I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone.

  • 59 Sam June 28, 2020, 9:47 am

    @ermine. Completely agree with the benefits of the LISA. The bonus is actually 25% of contributions as well, with a max contribution of £4,000 equalling a bonus of £1,000. On top of this most Cash LISA options have around a 1% interest rate, so over that hypothetical 5 year period your annual return would be around 6%. Not shabby.

    The LISA is the only ISA variant I use myself at the moment as I am saving towards purchasing a first property. I thought about using a normal Cash ISA for my savings above the LISA contribution amount, but given how low the interest rates are I decided I’d just put it in Premium Bonds instead (maybe I’ll win a million!)

    One problem I did encounter when when first opening the LISA was that I was unsure whether I should opt for a S&S or Cash variant. Because my realistic time-frame for buying a property at the time of opening was 5-10 years, I was unsure whether this meant I should at least have some allocation to stocks. This initially led to me using a S&S variant, however I have now transferred to a Cash LISA. IMO, there needs to be more information for prospective LISA users as to what variant is best suited to their needs.

  • 60 Ruby June 28, 2020, 11:17 am

    Ivor Cummins is a bit off piste on covid as most of his work is promoting a low carb – high fat diet – the diet of champions! I follow him every so often and enjoy the fact he is prepared to swim against the tide of the prevailing medical wisdom. This is a characteristic in people which I feel has been grossly devalued in the covid debate. There are a good number of intelligent and serious minded scientists out there, Nobel Prize winners included, who have been shouted down and marginalised because they are offering theories which do not fit the prevailing narrative and all for a virus which no one had heard of a few years ago. The scientific community may describe themselves as inclusive but the modern definition of inclusive is rather to exclude all those who don’t agree and this has been rather dispiriting. Too many governments and academics are defending positions they took months ago, as to do otherwise would require an admission that ‘they didn’t know’ or ‘were wrong’, capital offences both in the modern world. HMG would advance markedly in my eyes if they were prepared to fess up to their failings but suspect I’ll be waiting a long time.
    @ The Investor – my cycling round London continues and I often plot a route simply to see what’s going on where. The West End remains deserted, Camden Market looks like its at 25%, The City empty, Islington busier but most non food/coffee shops look pretty deserted everywhere. An awful lot of masks too, even on people outside. The pop up pubs are looking well attended though so all’s not lost. So it looks like a long and stuttering recovery to me.

  • 61 Vanguardfan June 28, 2020, 11:45 am

    Just for the record, in my first criticism of the Cummins video I explicitly said that seasonal effects were likely to be important. And furthermore, I am sure that I have never heard Vallance, Whitty or any other Sage member state otherwise, so I am not at all sure who Snowman thinks is ignoring something in plain sight.

    My objection is that the video is clearly selecting data to argue a specific viewpoint, which is essentially that seasonality completely explains observed international differences in death rates, and that lockdown measures are completely ineffective.
    A balanced scientific discussion would, in my view, include the following:
    1. Acknowledgement that identifying the role of specific causal factors in what is clearly a multifactorial outcome is very difficult from observational studies (as opposed to controlled experiments), and so uncertainty is inherent
    2. Discussion of the range of possible explanations for observations – in this case, this might include differences in: recording deaths; how and when the epidemic started in a country; the age structure of the population; extent of population distancing and other changes to behaviour; as well as seasonality and government restrictions on movement, which are the only two factors discussed in the video.
    3. Justification for any conclusions reached, and level of certainty in those conclusions.
    But I guess that’s a bit nuanced and long and boring, and therefore doesn’t cut it on social media.

    And science is not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – in fact in those terms you could say science is always wrong, because it simply seeks to advance our incomplete understanding.

    I agree that dogmatic positions are unhelpful and many outcomes still remain consistent with the data – although some early optimistic views can be now, I think, be ruled out (unfortunately. We sure could use a lucky break). And also that there is a lot of room for valid differences of opinion, and indeed evolution of opinion, about what are essentially value judgements and political actions.

  • 62 old_eyes June 28, 2020, 12:42 pm

    Bit late to this, as I have a rule to enjoy Monevator in bed with a cup of tea on Saturday mornings (late on Saturday morning 😉 ) and not to try and get in as soon as published. Yesterday was a bit busy (even in lockdown here in Wales), so I didn’t get to this week’s collection until Sunday.

    My thanks to @ZXSpectrum48K for his comments on TEA post. I fully agree. One of the key problems with it is that it is not even internally consistent on its own terms.

    It is OK to say you don’t like a particular approach to a problem, but then in my book it is incumbent upon you to explain why and to suggest your preferred alternative.

