Wry & Dry

Tsar Vlad tackles CV-19. WFH. Chickens coming home.

Tsar Vlad's Russia tackles CV-19

Wry & Dry starts this epistle with a video.  It is of how three countries, China, Kazakhstan and Russia, have blended and then harnessed medical technology with local manpower to sanitise their streets.

Astute Readers of body language will see the different levels of enthusiasm the peoples of each country have for the task.

Cartoon Russia social distance

The video is sourced from Wry & Dry's man person in Moscow. Which in itself tells a story of how the people there cherish Tsar Vlad.

SEE VIDEO HERE

Repeat announcement

Wry & Dry is bemused at the ongoing outpouring of economic, stock-market and fiscal forecasts from experts.  Readers will have noticed that he same-forecaster forecasts change daily as new data becomes available.  What's the point?

These forecasters look to what happened last time (GFC).  Or the time before that (Tech-Wreck).  Or that (1987).  And so on.  And then draw plausible parallels with attendant forecasts.

This is retrospective determinism.  Wry & Dry urges Readers to ignore the lot.  This crisis, however large or small it turns out to be, and any of its components - stock-market, medical, economic, social - are without precedent.  So the experts should be honest and say they don't know. 

Numbers to watch

Readers will be aware of the fashion of 'the number to watch'.  In the early 1990s in Australia it was the monthly current account deficit, then in the mid 2000s it was the price of oil.  Then CPI.  Last week it was the number of people who had died from CV-19.

Well, globally, last week, there was a new black: 'new jobless claims' from the Yoo-Ess-Ay.  Last week the planet reeled in shock when 3.3 million Americans in one week joined the US Centrelink queue.  This was over four times the previous peak.

It gives Wry & Dry no comfort to advise Readers that last night the weekly figure rose to 6.7 million.  That's 10 million folk newly unemployed in two weeks!

Of course, this is the Yoo-Ess-Ay, where job insecurity mobility is a part of the structure of the economy.  

But nonetheless, Wry & Dry senses this is where the lingering effect of CV-19 will be felt.  The Australian data is yet to be produced, and it will be scary.  Readers will know that Wry & Dry has the milk of human kindness by the quart in every vein.  The pandemic itself will probably be controlled in some months.  The stock markets will recover.  But the social impact of chronic [1] high unemployment is devastating to people and communities.

Which is why Wry & Dry dips his lid to the government for undertaking the massive scheme to protect Australian jobs.  It is not just about the economic effect of mass unemployment that matters. The social and personal toll is massive and cascades outside the family and the community.

The package may be too big.  Or too small.  And the headline-seeking expert commentators are having a field day in the media where there is a vacuum of content caused by the vacuum of sport.  But Wry & Dry does wish that people would stop whingeing.  

[1] In the true sense of the word, meaning long lasting, from the Greek chronos: time.  Many millennials seem to think that chronic means 'bad'.  

The chickens are coming home...

Readers will be aware of the single greatest driver of the share-market boom in the Yoo-Ess-Ay over the past few years: share buy-backs.  Since 2012, share buy-backs have totalled $4.6 trillion.  Low interest rates meant that it was cheap for companies to borrow and buy-back their stock. 

The below chart shows who actually bought US stocks since 2009:

 

This climaxed in 2019 with a massive bubble: a ludicrous 30% gain of the S&P 500 in 2019 when the economy was already struggling and when actual earnings growth had stalled.

Cartoon I could Buy and sell you

Share buy-backs have three goals:

  • Drive up share prices;
  • Conceal from shareholders the costs (via dilution) of stock compensation packages for executives;
  • Create “phoney” growth in Earnings Per Share. Share buy-backs reduce the share count (the denominator of EPS), thereby increasing EPS when actual earnings go nowhere.

Well, this artificial boost to the market might slow down, considerably.

Investment bank HSBC has estimated that some $300 billion of planned share buy-backs over the next two quarters will now not proceed.   This is over one third of what was spent in 2019. 

