Fear is the most powerful weapon in war. Hitler deployed buzz bombs against London in an attempt to destroy resolve and heighten fear during World War II. It nearly worked, if not for the even greater resolve of the British people and their leader, Winston Churchill. 

Fear is such a powerful weapon that nations will go to great lengths in war to manipulate the news reaching the people. During World War I, only Spain had a reliable free press reporting the deadly flu ravaging troops and populations. No army wanted the world to know they were taking heavy causalities from what would later be called the Spanish Flu. Yet every nation, on the battlefield and at home, were taking a hard hit from the disease. The U.S. was particularly hard hit. But when the absence of daily news on the deadly flu was only to be found in Spain, it was felt it the virus originating there. The truth was far from it.

Today we are facing a similar, though less deadly, threat, and the disinformation machine is in high gear. This time the media seems to want fear cranked to the highest level.

 

Washing your hands with soapy water for 20 seconds or longer is the most effective way to prevent the spread of the flu virus, even better than hand sanitizers.

 

Since I have no formal medical training I will leave the medical advice to those qualified to give it. What I can do, as an accountant, is reveal the truth behind the never-ending statistics and how they have been manipulated to scare us at the highest level. COVID-19 is a serious health issue without a doubt. It spreads easy and fast with a heightened risk of death. These simple facts make it easy to scare people into clearing their savings account to stock up on toilet paper and other essentials. 

The level of fear has filled my email box from clients and readers worried about the state of affairs and how it will affect their finances. I have worked hard on social media to provide a steady voice in the whirlwind of conflicting data. It is time I issued a formalized response here to the elevated levels of fear people are experiencing and the risks people face with their investments and personal finances.

Understand, this post is not about specific advice: buy this, sell that. Rather, my goal is to help you control your emotions and control your response to fear mongering and market unrest. That is where real wealth creation finds a home. Buying the right investment does no good if you panic sell before value has been realized. Buying high to sell at a panic low is the surest path to poverty. With new feeds bloated with coronavirus articles it is easy to start thinking the world is about to end. I will show you below, nothing is further from the truth. This has happened before and we know how it ends. (SPOILER ALERT: It will pass and most people will be unharmed. Even the economic damage will be less than expected and will return to normal in a matter of time. It will later be determined that fear caused more damage than COVID-19 did.)

 

A Short History of Pandemics

Human history is filled with pandemics. Until modern times, diseases ran their course with little effective intervention from doctors. Illnesses ran their course and eventually died out. 

The common cold, flu and similar illnesses are also common throughout history. The 1918-19 Spanish Flu was a particularly nasty one. As many as 50 million people died. 

Things were different in 1918-19. World War I was coming to an end. Governments involved in The War to End All Wars kept the flu numbers a secret so as not to encourage the enemy or demoralize their soldiers in the field and the folks back home. Only the free press in Spain reported on the people getting sick and the number dying. That is why some thought it started in Spain, hence the Spanish Flu designation. (It didn’t. It probably started in northern China in 1917.) 

Pandemics of the past, even those from less than 100 years ago, had less economic impact than today. Supply chains now span the globe. Never before have businesses been so integrated and international in scope. Pandemics of the past killed and sickened people; COVID-19 is also wrecking havoc on the world economy.

Until recently, a nasty flu season was the only way anyone knew something was afoot. Modern medicine gives us a jump start on what to expect. We knew COVID-19 was headed our way because China alerted the world to the pending virus. SARS, the Swine Flu and the H1N1 variety of flu in 2009 are modern examples of pandemic scares. Most of these viruses never circumnavigated the globe, dying somewhere along the way.

And we come back to the Spanish Flu. Somewhere between 20 – 50 million people died from that flu. It came in three waves with the second being the worst. Then it just disappeared. Nobody knows exactly what happened, but the flu virus probably mutated again to a less deadly form. Doctors didn’t discover a cure, social distancing wasn’t a thing and unless you were sick in a hospital it was unlikely you were even quarantined.