    I am still (just about) a practising scientist, and I have spent my career in academia, industrial R&D, and Government agencies dealing with regeneration and innovation. Throughout that time I have been acutely aware that we are constantly using models (physical, statistical, biomedical, economic, engineering…) to explore the world, to try and make sense of it and to make decisions. That’s what people do.

    The smart ones understand that, as George Box is supposed to have said: “all models are wrong, but some are useful”. The dumb ones think you can slap a model down like the ace of trumps in a card game, and that ends the debate. But the dumb ones make dumb and stupid decisions with or without models.

    TEA does not choose to explain what he would do, having purged the decision-making process of models and experts. His positioning (along with many other people) appears to be – “I do not like the answer being given, so I will reject it out of hand and demand that some other course be taken. However, I do not feel it necessary to explain what is wrong with the analysis I disagree with, what the basis of my own analysis is, or how I justify my conclusions”. If you won’t show your workings, you are not in the debate. You are just ranting from the sidelines. This is the strategy of the bulk of anti-vaxxers, climate-deniers, intelligent designers and probably fiat money obsessives (although I confess I don’t understand their arguments well enough to decide).

    I don’t mind people who disagree with the consensus and provide their evidence and argument. I can follow what they are saying and see whether they can convince me. I object to people who simply state that if I agree with whatever the current consensus is, I am either stupid, deluded or corrupt. We live our lives on the balance of probabilities, and our ability to generate consensus as a society, based on evidence and expert thought, serves us well most of the time. It goes wrong periodically, but the occasional failures do not invalidate a simple heuristic that says in matters of science, and many other fields of human activity, make the starting assumption that the consensus is probably right and look for countervailing evidence. Don’t assume things you don’t like are conspiracies against you. That way madness lies; or at least a very stressful life.

    A final point on this heap of dingo’s kidneys is that he appears to be unaware that quoting Alfred Korzybski “the map is not the territory” completely undermines his argument about models. The whole point about general semantics is that we only experience and communicate with the world through abstractions – through models!


    As for the rest, I found the ISA report fascinating. Much of it made sense, but like many, I was surprised that so much was in cash ISAs given the interest rates currently available. But a profound fear of loss- affects a lot of people. I have relatives whose concern about ever losing on stocks and shares is so great that they happily accept the slow whittling away of their savings through inflation. It is slow and certain, and they prefer that to the apparent wild swings of the market.

    @TheInvestor – keep up the good work, and thank you for allowing the occasional wider debate to happen. Passive investing is pretty boring once you have decided your allocation, and these infrequent outbreaks of passion amongst contributors on the world at large keep me coming back 🙂

  • 63 Far_wide June 28, 2020, 1:12 pm

    well said @old_eyes, from another Sunday reader.
    I enjoy that this site has moved on from talking about passive investing to current affairs. Frankly, there’s only so much you can say about passive investing before becoming incredibly repetitive!
    Re: the Sterling article, this situation makes me really nervous, it honestly does. As someone who lives in Euro-land and hasn’t rebased himself fully into Euros, I’m a little too exposed at the minute, and OK FX predictions are even more of mugs game then share predictions, but I feel there’s a big risk of seeing big Sterling falls with Brexit stuff ongoing and just falls in equities markets seeming to cause this too. Of course, If I buy loads now, then Sterling will inevitably skyrocket off of the back of BJ agreeing/caving in to agreeing a deal.

    Re: COVID, I too lament the bifurcation (lovely word btw) of the lockdown issue. It’s such a complex issue with so much we don’t know, that I’m surprised it’s descended into such a divisive one at this stage.
    With the news coming from the USA of significant upticks of cases, my current opinion is that lockdown and just generally taking this thing seriously makes a big difference in the short term. The USA seems to be faffing around instead in making masks a political debate as opposed to what seems quite clearly a ‘probable good idea in crowded places just to be on the safe side until we know more’ type of thing.
    Anyway, the lack of USA taking it seriously enough (it seems) seems to be having significant consequences, so IMV I think lockdowns probably have been a good idea. But, it’s all very early days and the final score is a long way off. When this virus really is exiting stage left, then people can contrast and compare to their hearts content. Not that they’ll ever agree of course! I am concerned for Autumn/Winter though. Surely the spate of deaths seen in (chilled) meatpacking factories and the general tendency for viruses to spread in a colder times is indicative?

