I want to start off in introducing this piece by saying that the scenario I’m about to present is only one of several possibilities and is opinion based on my independent analysis.
I have worked for nearly a decade in finance, primarily doing investigative financial analysis. I also worked for more than 5 years specifically helping expose U.S.-listed (NYSE/NASDAQ) China based frauds. The work we did was featured in the documentary The China Hustle. (For more on the documentary, go here. For more on my background, go here.)
As a primer, my track record in analyzing the novel coronavirus spread and its economic impact has been as follows:
January 24, 2020: With the Dow at 29,230, I warned that the stock market was “not pricing in any type of event involving this coronavirus spreading across the U.S.” and that the market was “extraordinarily overpriced relative to near-term risk”.
January 30, 2020: I was critical of the World Health Organization’s first major press conference on the matter, where they thanked China repeatedly and did little to stress that the coronavirus was a public health emergency.
February 2, 2020: I noted that some people were rightfully starting to use the word “pandemic” to describe the coronavirus and say: “I take zero pleasure in this but I think a serious wake up call is coming for some asset managers. And is long overdue. Just my opinion.”. The World Health Organization doesn’t declare the coronavirus a pandemic for another 38 days.
February 2, 2020: I wrote an article called “The One Number That Could Reveal A Chinese Coronavirus Cover-Up”, stressing that we must look at data outside of China to determine whether the data we get from inside China is truthful or not.
“As a reminder, despite the government saying that the risks of outbreak are low outside of China, I’ll remind readers that it costs nothing to take extra precautions,” I said at the time. 6 weeks later, grocery stores in the United States would be cleaned out.
February 9, 2020: I called out hypocrisy from the World Health Organization for, eight days after their press conference, coming out and saying that we may “only be seeing the tip of the iceberg” regarding the coronavirus.
February 20, 2020: With the Dow at 29,296, I again warned there was a “wake up call for those ignoring virus impact coming”, that the market was underpricing risk due to the virus and that “pain is coming”. The Dow would drop more than 30% in coming weeks to a 52-week low of 18,213.
February 22, 2020: Weeks before our country acknowledged that we needed social distancing or active countermeasures to combat the virus, I wrote an article called “The Time Is Right Now: Why The U.S. Must Act Decisively To Confront The Coronavirus”.
“I am today suggesting that the government act swiftly and extraordinarily decisively to respond to this virus right now, by preparing the healthcare system and citizens of this country, before it gets out of control,” I said. “The first cases in major U.S. cities will grind the U.S. economy to a halt,” I predicted.
February 29, 2020: In a Periscope live video stream, I was critical of President Trump’s first press conference on the novel coronavirus, where he said the U.S. had 15 cases and that the number was “going to zero”. I predicted this press conference would cost Trump the election in November.
In terms of analysis, which I see as only being valuable if you are well ahead of the curve, this is what I brought to the table in January and February.
With the same idea in mind – being ahead of the curve and looking forward – what I want to present today is a potential explanation for the United States far surpassing any other nation in its amount of novel coronavirus cases. This has been the headline over the last 72 hours, with many people shaming the United States’ efforts in containing the virus due to our numbers looking comparatively poor to the rest of the world.
No doubt, you have seen charts like these:
And no doubt, you have seen headlines like this one, from March 26, posted in the New York Times:
And, as of March 29, perhaps you have seen people like Paul Krugman taking every opportunity they can to slam the Trump administration and the U.S. response to the virus, sporting a similar chart:
While the United States was certainly slow on the uptake in dealing with the virus, now we’re at a point where every health professional in the nation is focused on the same problem and we are officially all on board to do everything that we can to try to limit and prevent the spread of the virus.
That should be cause for some exhale. We are going through the worst of it right now.
What I want to focus on now is this notion that the problem is spiraling out of control in the United States while China has had it totally under control. Arriving at this conclusion could be exactly what China wants: the U.S. looks like they are behind the rest of the world, while China has things so under control, they can offer aid to neighboring countries.
But what if China forced this outcome? On the Chinese side, it would be very simple to make this happen. The only thing the Chinese government would need to do is manipulate the infection/death numbers coming out of the country and hope the rest of the world takes them as gospel.