The Spanish Flu did have one nasty trait that put it into the history books. Normally the seasonal flu kills the old, very young and those with a compromised immune system. The Spanish Flu killed adults in their prime; the people who usually get sick for a week or so at worst during flu season, but almost always recover. 

And that is the first problem with the fear surrounding COVID-19: it generally kills older people, similar to the normal seasonal flu. The very young are spared with only a few healthy adults susceptible. Those over age 60 are at most risk.

 

Unfounded Fears?

COVID-19 is a nasty flu bug for sure. It spreads very easy and has managed to circle the globe rather quickly. It also makes people very sick that normally only get mildly sick from the flu. Older people face a very high risk of death if they contract COVID-19.

The fears are not unfounded, but are exaggerated. The response has been way overblown compared to the risk profile of the disease. Let’s place this into perspective:

As of this writing, 7,158 have died with COVID-19. Read that last sentence very closely as it will be important in a bit. Here are the current numbers

No one is advocating clearing the roads due to the risks of driving. Many still smoke tobacco and eat an unhealthy diet that increases the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke. Yet, one of the smallest risks of dying to-date is causing a panic.

HIV/AIDS caused fear, but no panic. All the mortality risks listed above are a concern, but not at a level that should be disruptive. So what is causing COVID-19 to create such disruptive panic?

First, when the seasonal flu is with us every year and tens of thousand die from it we adjust to the risk as a normal part of life. COVID-19 is new, novel. Novel in this case means people do not have a natural immunity to the virus yet. 

Second, COVID-19 spreads fast and very easy. People have not had time to adjust.

Third, people who normally do not die from the flu are. Not like the Spanish Flu, but an elevated percentage of healthy middle age people are dying from COVID-19. 

All three combined has caused rampant fear. New, fast and potentially deadly to people who normally do not fear the flu has generated panic. Then people extrapolate the numbers to the entire world population and get dizzy. Except it is a massive misrepresentation of the facts.

 

Misleading Numbers

News reports and press releases from world health organizations are very careful how they word their press releases. Mortality rates are extrapolated by the public from the fancy representation of the numbers, but the extrapolations are far from truth. 

People dying with COVID-19 are reportedly as high as 3.84%. When people read this they think it is the mortality rate. It isn’t.

Not everyone is tested for the virus. Those most ill are more likely to be tested and all people who are reported to have died with COVOD-19 have been tested. (Otherwise how would they know they died with the virus?) This leads to a misrepresentation. If only sick, or potentially sick, people are tested, the number that die from the virus is pulled from a population likely to have contracted the disease. That is like using a test from people likely to have cancer as a representation of the entire population’s cancer mortality risk. The mortality rate for COVID-19 is likely under 1% and even lower for the population at large. Only time will give us an exact, or close to exact, number. Using the data available, COVID-19 is more deadly that the seasonal flu most years, but not anywhere near as deadly as the Spanish Flu.

Another misleading statistic comes from the wording in news reports and press releases from health organizations. They are careful to say someone has died “with” COVID-19 rather than “from” or “because of” COVID-19. This is a serious reporting issue.

Think of it this way. If someone is healthy and contracts COVID-19 they might have mild or no symptoms. But if they die in a car accident before the virus is cleared from their body they died “with” COVID-19. The virus had nothing to do with the death, but is recorded as a disease that the person had when they died. 

It is not uncommon for someone to have several contributing factors to their death. Rarely, if ever, do we medically say someone dies of old age. Instead, we list a variety of ailments that contribute to the final cause of death. Cancer and pneumonia  are common causes of death in people over 80. The flu is also a big contributor. Somehow we can’t bring ourselves to say they just got old and died. We need a reason. And that can lead to problems at times like these.

This counting of every death where COVID-19 is present misrepresents the full facts. The patient may have died from other causes at the same relative time anyway. This happens when people get old, and COVID-19 strikes hard at the old, as do many flu strains. This misrepresentation allows for an inflation of the COVID-19 numbers which heightens public fears.