  • 64 Matthew June 28, 2020, 2:14 pm

    Science will get a lot better in general with AI I think, as it wouldn’t be so time consuming for it to write reports, it wouldn’t be expected to prove it’s credentials, it could engage in more blue sky thinking, it could perform trial and error more efficiently physically but maybe also inside computer models (ie protein folding, and other chemistry) – how unique really is human “creativity”? – is it just a bit of trial and error filtered by iffy memory and recency bias of exoeriences? – computer generated art work has been made already;


    And after watching many youtube videos one AI showed a preference for cat videos;


    I do think insisting that science must be done by humans, must be presented a certain way and done for the purposes of money or career progression probably puts some brakes on what can be achieved. A degree at least is just a matter of memory and excecuting a practical procedure

  • 65 The Hare June 28, 2020, 2:16 pm

    To add to @Far_Wide, the current affairs discussion adds to my investing understanding as investments aren’t in a bubble and understanding what’s going on in the world in the way that is discussed here, and how countries economies, multinational corporations, industries, financial/wealth industries and (U)HNW’s are handling it, has been super educational.

    For example, I finally understood the point of gold when ZX48K was saying it was being sold by HNW’s because of margin calls, and I understand margin calls because of FIREvLondon and Ermine’s blog posts (found via Monevator).

    Where else do you get all this? When’s the book coming out? 😉

  • 66 Duncurin June 28, 2020, 8:09 pm

    @Far_wide, I’m also wondering about what will happen to Sterling. As retirees we’re contemplating selling up and moving to Euro-land before the end of the year, to lock-in perks like annual inflation increases in the UK State Pension. If the plan goes ahead we will have a chunk of money from the house sale to move into euros, and the question is ‘when?’.

    I think that BJ can hope to convince the public about most things, but the consequences of leaving with no deal, including the closure of Nissan, might be beyond even his explanatory skills so he is likely to make a deal and present it as a great victory. Whether or not Sterling will then soar remains to be seen. But at least it might remain relatively stable once the situation has become certain.

    As someone else said, it’s hard to imagine that a degree of social distancing will not reduce the transmission rate of a virus that mostly spreads directly from one human upper respiratory tract to another. The question is how much distancing is needed.

  • 67 Matthew June 28, 2020, 8:17 pm

    Surely the virus has changed the equation of costs vs benefits of no deal/stopping freedom of movement -if future waves of the virus cause shutdowns then relative isolation might mean we can keep going when the eurozone can’t, it could also have a bearing on future lockdown gov debt

  • 68 The Investor June 28, 2020, 8:58 pm

    If the plan goes ahead we will have a chunk of money from the house sale to move into euros, and the question is ‘when?’.

    I’m not an expert on foreign currency hedging *at all*, but over the years I’ve had a surprising number of friends/contacts come to me with this sort of query (usually framed as “when should I make the most move to profit?”)

    My answer is invariably that they haven’t lived their life as currency speculators before, so why should they expect to profit from that now? 🙂

    A simple solution, all else equal, is to split the stash across the two currencies. One part of the pair goes up, the other goes down, but you’re balanced and immune. Of course this doesn’t work if you’re literally selling up everything and reinvesting everything abroad, but I imagine in your case there are UK pensions versus Euro property assets etc?

    Of course if there are ongoing funding issues then it’s more complicated.

    i.e. You don’t want to fund a Euro mortgage with a Sterling asset stream ideally, because things might not work out, even if they also might profit you in another universe.

    E.g. Cautionary tale:

    Polish banks have around 104bn zlotys worth of mortgages tied to the Swiss franc on their books, which were issued in the years after the country joined the EU, and have since morphed into the biggest risk hanging over the sector.

    Borrowers were initially drawn by the lower interest rates on foreign currency loans. But when the franc surged against the zloty during the financial crisis, and again in 2015, many found themselves facing higher repayments, and thousands went to court to challenge their contracts.


  • 69 WhiteSheep June 28, 2020, 8:59 pm

    I didn’t mean to comment this week but I liked TI’s long comment and just wanted to second much of what he said.

    The polarisation of the debate along equally unrealistic extreme policies (ignore the virus vs permanent lockdown) is a bit concerning, although it lends itself to opiniated if not pointless debate. It also distracts from the real questions – what are the right responses to mitigate the impact of the virus, from the economy to our lives and health.

    As a scientist (and one who, if only peripherally, is involved in research related to Coronavirus), I also find the perception of science in the public debate very distorted. Both in terms of what science actually is, and also in terms of what is known or unknown about the virus. Science is not about arguments from authority, or whatever a random scientist said somewhere. It is a methodology to understand the world by using empirical observation and evidence and a framework for making inferences. Science should be open to voices from anywhere that adhere to the methodology, but it is also hard work. Scientists are human beings and like everyone else subject to all types of prejudices and influences, but that does not make everyone’s opinion equally valid on scientific matters. Scientists have to learn to deal with uncertainty, and a lot of practical responses to the CV outbreak are as much political in nature as scientific. Conversely, science very rarely makes progress through youtube videos or Telegraph opinion pieces, and there are good reasons for that.

