Hi ~ I’ve not been feeling 100% well (work, insomnia child, high pollen count) so been a delay on the blogs but I’ve rallied in the few days. Here are the recent Ben thoughts + activities.
Planning an online Thinking Bigly as part of Responsible Investors DigiFest Date: 17 June, 2.30pm UK. FREE. Pre-Register here.
The whole festival should be worth tuning into if sustainable/responsible investing is of interest. It’s a pivot from the usual conference held at this time which was typically only for paying investor types
Hosting a comedy online Quiz as part of the same festival. Have I got News for you meets Sustainability Quiz. Let me know if you have a good question or piece of comedy. There will be two teams, and a whole audience team. Do tune in! I’m hosting with David Finnigan. Mark 18 June 6pm. Bring your own Drink.
I'm going to try the book club idea soon. Will try and get to those who replied (you might want to reply again). I think I'm going for a cookery book, by Fuschia Dunlop that also tells you a lot about China. We can also chat about favourite recipes. I think people would derive a lot from Wisława Szymborska, but instead of her poetry, her non-fiction reviews. There's not much stock in her book (Non-Required Reading) though.
If you only have time for one I suggest Anoushka’s letter from lockdown. This is memoir-style autism awareness essay in west London lock down. (5 min)
A semi-technical piece on the on-going arguments for "value" in finance, sparked by billionaire quant Cliff Asness paper. (4 min)
What one Heathcare CEO said about the new-normal (not so new), COVID innovation and the problems of health as a public good (words 3 stories below, no public blog link). Medium to Long-term: CEO remains skeptical that the world learns better long term investment or preparedness. And he gives his view on why there's no antibiotic research.
And from Arts world, this recent NYT Obit: "
“…Madeline Kripke, who kept one of the world’s largest private collection of dictionaries, much of it crammed into her Greenwich Village apartment, could be defined this way: liberal [adj., as in giving unstintingly], compleat [adj., meaning having all the requisite skills] and sui generis [adj., in a class by itself].
Beginning with the Webster’s Collegiate that her parents gave her in the fifth grade, she accumulated an estimated 20,000 volumes as diverse as a Latin dictionary printed in 1502, Jonathan Swift’s 1722 booklet titled “The Benefits of Farting Explained,” and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 1980 guide to pickpocket slang….”
My grant winner reports from Sierra Leone on death by COVID vs death by hunger. A catastrophe mostly missed from mainstream reporting.
"...In Sierra Leone cases continue to rise, and actually for many NGOs including ours food crisis is becoming the bigger issue than even the covid. We are currently doing food distribution to our beneficiaries.
Our government has been unable to call for a 'lockdown' for longer than 3 days at a time as they fear people would die of hunger first. Its a country where most people live on profit from daily sales of their goods, and many beg on the streets to survive, so asking people to buy food for two wks in advance will be crisis for many.
Secondly, water crisis: majority of homes do not have running water: all these issues combined together makes it difficult to have a 'two wks lockdown’..." **
This is s memoir-style autism awareness essay in west London lock down.
A few weeks ago, I lay in bed feeling my skin prickling and cooling as the morning air dried a sheen of sweat from my skin. I was waking after an intense dream. A cinematic, hyper-real romp that seemed to have a lightning designer and a director of photography. In a tightly-framed sequence, I watched an instalment of dream-news in which a generic newsreader told of mounting deaths and inevitable doom in grave tones: a deadly pandemic was gaining ground. My brain took me on a wild, tilted rampage through a lurid health panic that felled my nearest and dearest. And then I woke up to the “it was all a dream” trope, but with a depressing reality twist.
Later that day, the real life pandemic began to unfold in earnest. Coronavirus cast its shadow over our chalk-edged island. WhatsApp groups thrummed with digital missives speculating about an Italian-style lockdown and my heart sank. Of all the Italian-style things I enjoy (coffee, ice cream, salad dressing), stringent lockdown measures are way down the list. Yes, I’m a book-reading introvert with a room full of craft supplies and a love of baking, but...Spike. A lockdown was, theoretically, Spike’s worst nightmare come to pass.
I started mentally planning for how we would address this with Spike. Distract him and hope he doesn’t notice? This would not work: he notices everything, not least the failure to comply with one of his fundamental mandates: a very well-established, self-imposed rule that he must leave the house once a day. And when I say “must”, I mean “must”. Other parents of autistic children will know what I mean. ... This is a memoir-style autism awareness essay in west London lock down. (5 mins)
"...Markets are humbling. As an intelligent - even extremely intelligent - young analyst. No matter how good she is. There will be decisions she misjudges.