Wry & Dry considers that the bounce just seen in the S&P500 is a dead cat bounce [2].

[2]  No offence to cat-owning Readers. A dead cat bounce is a temporary recovery in share prices after a substantial fall, caused by speculators buying in order to cover their positions.

'Ardship

Wry & Dry dips his lid to King Maha Vajiralongkorn, sovereign of Thailand and CEO of Surnames 'R Us.  The 67-year-old king has gone into isolation at a luxury hotel in the fashionable winter sports resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany.

Nothing curious about that.  Except that he has taken an entourage of 20 women.

Cartoon king of Thailand

This is really showing leadership to the Thai people, tackling the CV-19 thing head-on. Selflessly placing himself in isolation far, far away from his peoples, so as not to infect them.

Nice work.  If you can get it.

A latter-day East India Company? 

Many Readers will be familiar with William Dalrymple's recent excellent if somewhat weighty history of the East India Company (EIC) [3].  The EIC, amongst other (mis)deeds, befriended, occupied, infiltrated and then plundered India, especially Bengal, in the middle and late 18th century.   With billions of pounds, in today's value, being shipped back to shareholders and to company officials in the UK, little thought was given to the future of the people of India.

Which brings Wry & Dry to the Chinese Communist Party.  Readers will have read in earlier editions of Wry & Dry's concerns about: 

a.  Befriending: China's debt-diplomacy with poor Pacific and Indian Ocean countries (i.e. lend sums that cannot be repaid and then seize the security)

b.  Occupying: atolls in the South China Sea and beyond and the creation of military bases on them

c.  Infiltration: of Australian (and other) universities to monitor Chinese students and influence curriculum

Well, there is further evidence of the Chinese Communist Party's emulation of a latter-day EIC.  Readers will be aware of the actions of Greenland Group and Risland Australia, two Chinese-owned property groups.  In January and February, on the orders of Beijing, the companies sourced, bought and shipped over 100 tonnes of protective masks; hazmat (hazardous material) suits; medical gloves; forehead thermometers and sanitisers from Australia to China.    

Cartoon China medical supplies buy up

Not quite 'plunder' - the goods were paid for.  But Readers can join the dots.

[3]   The EIC was an English and later British joint-stock company. It was formed to trade in the Indian Ocean region, initially with the Moghuls of India and the East Indies. The company ended up seizing control of large parts of the Indian subcontinent, colonised parts of Southeast Asia, and colonised Hong Kong after the First Opium War.
The company rose to account for half of the world's trade, particularly in basic commodities. By 1803, at the height of its rule in India, the EIC had a private army of about 260,000—twice the size of the British Army.  The company's rule in India effectively began in 1757 and lasted until 1858, when, following the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (in which the role of (later General Sir) Harry Flashman was delightfully documented by George McDonald Fraser), the Government of India Act 1858 led to the British Crown's assuming direct control of the Indian subcontinent in the form of the new British Raj.

Don't Cry For Me...Italy

It will come as no surprise that the Italian government has gone nutzo at the EU. The Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte demanded a massive cash rescue plan for his people, funded on the EU's joint credit card. The EU said "nein, nee, ingen."

As Wry & Dry has often forecast, the EU edifice is paralysed and yet slowly cracking at the same time.  The peoples of the wealthy north have little desire to bailout the profligate south, notwithstanding the image of EU unity portrayed by the lads and lasses in the DreamWorld of Brussels.

Allow Wry & Dry to paint a wry map of Europe:

France:  Still has great dreams of total EU integration, providing everyone speak French. 

Germany:  Still has great dreams of total EU integration, providing it controls the cheque book.  It lost the war, but has won the peace.  

Netherlands:  Doesn't care about total EU integration, as long as its citizens can freely buy cannabis. 

Italy: Wants total EU integration, as long as past fiscal profligacy is forgiven and future profligacy allowed.