    I also do not recognise in the current research on CV anything like the polarisation of some of the public debate. There is steady progress, but also many things that are still unknown. For example, I don’t think any scientist would deny the possibility that Coronavirus outbreaks could follow a seasonal pattern. But any scientist will also be very aware of how difficult it is to actually prove the strength of the influence from weak and heavily confounded data. (As an aside, many of the confounding factors are correlated with many other things – the earlier debate about BCG vaccination and its effect on CV may have been driven by the same confounders.)

    Conversely, I have yet to meet anyone who works in the field and thinks that testing and tracing would not be a cornerstone of an effective response. Yet in much of the public debate test and trace seems to be regarded almost an idiosyncratic oddity that some people just came up with recently rather than something that is based on centuries of epidemiological research and medical experience in combating infectious disease. There is a good likelihood (although I could not predict it with certainty!) that the failure to put together an even remotely effective test and tracing operation may be one of the factors that will strongly affect the relative outcome of the pandemic in the UK compared to other countries.

  • 70 Duncurin June 28, 2020, 9:29 pm

    @TI “A simple solution, all else equal, is to split the stash across the two currencies. One part of the pair goes up, the other goes down, but you’re balanced and immune. Of course this doesn’t work if you’re literally selling up everything and reinvesting everything abroad, but I imagine in your case there are UK pensions versus Euro property assets etc?”

    Our pension income will mostly be in Sterling, so we shall remain permanently at the mercy of the exchange rate. Our investments are largely non-Sterling (Vanguard LS) but will have to be moved from the ISAs here to an appropriate tax-friendly wrapper there. But I was worried about the timing of moving the house sale proceeds.

    So I really like your suggestion of moving half after the house sale this year, and moving the rest next year after the UK has left the single market. If Sterling soars then I shall get half the gain, but if it plummets I shall only have suffered half the loss.

    Thank you.

  • 71 Jonathan June 28, 2020, 9:34 pm

    Thanks @WhiteSheep, from another (now retired) scientist. Unfortunately there is often under-appreciation of how difficult it is to get data with enough confidence to reach a conclusion. Things like seasonality will take years to establish for SARS-Cov-2 but the public is asking for instant definitive answers which can only be given for other viruses which might (or might not) be similar.

    At the same time there are questions where I am surprised not to see answers. With apparently 10 million diagnosis-confirmed cases now (and several hundred thousand before the end of March) why is there no clear data on whether previous exposure protects against a subsequent infection? You would have thought that was crucial information for the vaccine developers (particularly if they did follow-up antibody testing on their cohorts). And with the differences over physical distancing and masks, why hasn’t anybody recruited diagnosed but not seriously infected patients to test the spread of virus-containing droplets at different distances with or without a mask? (It wouldn’t be that hard to use a standardised potentially infective protocol, for example speaking out loud a standard consonant-containing test, or even singing).

    And @Duncurin it is great to find someone relatively optimistic about Brexit. Much as I would like a pragmatic solution (including sensible currency exchange rates) I fear that Johnson is hoping the Covid slump will be a get-out-of-jail excuse for the economic consequences of Brexit. But he needs to know he will be compared with the rest of Europe and it won’t look good if the UK do worse.

  • 72 MrOptimistic June 28, 2020, 9:47 pm

    Scientists make lots of mistakes and errors and it takes time for the wrong and the plain dross to be recognised and eliminated. Unfortunately, in today’s febrile atmosphere the checks and balances have gone and everything is a candidate to be grabbed by the politically motivated and broadcast by the media. The signal to noise ratio is negative. Anyway, back to my research on cold fusion.

  • 73 Tony June 29, 2020, 9:53 am

    @ Matthew (67) The end of freedom of movement isn’t relevant to the virus or numbers entering the UK as such. 1) Ironically, being outside Schengen, the government didn’t shut UK borders, only very belatedly put a half enforced self-isolation requirement on arrival. Whereas other EU nations did-EU law does not prevent border closure in this situation- Covid-19. 2) Immigration remains driven by the economic and recruitment need for workers, international students at UK universities and the relative attractiveness of the UK as a place to live, work and study. 3) The new immigration system for both EU and non-EU nationals is unlikely to materially reduce overall net migration. Something which Brexiters for whom this was critical will be very disappointed about in due course-“taking back control” of legal rules doesn’t change the reality on the ground. Rather we’ll continue to see a change in balance between EU and non-EU numbers. ONS Feb 2020 quarterly migration statistics: “While overall migration levels have remained broadly stable since the end of 2016, patterns for EU and non-EU citizens have followed different trends. This in part reflects the different trends in immigration for employment and study, with EU migrants predominantly arriving for work-related reasons and non-EU migrants arriving for study”. That said, increased UK unemployment and being seen as the sick man of Europe in virus management, may also have an affect in the short term. Chinese student numbers may reduce due to that latter point and feeling less welcome. They’re critical to University finances.

