On March 23 I received a long email from Motley Fool Australia’s Chief Investment Officer (CIO) Scott Phillips.
The email contained a confession from the CIO. He wrote: “I underestimated the impact of Coronavirus, on health and finances, for the first month or so of its known existence.” You can see what I mean below:
While Scott Phillips is correct that he underestimated the impact of the SARS-COV-2, he did so for longer than “the first month or so”. I find this statement confusing because the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 was first reported on December 31, 2019, and Scott seemed to be publicly arguing that more die from flu as late as March 6, 2020.
After all, this Chief Investment Officer said, on March 6:
“I think we’re over-reacting to the thing we can ‘see’. And yet countless more die from flu et Al every year. And lightning strikes. And domestic violence.”
You can see what I mean below:
He also said on March 6:
“The community response seems disproportionate to the size of the (known) risk. More Australians will likely die from the flu this year. That we treat those two things so differently suggests there’s more than rational logic at play…”
You can see what I mean, below:
While he no longer seems to spend his time telling people that the flu kills more than COVID-19, Scott has not deleted his tweets saying that it does, nor his tweet of a video interview in which the interviewee said:
“The virus will be very similar to influenza virus” and “the good news is that it’s very unlikely to be any more damaging than influenza virus is; I cannot imagine frankly that it will cause one tenth of the damage that the influenza virus causes every year in the United States.” (Link to video)
Scott Phillips should delete and retract these comments, if he now realises they are unhelpful to investors trying to understand the virus and governments trying to implement social distancing.
Personally, I could have foreseen the impact of the coronavirus more accurately and sooner, though I certainly knew covid-19 was worse than the flu by observing what was happening in China. Since then, I have studied how other people predicted it better than me, in keeping with my motto of: Don’t Lose The Lesson.
In my opinion, Scott Phillips should remove his tweets comparing SARS-COV-2 to the flu (and lighting strikes). In my opinion, he should also clarify to readers of his marketing emails that he underestimated the novel coronavirus for ‘the first two months or so of its known existence’ rather than the ‘the first month or so of its known existence’, in order to give them a clearer view of his real track record on the subject.
After all, when it comes to underestimating a pandemic, there is more than money at stake.
Post Script: Well, it took a few months but by July 17 (the date of this post script) study after study is showing how much more deadly covid is than the flu. It would have difficult to sell a newsletter with ‘Buy’ recommendations in early March 2020, if one admitted markets are probably about to tank on a nasty new viral pandemic.
1. It’s not the flu: This graph from a paper out today looking at excess mortality in England during the start of #Covid19 shows clearly this is on a whole different level than influenza. They show excess mortality of the past 5 flu seasons vs. Covid. Arrows, red lettering added. pic.twitter.com/TxSO96XTgF— Helen Branswell (@HelenBranswell) July 16, 2020
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