March Madness has a whole new meaning in 2020
By Morf Morford
and Danielle Nease
Tacoma Daily Index
So far in 2020, we have had plagues, panics, trillion dollar losses in the stock market, World War III as a trending topic, Democratic presidential candidates rise and fall and weather anomalies so extreme we can barely make sense of them, from fires and floods to tornadoes and volcanoes.
When I started this monthly profile/review I did not imagine that each month would take it upon itself to be crazier than the month before. This was not meant to be a contest.
I’d be perfectly happy with a calm quiet month with no mass shootings, no revolutions abroad, no economic convulsions, no triple or even quadruple leaps or drops in the stock market, no bizarre crimes and no unexpected political shake-ups.
Maybe next month.
But then again, perhaps my hopes for stability should not rest on a month that begins with April Fool’s Day. April after all, as T.S. Eliot put it, is the cruellest month.
The first week in March
Jack Welch, who transformed General Electric Co. into a highly profitable multinational conglomerate, died March 1. He personified the so-called “cult of the CEO” during the late-1990s boom, when GE’s soaring stock price made it the most valuable company in the world. In 1999, Fortune magazine named Welch as its “Manager of the Century.”
Chris Matthews, one of America’s best-known political talk show hosts, announced on March 2 that he was retiring from MSNBC’s “Hardball,” the cable news show he hosted for more than 20 years.
COVID-19 expands around the world at an exponential rate with six deaths in the USA – all in Washington state. Many schools in King and Snohomish Counties are closed.
In near-panic, shoppers clean out the shelves of grocery stores – even Costco stores – of most basic “necessities” – like toilet paper and bottled water.
Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar have all dropped out of the presidential race – before Super Tuesday. Most of them are actively promoting one of the remaining candidates.
On the global front
France closed close to 120 schools on Tuesday due to clusters of coronavirus infections in northern regions of the country affecting an estimated 35,000 students, with the possibility of more schools postponing classes in the following days.
Italy essentially sealed off the northern half of the country (which holds about a fourth of the nation’s population).
COVID-19 cases passed 100,000 globally.
The national economy
On March 3 the Fed announced a half-point cut in interest rates to revive the economy. Interest rates are already at record lows. According to the FDIC, the typical savings account pays .09% interest per year.
Over the course of a decade, saving $100 with compound interest would give you an increase of about 9 cents each year for grand total of $100.90.
The search for a secure investment seems more elusive each day.
The local economy
Tacoma’s real estate market continues to defy expectations. With inventory low and prices high, sales are immediate and prices tend be several levels above the asking price.
One house in my neighborhood went on the market late on a Friday afternoon. By Sunday morning there was a “sold” sign in front. The asking price was $750,000.
In local news
In the wacky news department, Tacoma rarely disappoints. Tacoma once again cemented its place in the national spotlight in a case involving the director of Idaho’s Department of Corrections who bought “lethal injection drugs” with a suitcase full of cash in a Tacoma Walmart parking lot (https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/washington/articles/2020-03-07/idaho-faces-another-lawsuit-over-lethal-injection-secrecy). The drugs were later used in the execution of an Idaho prison inmate.
All I can say is “Keep it classy, Tacoma”.
Is nothing sacred?
Yes, I know, the roiled stockmarket is setting our 401(k)s on fire, COVID-19 is forcing the cancellation of classes, concerts, weddings and all kinds of events, but, (gasp!) Coscto has suspended its free samples program!
The second week in March
The second week in March began with (another) thousand point drop in the stock market – except this time it was two thousand. And a drop of about 30% in the price of oil.
For consumers, the retail price of gas was expected to drop under $2.00 a gallon. For consumers this is great news, for anyone in the oil business, it is catastrophic.
WHO declares coronavirus pandemic – https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/11/who-declares-coronavirus-pandemic?
On Wednesday Governor Inslee issued a proclamation (https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/20-07%20Coronavirus%20%28tmp%29.pdf?) banning all gatherings of over 250 people in response to the ever-increasing spread of COVID_19.
In related news, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau and the Seattle School Board ordered all schools in the district closed for two weeks beginning March 12 and The Washington State Fair in Puyallup has called off all events through the end of March.
On a national level, the NBA suspended the 2019-20 season until further notice.