Hungary: Wants EU integration as long as PM Victor Orban can ignore anti-Semitism, the rule of law and any democratic fundamentals.    

Greece:  Doesn't care about total EU integration, as long as it gets the Elgin Marbles back [4] 

UK:  [singing] Rule Britannia; Land of Hope and Glory, etc.    

[4]  The Elgin Marbles, are a collection of Classical Greek marble sculptures originally part of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens.  From 1801 to 1812, agents of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin removed the sculptures from the Parthenon.  He sold the Marbles to the British government 1816 which then passed them to the British Museum.  They are now on display in the Duveen Gallery. 
International efforts to repatriate the Marbles to Greece have recently intensified as part of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures.  Australian lawyer and windbag, Geoffrey Robertson is prominent in the campaign.  His recent book "Who Owns History" is a fascinating account of the history of the Marbles.
The son of the 7th Earl of Elgin, predictably the 8th Earl of Elgin, was, inter alia, British High Commissioner and Plenipotentiary in China and the Far East.  It was he who ordered the destruction of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, an architectural wonder with immeasurable collections of artworks and historic antiques, inflicting invaluable loss of cultural heritage. 

Just thinkin'

Wry & Dry spent the week with his feet up and a Waterford of the recently released 2008 Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque on hand.  Emboldened by what a champagne critic called "something very premium, albeit still very young and fresh", words that resonate with Wry & Dry's view of life, he pondered how long it would take.  Who would be the first sufferer of RDS [5] to break ranks and come out with his/her/non-binary comment on CV-19? 

Would it be dear Barnaby?  Or perhaps John Hewson?  Or even the craggy-faced Jeff Kennett?

Close.  But no cigar.

Former clothes-horse and foreign minister Julie Bishop finally couldn't resist the temptation.  In Monday's Australian she came out with her (somewhat scathing) views on the World Health Organisation.  Wry & Dry scanned the article searching for a comment that would add value to the crisis.  And found none.

Having said that, by Wednesday, the usual suspects were out of the blocks:  Ken Henry, Kevin Rudd and (drum roll) Barnaby all gave their two bob's worth.

Sigh. 

[5] Relevance Deprivation Syndrome]

Just Walk Out

Wry & Dry is most guarded about shopping on the interweb, but does admit to using an app named after a large river to purchase books.  Why Amazon?  Why not Nile? Or even Yarra?

He digresses.  Amazon is about to extend its tentacles into main street shopping.  Just Walk Out is a check-out-free technology that allows shoppers to pick up an item and walk out of the shop, with the cost of the item charged to their credit card.  Clearly, technologically, there is a lot more to it than that. 

Amazon has been trialling Just Walk Out since 2018 in 15 wholly-owned Amazon Go stores in the Yoo-Ess-Ay.   And it works, to the extent that Amazon is going to make the technology available to any retailer.

Imagine going to Myer and not having to deal with a grumpy cashier who was first employed in the 1970s and whose hair colour has changed more often than the sun rises in a year.

Warning!  Of course, the other side of the credit card is privacy, market dominance, surveillance, etc.  All of which Wry & Dry, like smart Readers, will avoid by continuing to use Her Majesty's legal tender.

Ironic

The GHS Index of preparedness for epidemics and pandemics will clearly need to be revised.  According to GHS, the Yoo-Ess-Ay has the world's highest level of preparedness. 

Cartoon what did you do in the pandemic

Go figure.  But, wait.  There's more.  The Yoo-Ess-Ay was numero uno by a long way.  Its score of 83.6 is well ahead of the UK (77.9) and the Netherlands (75.6).  Australia comes in at #4, with a score of 75.5.

Singapore, which seems to have managed the crisis better than most, comes in at #24, with a score of 58.7.

Egg on face at GHS.

Readers may wish to go to this website

UK Labour leader

Wry & Dry expects that the UK Labour Party will tomorrow announce that Sir Keir Starmer as their new leader.  Sir Keir's great advantage is that he is not Jezza Corbyn.