  • 74 WhiteSheep June 29, 2020, 10:04 am

    Thanks for your reply.

    Not my area of expertise, but to my knowledge the masks vs droplet studies have been done (see e.g. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0843-2) and show that masks significantly reduce the transmission of both droplets and aerosols. The problem is that evidence of clinical effectiveness is much harder to produce for the statistical reasons you point out.

    I think one of the difficulties, at least in the early days, in showing a protective effect of previous infection was that it is hard to distinguish a case where the virus lingers from a true reinfection. Efforts like https://www.cogconsortium.uk/ might help, which produced one of the papers TI quoted the other day. (This is also one of the fields where the UK is actually pretty advanced compared to other countrie).

  • 75 Far_wide June 29, 2020, 11:05 am

    @Duncurin , glad to know others have similar dilemmas. You’re right, it is stability we need. I may not like it, but we’ve adapted now to living in a GBPEUR 1.1 world when it used to be GBPEUR 1.4. I really don’t want to suffer GBPEUR 0.85 though!

    @TI, I was a hare’s whisker away from suffering the PLN/CHF trap many years ago, thank god I had a change of heart. I do know people who suffered from it – terrible.

  • 76 John @ UK Value Investor June 29, 2020, 12:17 pm

    Quote of the century from old_eyes:

    “If you won’t show your workings, you are not in the debate. You are just ranting from the sidelines”

  • 77 Boltt June 29, 2020, 12:41 pm

    @Rhino /#24

    It’s my 10 year plan to get to a 7 figure ISA (for me and wife combined), assuming the almost too generous £20k pa continues. Just passed the 1/3rd way point between us.


    Is there any way to add some survey monkey / quiz type functionality (Financial Samurai does it occasionally). Your readers are niche/interesting mix/calibre …, and it would be very interesting to see their responses in aggregate form. I’m betting there would be some surprises.


  • 78 Matthew June 29, 2020, 2:41 pm

    @tony – if this virus will be around for years, rebounding due to low antibody levels or if vaccines don’t work well enough, it could all be down to what we do in the future to avoid future lockdowns – indeed our first lockdown was late and our borders pourous, but that was the past. Market forces might encourage migration like you say but laws do matter – ie in Australia they want skilled workers more
    Saying it’ll have no real effect on immigration doesn’t fit with the prophesised terrible shortage of fruit pickers and care staff we’re supposed to be getting, and migration in itself is not so much a worry if it’s skilled workers – ie having a higher salary threshold means they’re generally not competing in low paid jobs
    Perhaps a weaker £ will reduce the attractiveness too…

  • 79 Matthew June 29, 2020, 7:43 pm

    Yo @TI the ripple thing looks rubbish to the likes of us, the wind farm isn’t built yet, you can only sell your shares in it to within the co-op, it is all your eggs in one basket, it locks you in for 2 years, not sure about gas prices and not sure if fscs protected if ripple goes bust, they say they have management fees but aren’t clear on how much. Maybe it is more tax efficient though? If the FCA shuts this down too (mis selling/liquidity problems/unsuitable?) the shares might be unsaleable in their internal market.

    If you want the same effect just use a renewable fund alongside a green energy tarrif.

    Although I grant it’s an alluring idea to people who don’t know of the options we do

  • 80 Snowman June 30, 2020, 9:37 am


    Deaths registered in England and Wales for the week ending 19th June (= week 25) marginally below the 5 year average for week 25. An encouraging sign.

  • 81 The Investor June 30, 2020, 11:31 am

    @Snowman: Cheers. Very early days but yes, more encouraging than not.

    I notice Sweden daily deaths has really come down now (single figures last few days):


    One question is whether ‘the Swedish approach worked’ after a fashion (we’ll need many months to see if the higher per capita death rate they’ve seemingly sustained to-date is compensated for by lower future deaths in months ahead) or if the population of Sweden itself decided to ramp up it’s own voluntary self-isolation/quarantine/lockdown.

    According to one of my virus obsessed friends, seroprevalence of antibodies in Swedish population as a whole is still only 7%. How can that be squared with a disease this infectious (in at least some scenarios) in a country that wasn’t fully locked down? (Were some sensible low-impact measures, but bars/restaurants still open etc).

    It seems either ABs aren’t always created in virus defeats (as mused a lot by us, but seemingly counter-indicated by that study showing all +ve tests in a particular cohort of a few hundred got ABs afterwards) or most of ‘full lockdown’ measures are redundant (definitely in the mix for me) or the population itself imposed a higher level of quarantine than the government mandated / has been reported (somewhat likely) or something else is going on (definitely likely — e.g. different care home / hospital protocols in different countries).