 

Emotions in Check

People at risk need to take precautions. Because young people can carry COVID-19 without getting seriously ill, it is important to take steps to prevent the virus from infecting older family members inadvertently. That is the real risk with COVID-19; the unknown causing fear.

It is proper to take a break from all but necessary gatherings. The economy will take a short-term hit. It is scary, but not as bad as the media would have us believe. Social media blows it up even worse that the traditional press. Shame on us!

In the modern world this means supply chains will be disrupted. Business will slow and some industries will be very hard hit. The stock market is predicting a doomsday scenario.  It isn’t that bad! For those who are patient and control their emotions, now and in the near future is a good time to increase equity holdings. Keep adding to your retirement plan at work. Dollar cost averaging only works if you keep the regular investments going when the market is down, too.

I know it looks bad right now. Not everyone will contract COVID-19. Most who do will only experience mild illness. The older you are the more important it is to seek medical attention as your mortality risk increases rapidly with age. 

The way the numbers are playing out the number of deaths from COVID-19 will be somewhat higher than a normal flu season. However, the fear it induces will keep more people at home and off the road. It is possible the fewer number of people who die in road accidents as a result may be more than all the deaths attributable to COVID-19. 

That would make this the first flu strain to reduce the number of deaths by a greater number from other causes than those who die from the virus. Technically, a negative death rate. Again, technically, all factors combined, it could be the least deadly flu strain since the invention of the automobile.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

 


 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

There is an adage on Wall Street many have repeated over the years and more so in the last month:

BUY THE DIP.

What so many forget is another Wall Street adage similar to the first:

BUYING THE DIP WORKS UNTIL IT DOESN’T.

I have warned this is not over yet so don’t get too excited about buying the first decline.

My opinion is unchanged. Unless something drastic changes, the events put in motion will play out until their logical end (the end all panics end in).

Most readers of my blog have never experienced a prolonged decline in many markets at once. It has been 12 long years since things were really ugly. This will be the first REAL test of the FI and FIRE communities. Unfortunately, most leaders in these communities have also never experienced a real market panic when they had meaningful money invested.

By now I hope I convinced all of you to never invest with borrowed money. If you followed this advice it will only be a time thing before normalcy returns. Before the clouds clear, however, the news feeds will be littered with end of the world predictions. Unemployment will rise, markets will fall, the economy will slow or even decline. This has all happened many times before.

My advice to you, kind readers, is turn off the news feeds. The coronavirus will be fine without you watching its every move. Oil prices are going to decline heavily. Enjoy even cheaper gasoline prices in the interim.

If you didn’t sell at the high (you didn’t) don’t try to out guess the market now. Stand pat. Let the world around you panic as it always does. You, my good friends, are smarter than that. You will not be moved by a decline in your investment account balance. That is only a temporary thing unless you lock in the loss.

I was beginning to believe the coronavirus was the black swan event that would finally trip up this long bull run. It seemed strange because the coronavirus is bad, but not that bad. The economic damage could be sharp, but short lived.

The oil price war between OPEC (mostly Saudi Arabia) and Russia is the real black swan event I was waiting for. This has a real risk of causing serious damage.

If oil prices stay where they have fallen to (I’m writing this Sunday night, March 8th, 2020 when oil prices dropped into the upper 20s and gasoline futures dropped over 20 cents a gallon), U.S. shale companies are in deep trouble with massive debt and no way to work out of the problem. 700,000 jobs are on the line and several million more in halo industries serving the U.S shale oil industry.

Not all these jobs will be lost. But if even a reasonable percentage are lost the decade long economic expansion will come to an end.

Remember, the end of one economic expansion only paves the way for the next leg up.

I don’t know where the next economic advance comes from, but there are some strong indications. In 2008-09 shale oil was the one bright spot in the economy as oil prices were high. Oil will be an economic drag this time around.

Where will the next massive spike in economic growth come from? I have several guesses. Elon Musk made EVs cool and reliable. I expect the next economic surge will include a massive transition from ICE vehicles to EVs.

Solar, wind and other alternative sources of energy have the promise of huge economic growth. Even larger economically is storage technology. Batteries and other storage technologies for solar and wind will be nice areas to watch in the decade ahead.

