SARS emerged in China in November 2002. Local authorities, later removed from office in disgrace, initially failed to sound an alarm about the new disease, apparently thinking reporting it would reflect badly on them and hoping it would just go away if ignored.
The world first became aware of SARS as a public health threat in February 2003. The disease was declared under control in July 2003. By that time there had been 8000+ reported cases and about 800 deaths. The overwhelming majority of the fatalities were in China. The elderly and the very young were the age groups hardest hit.
the new virus
As of yesterday, there had been 2700+ cases of the new coronavirus reported and 80+ deaths.
There are four differences I see between the SARS epidemic and this year’s outbreak:
–faster reporting and more aggressive quarantining today (the disease is passed through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. There’s no medicine that works against it, so isolating victims is the only “cure”)
–symptoms emerge on average about ten days after infection, pretty much the same as with SARS. But unlike the case with SARS, where carriers only became infectious after they showed symptoms, carriers of the new virus appear to be infectious from day one, long before they become visibly ill
–China is a much larger part of the world economy today than it was back then. While the US has grown by 80% (using conventional GDP) since 2003, China is 12x the size it was then. So the slowdown in global economic activity that will result from quarantine measures in China today will be greater than it was for SARS. If SARS is a good indicator–and it’s the only one we have, so it is in a sense our best guide–the current outbreak will be well past the worst by mid-year
–SARS happened just as the world was beginning to recover from the recession caused by the internet bubble collapse of early 2000. The new virus comes during year 11 of recovery from the downturn caused by the near-collapse of the US banking system from losses that piled up during years of wildly speculative lending and securities trading. In other words, SARS happened when profits were beginning to boom and stocks really wanted to go up; in contrast, this virus is happening when profits are plateauing and stocks want to go sideways mostly because interest rates are crazy low.
During the SARS outbreak business travel came to a screeching halt because people feared becoming sick/being quarantined in a foreign country. If it’s correct that the new virus can be passed on even before the carrier shows symptoms, the risk in using public transport is substantially greater. So too the possibility that one’s home country will temporarily bar returnees from virus-infected areas.
Securities markets in China are currently closed for the New Year holiday. It isn’t clear that they will reopen on schedule. In the meantime, China-related selling pressure will likely be redirected to markets like New York. Alibaba (BABA) shares (which I hold), for example, are down about 6% in pre-market trading. At some point, assuming as I do that the SARS analogy will be a good indicator, there’ll be a buying opportunity. For me, it’s not today, although if I weren’t a BABA holder I’d probably buy a little.
It will be interesting to see how AI handles trading today.