  • 82 Joe June 30, 2020, 1:03 pm

    @TI – the “sweden deaths covid-19” Google chart shows deaths by date of death rather than date of report. The median delay between date of death and report is 3-4 days in the UK.
    The rate of deaths in Sweden could be on the rise again according to detailed charts maintained by a Swedish finance post-doc:

  • 83 The Investor June 30, 2020, 1:26 pm

    @Joe — Well that might change the last few days, but as I see it the core story is a slope that goes down from peak, top left to bottom right, *without* a (mandated, but to be seen to what extent voluntary as I say) full lockdown in place, albeit at a slower rate than countries with a stronger lockdown tackling a similar big peak (Italy, Spain, UK).

    It’s telling us something interesting, I believe. If the virus followed the simplest narratives out there, then presumably it would keep circulating in a less than locked-down environment with a steady state of deaths or perhaps even an escalation.

    So either it doesn’t, or the lockdown is stronger than supposed, or something else is going on (e.g. the weak disproportionately die first, and after than deaths decrease markedly, or something else) or likely a combination.

  • 84 Vanguardfan June 30, 2020, 2:32 pm

    I think what it is showing is that social distancing works, even when practised slightly imperfectly (and also things like hand washing and face masks and cleaning). Have you come across the issue of dispersion/over-dispersion (not sure of exact terminology but this paper is relevant- https://wellcomeopenresearch.org/articles/5-67). Essentially this virus seems to show a lot of variability in transmissibility – many, perhaps even most, infections are ‘dead ends’ while a small proportion transmit to large numbers. So, if we can target restrictions better at the type of activities that are more likely to result in spread to many people, we can hopefully work our way to the optimum balance of reduced infection with maximum ‘normality’. I am sure this is what all (thoughtful) governments who experienced a first surge are now trying to do. Everyone recognises that full lockdown is a blunt tool, albeit a useful one to have in the arsenal.

    The challenge of course is what we do about activities that are both high risk and also really important- such as schooling and (in my opinion) cultural activities. And whether we really can keep venues like bars and hotels open without causing too much generalised transmission.

    The other thing it’s worth bearing in mind is that in many countries there were essentially two outbreaks – one being in care homes, where maybe half of all deaths occurred (if you look at regional outbreak curves in England you can see the double hump in many regions outside London – the second hump being the peak deaths in the care homes). That will hopefully not happen again, now that we have testing and other preventive measures in place. If you stripped out the care home deaths the curves would look a bit different.
    I anticipate that going forward there will be localised flare ups, whenever the virus enters any community where there is a high level of mixing/close contact. Hopefully we can keep general population mixing reduced enough to prevent a more generalised uplift in cases. We will see. I am nervous about bars and other venues and especially about Christmas. Many of the surges we have seen worldwide have occurred after major holiday/celebration events (including the initial surge in Wuhan at Chinese New Year).

  • 85 Vanguardfan June 30, 2020, 2:38 pm

    I guess I’m also saying that yes, the effect of social distancing is stronger than anticipated because it does not need to be absolute – if maybe two thirds of people significantly reduce their contacts it will have a big effect. I expect we are running at much better than that, even now. For example, I haven’t seen anyone at all indoors apart from my family for more than three months, other than in shops, fleetingly. That’s a huge change from pre-lockdown. Even my teenage offspring have (as far as I know) not been inside anyone’s house for 3 months.

  • 86 Jonathan June 30, 2020, 4:03 pm

    @Vanguardfan I think the question of where spreading occurs is valid. It doesn’t seem improbable that a few situations are conducive to passing on infection, and the majority of the reduction in spreading needed to control the pandemic (get R<1) could be achieved just by stopping those activities. The paper you link confirms the mathematical credibility of that view, but of course provides no information on what the major spreading events are.

    There have been articles collating reports on "super-spreader" events which give us some ideas, but obviously there might be sampling bias in the reporting. Nevertheless it has been established (and discussed here I recall) that crowded events indoors, especially those likely to include people shouting at close quarters. Or lesser proximity for extremely long times, as in households or care homes (also prisons and ships).

    But for policy to change accordingly there needs to be better evidence. The Swedish experience may be part of that. It is also possible that contact tracing efforts will provide analysable data. I hope it comes quickly, like you I would like schools and cultural activities to resume something like fully and it is conceivable that those would need only small changes from normal to be sufficiently safe.

