Pretty much everyone we encountered on Monday asked how we’re doing, as the friendly folks here in Wichita tend to do, and we were able to cheekily answer that we’re faring better than the stock markets. Most of the people we met got the dark humor in our reply, as they’d heard the news that Monday was an historically bad day on Wall Street.
All three of the major American exchanges suffered at least a 7 percent drop, which comes after a few weeks of alarming declines, and all the smart money on the rest of the world’s markets seems similarly panicked, with no apparent good news on the horizon to turn things around in the near future. The main reason for the dive is the steadily spreading coronavirus pandemic, which has thus far killed only a tiny fraction of the world’s population but already cancelled big events and shut down schools and disrupted global supply chains and currently has most of Italy in quarantine. The markets are also worried that oil prices are plummeting on falling demand and a dispute between Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries Russia and Saudi Arabia, which can’t agree on an ideal price to fix.
Neither of these developments can be credibly blamed on President Donald Trump, but so far the smart money isn’t betting that he has any solutions. Trump has thus far argued the coronavirus threat is overblown, based on his hunches and natural ability to grasp the science of epidemiology because he had a “super-genius” uncle who taught physics at the Massachussets Institute of Technology, but by Monday he was proposing a slew of government programs and “stimulus” measures redolent of President Barack Obama to prop up the economy just in case. The Federal Reserve Board is on the brink of offering zero interest loans and already printing more money to make up for the trillion dollars of deficit spending by the government, the bond markets are offering pretty much zero return on long or short-term yields, Trump is “tweeting” demands they go even further, and we can well understand why the smart money isn’t reassured.
The worries about the plummeting oil markets are harder to understand. We’re old enough to remember when the OPEC cartel’s price-gouging was the global economy’s biggest worry, and won’t mind a bit if the local gasoline prices fall below $2 a gallon as expected, but it does seem to be a troubling sign for the rest of the global economy. Trump will surely be conflicted about it, as he’s good friends with both the Russian and Saudi dictators and would love to take credit for cheap gasoline, but nothing he might say or do about it is likely to stabilize any of the markets.
Today is another big Tuesday in the Democratic presidential primary races, and the smart money is betting that former Obama-era Vice President Joe Biden will knock self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders out of the race, but that won’t help much. The stock markets had a rare good day when Biden took the lead over Sanders after last week’s “Super Tuesday,” but no one’s betting that Biden has all the answers.
It’s all quite desultory, but for now we can tell anyone who asks that we have no symptoms of the coronavirus and are feeling somewhat healthier than the stock markets. Here’s hoping that all of our dear readers are faring at least as well, and that we all make it through.
— Bud Norman