After all this time the final frontier might be the biggest source of economic growth going forward. Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin will compete for space travel dollars. Space holds the promise of opening an economic boom never witnessed before.

So when the news feeds tell you the world is coming to an end, don’t believe it. None of this is new. Old guys like me have seen this before. The history books go even further back with stories of boom and collapse. It is the nature of a capitalist system. You have to take risk to build a better tomorrow and sometimes that leads to some short-term pain.

Stay well, my friends. And vigilant. Fear will rule in the weeks and months ahead. Do not allow your emotions to rule your common sense.

 

Note: I originally wrote this for a Facebook post for my followers. I removed that post shortly thereafter and pasted it into this post. I felt it was too important to leave this as a social media post that will gallop into the distance rapidly. 

You can read more about past market panic in this book. 

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

When Mrs. Accountant and I got married we had a bucket list. Most items on the list are private and irrelevant to the story at hand. The one item on the list I will share is our desire to have foster kids early in our marriage.

The goal was to help foster kids at a higher level than the average foster home. We also wanted to have foster children early in our marriage out of concern for having foster children after we had our own children.

Mrs. Accountant and I realized our goal. Several foster kids were placed in our home over three years. Rather than collect a stipend (the county paid us $1,000 per child per month tax free!) and ram as many kids through as possible for some quick squid, we planned on helping these kids get the start they deserved in life.

After they settled into their temporary home I started a daily routine with them. Back then Tony Robbins had recently released his first version of his Personal Power program. This 30 day course took you from where you were at to accelerated growth in areas of personal development and even issues relating to money.

Monday through Friday I would sit with the foster child (we only took one child at a time) as we listened to another episode of Tony. The program strongly recommended keeping a success journal and completing each day’s tasks to move a step closer to your goals.

The kids were all reluctant at first, but the enthusiasm and promises Tony made on those tapes quickly drew them in. Some kept a journal, many only scribbled a few notes or had no journal at all. Most gave at least minimal effort to the assignments given at the end of each tape.

Foster care in an unforgiving environment even in a loving home. Too many of these young people (we took the hardest cases of junior high and high school kids) struggled and then it was time to leave for a group home or a new foster home. Some of these kids went back home to live with a parent. In at least one instance the parent got her child hooked on drugs shortly after leaving our home. It was heartbreaking.

Twenty years later one of our foster kids stopped by the office. It was such a long time I didn’t recognize him. He introduced me to his girlfriend and was so excited about his job. He grew up and was doing well. He told me about his many trials after he left our home. He mentioned our time together listening to Tony was the only thing that prevented him from taking his own life. He knew if he fought hard enough long enough things would work out.

Then he reminded me of one lesson Tony taught that shaped his life. And he came this close to getting into the NFL.

Turn Up the Heat

The concept our foster child clung to so tenaciously involved an internal thermometer which determines success and failure. According to Tony, when things go south your subconscious turns up this internal thermostat to get you back to where you used to be.

Your mind has powerful beliefs on where you should be in life based upon your values and experiences. If you view yourself as a married woman and find yourself widowed, the mental heater is turned on to remedy the situation. Once back in a relationship the heater is turned down as normalcy is returned, according to your subconscious.

The internal thermometer doesn’t always serve you well. The above example explains why everyone is familiar with the rebound relationship. This thermometer doesn’t guarantee you a nurturing and fulfilling relationship. The heater likes to force the issue to get back to the comfort zone as soon as possible. Sometimes faster isn’t better. (Usually faster is NOT better!) When you are below a perceived value in any area of your life the heater comes on. If you are seriously below the expected range the heater roars!

The opposite is true too. When things start going great your subconscious turns on the air conditioner to slow things down and even caused bad luck to knock you back into your subconscious normal zone.

This happens with money all the time. The plight of lottery winners is legend. Sports stars and successful entertainers also have a disproportionate number of bankruptcies. When things go too good too fast or for too long the air conditioner comes on. This internal AC has caused more fortunes to be lost than any other entity.