  • 87 Vanguardfan June 30, 2020, 4:26 pm

    @jonathan I think we know a fair bit, certainly enough to guide responses, although we will of course keep adding to our knowledge. We know indoor transmission is more than outdoor, transmission is more likely when symptomatic, prolonged closer contact makes it more likely etc etc. I don’t think we will get to much more precision than that, personally. (But then I’m a pragmatist).
    And unfortunately I don’t think in England we are going to get much good quality epi data from track and trace, because of the lack of usable data from pillar 2 testing, and the continued over centralisation of the programme. If we had a really good responsive contact tracing system, with testing resources under the control of people who actually know the local area, then we could have a lot more confidence reducing the population level restrictions.

  • 88 David June 30, 2020, 4:57 pm

    @Vanguardfan#84 – Do we really know enough to say that that schools are high risk? There was an article about what happened in Iceland (maybe linked from Monevator recently?) – they did track and trace on almost everyone, and there were only a couple of instances of adults catching the virus from children. One of my children is now back at school, and the lengths they are going to are quite extraordinary – checking temperatures, separate bubbles for each class, extensive cleaning, staggered entry/exit times, and so on. In the event of a positive case it’s going to be a lot easier to trace contacts than with shops, pubs and cultural buildings for example. In the early days closing schools was always going to be the last resort, yet now they’ve become the last places to re-open. The impact of children not being in school for 6 months is huge!

  • 89 Jonathan June 30, 2020, 5:28 pm

    @David, it was a frustration for schools that no one from Public Health England really put together good medical advice for school opening and took part in the process of planning re-opening. Instead schools had to work with the general restrictions applied nationally.

    As you say, there was that Icelandic report that of some 1700 traced infection links (number from memory, might be slightly wrong) only two were from child to adult. And if you remember the first British transmission by a chap who had been in Singapore, en route back to the UK he had stayed in a French chalet where a child was infected; of the other children that child came in contact with (a lot because he attended both a local school and one in the next village for lessons in French since his first language was English) none had been infected. Thirdly ONS has published data by occupation which suggested that teachers were not more at risk than the population at large, at the point in March when recorded infections would be from the period before schools closed.

    I am sure a lot of headteachers were aware of all that, but were hardly likely to override the public health precautions advised by government. They needed official advice specific to schools.

  • 90 Vanguardfan June 30, 2020, 5:30 pm

    @david I’m totally with you that the kids really need to be back in school. I also know there is pretty limited and inconsistent evidence about transmission in school settings. I’m just looking at what the government is proposing, and thinking about 30 large teenagers indoors in a small classrooom (as many in our school are), mixing before and after school, mixing within their year group (unavoidable when all doing different exam options), knowing that young people certainly get infected but often don’t show obvious symptoms… I can’t see how it wouldn’t transmit quite well in the environment. They will also have to do something about the handwashing facilities which are currently totally inadequate. But we’ll see. I am totally behind them being back in school, I just have a feeling it is going to be harder and more stuttering/chaotic than the government just insisting that it will happen. (note also that in Leicester schools have closed again as part of the local lockdown).

  • 91 Vanguardfan June 30, 2020, 5:37 pm

    And that’s before you think about how to get a whole school of 1000+ through lunch in 40 minutes. Staggered breaks, how do you timetable the teachers across different year groups? The whole thing is logistically extremely complex and I do feel for the teachers, even while feeling quite frustrated with some of the naysayers.

  • 92 Vanguardfan July 1, 2020, 8:43 am

    For those interested, this is a nice report from Australia about school related cases. Of 18 cases in school children, there were 2 documented cases of onward transmission within the school. Note however that all close contacts (over 800 for the 18 cases) were quarantined at home for 14 days, and also only a third of these were actually tested for the virus. One suspects that the track and trace in Australia may react in a more timely way than we can manage so far.


  • 93 The Investor July 1, 2020, 2:16 pm

    Some positive vaccine news today. No, no the end of the line, but incremental positive. 🙂

    An experimental Covid-19 vaccine being developed by the drug giant Pfizer and the biotech firm BioNTech spurred immune responses in healthy patients, but also caused fever and other side effects, especially at higher doses. The first clinical data on the vaccine were disclosed Wednesday in a paper released on MedRXiv, a preprint server, meaning it has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a journal.


    The vaccine generated antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and some of these antibodies were neutralizing, meaning that they appear to prevent the virus from functioning. Levels of neutralizing antibodies were 1.8- to 2.8-times the level of that in the recovered patients.

    It’s not certain that higher antibody levels will lead to immunity to the virus. To prove that, Pfizer will need to conduct large studies that aim to prove that people who have received the vaccine are at least 50% less likely to become infected.


  • 94 The Investor July 1, 2020, 3:26 pm

    This guy and his DIY investigations into Covid-19 data will rile some of you, but I like the way he thinks and this discussion of low antibody results:


  • 95 Sparschwein July 1, 2020, 9:33 pm

    So I expected to be riled and, well… I think he’s a clever guy trying to do the right thing, but falls a bit short on the data interpretation.