Darwin

Wry & Dry receives emails every week.  Mostly from deranged left-wing types who consider he is too right-wing and from deranged right-wing types who consider that he too left-wing.  But an eyebrow raised ever so slightly on receiving the below on Tuesday:

Dear Sir

I had never heard of the Darwin Awards until I read about same in your revered and much anticipated and read epistle.

Having more spare time than I appreciate having, I read through the award winners and discovered that in March 2018 a woman appears. I therefore protest at your inaccurate reporting (perhaps it should be called “fake news”), and demand an immediate retraction and apology to all men-muddle-headed or otherwise.

Yours etc

(name withheld)

This gentleman is clearly one of breeding and intelligence.  He is curious, industrious and capable of deep research.  He is, of course, quite correct.  In March 2008 these was indeed an interposition of oestrogen in the Darwin Awards.  As some Readers might expect, Wry & Dry was aware of this. But intentionally inserted the erroneous position to see if Readers would spot the error. 

So hats off to the gent.  But Wry & Dry feels that as the error was deliberate, no apology is required. 

PS  Further correspondence from the same gent has disclosed significant further research, including the comment: "my researches have found several more examples of women who possibly should have locked themselves in their kitchens rather than try to enter the world stage."  Clearly, the gent is now at risk of himself being a candidate for a Darwin Award... at the hands of his wife.

Snippets from all over 

1.  Only Microsoft

Only one stock in the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose during the first quarter and it was only up by a penny: Microsoft.

Wry & Dry comments:  Hardest hit on the DJIA was Boeing, which saw losses of 54%, as well as energy plays Exxon Mobil and Chevron, and financial names JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs.  Note: this is the Dow Jones, which has 30 stocks, not the S&P 500, which has, well, 500 stocks.

2.  Essential guns

Firearm sales in the Yoo-Ess-Ay have picked up during the coronavirus outbreak, with long lines seen at stores nationwide. 

Wry & Dry comments:  The government has now classified the industry as an 'essential business' that shouldn’t be closed during shutdowns. Golf has also been classified as 'essential' in the Yoo-Ess-Ay.  California Dreaming has deemed that cannabis shops are essential.  In France, shops specialising in pastry, wine and cheese have been declared essential businesses.  

3.  China PMI bounce

China's official manufacturing PMI bounced to 52.0 in March, up from a record-low 35.7 in February, signalling a revival in activity even as much of the rest of the world is shut down.   

Wry & Dry comments: Another dead cat bounce?

4.  Shale sinks 

Whiting Petroleum became the first U.S. shale producer to file for bankruptcy amid the collapse in oil prices: oil benchmarks Brent and West Texas Intermediate posted their worst ever quarter, ending around 66% lower. 

Wry & Dry comments:  Not the first, or last.  Just one of the largest.

5.  The Carnival might be over

The US$2 trillion CV-19 stimulus package doesn't apply to major cruise lines, as the the package limits aid to (a) US companies with (b) the majority of workers based in the US.  So Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean miss out.

Wry & Dry comments: The pun about staying afloat almost left Wry & Dry's quill.

And, to soothe your troubled mind ...

Miscellany 

Last words ...

Without commenting on any classified information, this much is painfully obvious: The Chinese Communist Party has lied, is lying, and will continue to lie about coronavirus to protect the regime."

 -  Ben Sassa, a Republican Senator from Nebraska, commenting on US intelligence reports that "China has concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in its country, under-reporting both total cases and deaths it’s suffered from the disease".

Another possible future presidential candidate to bookmark.  Trouble is there's not much of a home-state advantage: Nebraska has only 5 electoral college votes.  

A lightly salted absurdity ...

Deepak, Wry & Dry's Uber driver ... 

...texted that he was in self-isolation.  Hmm.

   -  from the quill of Mrs Wry & Dry. 

 

Cheers

Anthony 

 

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