There are many uncertainties in markets and as I’ve referred to in my aphorisms - and others - one of the only certainties are the uncertainties.
The mental mindset to deal with those uncertainties and still make decisions - that have great weight as measures in millions or billions of dollars - takes training. By the time a young person forms into an adult much of that mindset may already be settled although more can be trained and the mindset can be continually worked upon.
This resilience or even antifragility (where you thrive on the uncertainty) to deal with this in typical financial markets turns out to be useful for COVID...." A blog on what surviving financial markets can teach you about surviving lockdown and COVID. (2 mins)
"...Cliff Asness (billionaire systematic quant based fund manager/investors) defends systematic value investing taking on two arguments, amongst a few:
Value investing is too well known a strategic and so it’s now efficiently priced
Accounting metrics used by these strategies don’t reflect “value” - mostly as companies now own intangible assets both on balance sheet
A semi-technical piece on the on going arguments for "value" in finance, sparked by billionaire quant Cliff Asness paper. (4 min)
I spoke to a CEO recently was intriguing on innovation (regulatory vs market failure), reputation and a post-COVID world.
S/He suggests (with me filling some blanks):
Re: Reputation of Industry. Over medium-term this fails to improve although in short term there is a political positive.
The core reason is that the general public dislike seeing “profit” made from health as many view “health” as a public good / human right.
The problem with this view for innovation and further human health is many-fold but two examples.
Why is there no antibiotic research? It’s not a market failure as argued by critics per se. It’s a regulatory failure. There’s no research because no large pharmaceutical company will be paid an adequate return for new antibiotics. This is due to regulation and price controls either hard (government mandated buyers) or soft (public opinion).
A (proper) market price would have a new antibiotic used in last line treatment and priced in the thousand of dollars. Potentially a form of orphan drug.
This would ensure several outcomes including:
-Antibiotic only used when needed in last line (so problem of resistance decreases)
-Adequate research is incentivised.
(Note this is essentially highlighting that price is a signal wrapped up in an incentive)
Instead, the majority of industry leading antibiotic research from large phara has been shut down, because there’s no point in 10 years of billions $ research for a drug that you will only be allowed pennies for.
Second, you can see this play out to an extent in vaccines. Eg, France. There’s a call for vaccines to be a public good. But, where does the money for research etc. come from? Needs investment. For long-term human health and innovation, poor decision to make vaccines too cheap or public good.
(I’d also note that Moderna has tapped the capital markets / investors for $1bn+ in capital. Governments could easily invest billions themselves and partner on many of the vaccine projects).
Re: Post COVID world
Medium to Long-term: CEO remains skeptical that the world learns better long term investment or preparedness.
Caveat. If there is a strong second wave (which he doubts, personally, but unsure) then as long as it lives in politicians mind then this is possible, but remains doubtful.
Politicians fail to think long term and policies unlikely to reflect such a new world.
His experience with Tamiflu (admitted much less severe than COVID) suggests this will happen. Perhaps China or a few select states aside.
Counter-argument. What about financial regulation, post financial crisis? This came in.
Counter-Counter-argument. Nations can ring fence finances and to an extent flow of money. Nations can not do the same for medicines as then people will die and no one nation can have a monopoly on life saving drugs.
This means in his personal view - much of the world goes back to before in a few years time, if COVID becomes a memory.
I am still dwelling on what this might mean. I'm unsure, but it was a very coherent view.
NYT Obit link. “…Madeline Kripke, who kept one of the world’s largest private collection of dictionaries, much of it crammed into her Greenwich Village apartment, could be defined this way: liberal [adj., as in giving unstintingly], compleat [adj., meaning having all the requisite skills] and sui generis [adj., in a class by itself]...."
I've had 100+ submissions and have backlog of 50+. Sorry if you are waiting for a response, I'm caught up to approx end Jan. Micro-grants. £10K for positive impact people.
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I’ve re-issued my 2006 play, Yellow Gentlemen (4 stars in Time Out and is one of my more personal works about the night immigrant Tommy Lee is dying). Buy it for laughs on Kindle for the price of a coffee. All profits to charity. I’ve only sold a few copies at the price of a coffee - 1.99.
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“...Through a long-term orientation and stewardship, this is the time for active investment managers to show their worth. It starts with asking the right long-term business questions. Some companies are giving us answers, but are we really listening?”
My full opinion article in the FT. (3 mins, behind paywall, but you get a free article or email me and I can send you a copy)
Find out more about my aphorism book and contact me for a copy.
The move to online dating has potentially empowered women as the cost to ghosting is so low.
Notes from a conversation with former Royal Court Lit. Manager.