    His message about the “long-haulers” is important. What is classified as “mild” Covid-19 can be an unpleasant long-term slog and (still anecdotally) this seems to affect many. We know now that SARS-CoV-2 can infect many tissues, not just the lungs. “Recovered” patients may have permanent organ damage; eg

    Re the small study in the video – only 14 samples had Covid-19 properly confirmed by RT-PCR. 7 of those were Ab positive. 50% is very low compared with the several published studies that show that almost every infected person makes Ab’s. But: high randomness due to low sample number here; and perhaps (?) Ab levels in a few samples could have dropped under the detection threshold.
    The majority there was “diagnosed” only on such distinctive symptoms as light fever or fatigue… and surprise, most were Ab-negative. Elaborate gymnastics ensue to defend the preconceived idea, instead of accepting the data as it is – that most didn’t have Covid.

    Do such a thing as a first-year science student and expect a memorable bollocking. Clearly, Oxford goes too easy on their engineers 🙂

  • 96 The Investor July 1, 2020, 10:01 pm

    Bit more on the non-antibody / cell mediated immunity line:

    People testing negative for coronavirus antibodies may still have some immunity, a study has suggested.

    For every person testing positive for antibodies, two were found to have specific T-cells which identify and destroy infected cells.

    This was seen even in people who had mild or symptomless cases of Covid-19.

    But it’s not yet clear whether this just protects that individual, or if it might also stop them from passing on the infection to others.

    Researchers at the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden tested 200 people for both antibodies and T-cells.

    Some were blood donors while others were tracked down from the group of people first infected in Sweden, mainly returning from earlier affected areas like northern Italy.

    This could mean a wider group have some level of immunity to Covid-19 than antibody testing figures, like those published as part of the UK Office for National Statistics Infection Survey, suggest.

    It’s likely those people did mount an antibody response, but either it had faded or was not detectable by the current tests.

    And these people should be protected if they are exposed to the virus for a second time.

    Prof Danny Altmann at Imperial College London described the study as “robust, impressive and thorough” and said it added to a growing body of evidence that “antibody testing alone underestimates immunity”.


    Personally, as discussed up the thread and many times on Monevator before (especially by @Snowman) I think something like this *has* to be going on from the pattern of high infectivity / low seroprevalence, but exactly what it all adds up to obviously remains to be seen.

  • 97 Grumpy Old Paul July 1, 2020, 11:21 pm

    I read the BBC report too and found it very interesting. See https://monevator.com/weekend-reading-under-infected-over-optimistic/comment-page-3/ post 129 !

    On Eric Topol’s twitter feed there are references to the role of T cells and to an anti-viral response beyond the immune system via the thymus and liver. T cell analysis is apparently only performed for research purposes and is difficult. He also references a paper ‘Deciphering the TCR Repertoire to Solve the COVID-19 Mystery’. He states “So when you interpret seroprevalence, serology, antibody only data, please keep the incomplete nature of that assessment in terms of the broader cellular immune response to #SARSCoV2. There’s a lot more to learn about the stuff we don’t measure.”

  • 98 Vanguardfan July 2, 2020, 9:53 am

    I have to say I am leaning more to the conclusion that the patterns of transmission are much more related to human behaviour than to biology (ie susceptibility) – see paper below. Of course both factors are going on, but don’t underestimate the extent that behaviour has changed, and how persistent that change has been, so far. We can’t unlearn what we now know, notwithstanding some young people going to parties and demonstrations. Small beer. More interesting will be whether we can get back to meeting indoors, and chatting over a meal or a pint or a full meeting agenda…


  • 99 The Investor July 2, 2020, 10:22 am

    @Vanguardfan — In support of that point, JP Morgan released an interesting paper a week or so back correlating restaurant visitor numbers (/spend) with higher infected counts a couple of weeks later. Haven’t got a link to hand but I think some of the media covered it.

  • 100 David July 2, 2020, 3:20 pm

    Graph in the FT a couple of days ago suggesting that more than 90% of positive cases in Leicester are “Pillar 2” data not made public by the government, preventing anybody from taking action until it was too late.
    Hope the link works – it did for me.

  • 101 Sparschwein July 2, 2020, 11:38 pm

    This from Jeremy Farrar (infectious disease specialist, member of SAGE) pretty much sums up where we are

  • 102 D September 21, 2020, 1:45 pm

    It feels like popular opinion has caught up with the sentiments of the Escape Artist’s “Pandemic Over” post which was linked here and much discussed in the comments. I thought I would take another look to see if I now agree with him. Strangely enough, the article has vanished from his website!

Leave a Comment