Saturday, February 29, 2020

Coronavirus and Leverage

Forget for a moment the potential death toll.  And forget for a moment the financial damage from plummeting stocks.  The coronavirus could make the 2008 mortgage crisis look like child's play.

The last time there was a real pandemic was 1918.  Spanish flu killed up to 5% of the world's population.  Obviously a huge human tragedy.  (On the bright side, 95% of the world survived!) But there are big differences between 1918 and 102 years later.  High speed travel is ubiquitous, medicine has improved greatly, aaaand LEVERAGE IS EVERYWHERE (ie: borrowed money).

Unlike the early 1900s, everything today is bought on time, and the coronavirus does not care about your payment schedule.  

Banks, businesses, bonds, houses, cars, hospitals, you name it.  Everything today depends on a matrix of time sensitive payments happening at precise intervals. If time slows down, or takes a temporary pause, those payments will not happen and the deck of ownership around the world will be  completely re-shuffled.

If you are a leveraged company and depend on China for some part of your product, you cannot sell product TODAY.  If you cannot sell product, you cannot pay your debts. If your debts are collateralized by assets, someone else will soon own those assets. 

If you hold a mortgage and your job depends on business as usual, guess what?  Business as usual is going to take a temporary pause.  Can your mortgage payments?    

There will be bank runs, defaults, bankruptcies, and financial chaos beyond anything the world has seen before.  

Just another fun aspect to the unfolding pandemic.  


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