In my office an employee has been enjoying a good bit of luck. A difficult childhood followed by adulthood filled with more pain than anyone should endure has broken into vast opportunities. She is doing awesome at work and her income is rising fast. She is good and I let her know it. I want my talented team to also possess a positive attitude.

She recently said one sentence which brings the whole mental thermometer into clear focus. She said, “When thing go this good something happens that causes me to lose my job.” Oh, my God, woman! Things are going great for you and all you can think of is how you self sabotaged in the past? Tony might have been wrong! This isn’t always a subconscious thermometer going into action; it can also be front brain.

That kind of self talk will butcher anyone. I sat my employee down and explained to her why this time WILL be different. She had to change her thinking from ‘here we go again’ to ‘I deserve this’. The crux of the problem is just that. She did not believe she deserved things so good. A lifetime of pain and regrets all too often gives us the BS we need to continue the same destructive patterns.

Breaking the Thermometer

The heater and the AC exist in all of us. Both are equally destructive.

Breaking the thermometer is difficult, but necessary before you can move forward. Breaking up with someone you love isn’t fixed with a rebound relationship. Losing money in a market decline might encourage you to regain lost ground by taking unwarranted risks that destroy your remaining wealth.

The AC is worse than the heater. Over the years I have watched employees with massive talent self destruct after getting a raise or praise. I see it more often when a new employee comes from the poor side of town. Opportunity for them is lost because they can’t accept the gift of an improving life.

Regular readers know I come from a poor farming family. Life wasn’t easy and the AC was running full tilt more often than the heater. Since the family financial position was so low from a young age there was less need for the internal thermometer to trigger the heater to bring things back up to where they were expected to be.

I struggled those early years. I always thought I’d shovel manure for a living only to watch the family farm lost to bankruptcy less than six month after I graduated high school. My expectations were low and my brain was determined to keep me there.

Over the next four years I managed to add to my small stack I saved in high school. Excessive frugality and a kind stock market jacked my net worth into the six figures. This wasn’t enough to retire even in the mid 1980s, but it was enough to allow me a chance to slide for a while.

For a year I immersed myself in books, learning everything I could. Then the best thing ever happened to me; I met Mrs. Accountant. We talked a lot and built a dream we soon put into action.

I kept reading, but fewer novels were in the mix as I devoured anything that would help me grow internally. I didn’t know it back then, but I was resetting my internal thermometer. Good thing, too. All I was to become is a result of this massive indoctrination.

Before long I met a real estate agent who sold me on investment property ownership. He also introduced me to Tony Robbins and invited me to see Zig Ziglar live.  (I have a picture on my office wall shaking hands with Zig.) I bought the books, I bought the tapes, and listened and read and listened and read.

I was a poor kid from the wrong side of the hill (the rural version of the wrong side of town). There was no chance I would be anything. Ever! I saw myself as poor and I was going out of my way to screw up what was a darn good start to my financial success.

Well, you know how it turned out. I bought a cassette player (remember those) with ear buds and listened to those tapes whenever I was working. If I wasn’t reading I was listening. I changed the thermometer; I changed the functioning of the heater and AC. No longer was I a slave to some subconscious voice keeping me in my place.

After all these years I still read voraciously. I listen to tapes less often. But now and again I give Tony or Zig my attention as I drive to the office or work around the house or barn. More often I read Warren Buffett or books recommended by Bill Gates today.

If you think about where you are at today financially, emotionally, in your faith, in your relationships, I think you will find the heater and the AC has been treating you with disrespect. Deep down you know where you belong and that is exactly where you will stay, adjusted for inflation.

You must reprogram yourself if you are to break free of this harsh taskmaster destroying your dreams. It’s possible, but you have to do it. No one can do it for you. You have to change the picture of how you see yourself before you can break the thermometer forever.

An old country boy from the backwoods of Wisconsin with no training happened to chance across a real estate agent who admired Zig and Tony. If not for that chance encounter I probably would not be here. My brain, my subconscious, needed reprogramming, programming for success.

And now you met me.