“Social distancing” has become the prime directive of public behavior.
On Thursday evening of this week, President Trump announced a ban on European travel.
Thousand point drops – and shut downs of the stock market – have become routine on Wall Street.
Hundreds of sports events have been cancelled around the world, from golf to NASSCAR and marathons. You can see a full list here (https://www.espn.com/olympics/story/_/id/28824781/list-sporting-events-canceled-coronavirus).
The third week in March
The third week in March began with announcements from local and federal officials, lockdowns of national borders around the world and, on Monday morning, a stock market drop of well over 2,000 points.
Governor Inslee altered his proclamation banning all gatherings of over 250 people to the prohibition of gatherings of 50 people.
A second aspect of this proclamation was that bars, entertainment and recreational facilities have been ordered by the state to close across Washington and restaurants will be limited to take-out or delivery orders only.
On a national level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a dramatic recommendation: because large events can fuel the spread of the disease, it said gatherings of 50 people or more should be canceled or postponed throughout the country for the next eight weeks.
Local health officials have requested blood donations because the local blood supply is in jeopardy of collapsing with multiple blood drives closing and more than 2,500 donations lost amid coronavirus concerns.
Schools statewide are closed and school districts across the country – including the largest district in the country – New York City have closed. Some expected to stay closed through the duration of the school year.
Amongst the closures, international borders closed, including the US-Canadian and US-Mexican borders.
March 19th was the earliest spring since 1896 – and every spring from now on will be even earlier. It’s a complicated story, but if you want to see the whole explanation, check out the Old Farmer’s Almanac here –https://www.almanac.com/spring-2020-earliest-spring-in-over-100-years.
Many young adults amassed at beaches for spring break as usual despite social distancing directives. I’ve heard they don’t read or watch the news, so perhaps they hadn’t heard….
The fourth week in March
Along with all the other closures, even parts of the outdoors were closed, with playgrounds, parks and campgrounds being shut down in response to the Coronavirus.
A $2.2 trillion relief package was passed unanimously by the Senate, but only after debating semantics about stimulus versus relief versus unemployment, and how much was too much. (“Please, sir, may I have some more?”) The House passed the bill on March 27th, with President Trump signing it the same day.
Britain’s Prince Charles and Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for Coronavirus, as have Prince Albert of Monaco and U.S. Senator Rand Paul, along with over 520,000 other people around the world.
The Summer 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed, until July of 2021.
Unemployment reports were released showing a record of over 3,000,000 Americans filed for unemployment last week, compared to the prior week’s number at under 300,000.
The fifth week in March
President Trump extended the social distancing directives through the end of April, as the White House coronavirus coordinator increased potential death tolls to possibly as high as 200,000 deaths in the U.S. The death toll in Washington is now over 195 people, with more than 4,400 confirmed cases. Over 3,000 U.S. citizens have died from COVID-19.
Vincent Van Gogh’s “Spring Garden, the vicarage garden in Nuenen in the spring” was stolen out of the Singer Laren museum east of Amsterdam on the anniversary of his birthday, March 30th, according to a statement from Netherlands Police, proving that even in the worst of times, there are still people willing to be worse.
The stock market closed out the month with the Dow having its worst first quarter ever, down over 23%. U.S. oil prices had perhaps their worst month ever, down 54%.
The operative and defining phrase for March has to be a tie between “social distancing” and “out of an abundance of caution”.
School districts, local politicians and news anchors use the latter phrase to reassure us that they are doing something, however distant and effective, about any crisis – in the case of March of 2020, that indefinable something is, of course, COVID-19.
With a fatality rate of about 2% (while the more standard flu, certainly a concern, has a death rate of about half of one percent) and no vaccine and multiple (at this point unknown) vectors of transmission, perhaps “caution” should be “abundant”.
School closures, cancelling of public meetings and closure of some businesses might be “cautious” even effective, but I can’t help thinking that we can do more than just avoid potential viral contact.
With all of our expertise, resources and access to technology, is isolation and quarantine, the strategies of 600 or 700 years ago, the best we can do?
The tragedy is that we could have done something far earlier than we did. The information was there. Other nations, like Singapore, responded adroitly and effectively, avoiding widespread infection – and the panic and confusion many of us are seeing.