I wrote in my February 2, 2020 article that I was extraordinarily skeptical of the numbers coming out of China, not only because of my experience analyzing China in the past, but also because the draconian measures that the country was taking. Quarantining hundreds of millions of people, for example, seemed to stand at odds with the infection and death numbers we were being disclosed by the country.
China has 1.3 billion people in it. We are supposed to believe they caught this virus and are managing it in a way that not one single new person in the country has been infected of late and those numbers – in one of the most densely populated areas in the world – have simply topped out over 80,000? You don’t need to be a statistician or an epidemiologist to figure out why one might want to be skeptical of this.
My worries back in February, as this problem was developing unbeknownst to the rest of the world, were twofold: that the infection numbers coming out of China were much larger than the country was letting on, and/or the virus was deadlier than we thought it may have been. This is why I urged people to look closely at the data outside of China.
The good news is that the virus has been examined by health professionals outside of China and my once-worst case scenario regarding how fatal the virus truly is appears to be off the table. But the one notion that isn’t off the table, that we still continue to take at face value, is the number of infections and deaths coming out of China. U.S. media, like Bloomberg, continues to take China’s word on their numbers, writing on March 18 that China’s virus cases have “reached zero”. This doesn’t line up with ancillary and (importantly) objective data coming out of China, like the sudden disappearance of over 21 million cell phone lines.
Several days ago, I spoke with a Chinese national friend of mine who I have known and worked with for more than five years. He called me unprovoked to tell me that he thought the work I was doing on the coronavirus was accurate and much needed.
His contention was that the Chinese government knew about the virus well before December 2019 and months before the rest of the world knew about it. He said he believed that the initial response was to try and cover it up before eventually having to acknowledge it on a global scale. This would gel with my understanding of how important optics are to the Chinese government.
My friend, who has friends and family in Hubei province (where Wuhan is), assured me that my concerns about the numbers being understated were warranted and told me he was of the opinion that there were far more cases in China than the country was letting on.
So, before we go slamming the United States for posting such a large number of infections relative to the rest of the world, let’s consider some things.
We already know that the coronavirus was around in China as far back as November 17, 2019. Between November and mid-January, there was a barrage of nonstop daily international flights to and from major airports in China, to and from other major international airports around the world. China also had about 600 million air passengers per year, arriving and departing at any number of hundreds of airports.
In essence, before major travel restrictions were put into place and before we knew what we know now about the virus, it was likely just spreading around the world as quickly as humanly possible between November and February.
Ergo, it is very possible that the rest of the world, including nations like Italy and the United States, began to see an aggressive expansion of coronavirus cases as far back as December. And since nobody knew about it then, and people continued on their normal course of business, the virus likely spread exponentially throughout these countries weeks, if not months, before we ever took action. I think there’s a chance it has spread so much since then, in fact, that our current countermeasures may only be a consolation prize.
Today, I want to ask whether it is possible that the Chinese government knew this spread was taking place as far back as December and, after being forced to admit globally that the virus was prevalent in China, decided to downplay their own numbers in a concerted effort to eventually shift the narrative to other countries irresponsibly handling the virus?
Certainly, we have seen the CCP’s mouthpiece in the Global Times make these types of insinuations over the last month. “US cities such as New York are now the most risky places in the world,” China’s state-run media boasted on March 24. The Twitter account for the Global Times has focused almost exclusively on the outbreak in the U.S. over the last several weeks, with no mention of reports out of China that the virus continues to persist in Wuhan, despite claims of re-opening the country.
They also don’t even mention China’s numbers when tracking the virus around the globe:
I want to remind our nation that it is extraordinarily vital to remember that so many models and so many analyses – in addition to so many potential constructive timelines of how this all took place, are still reliant on the Chinese government numbers being taken at face value. In my opinion, we absolutely cannot trust these numbers and all information coming out of China needs to be verified by the United States government independently.
Additionally, as we know from today’s now-viral video of senior adviser to the Director General of World Health Organisation appearing to purposefully avoid critical questions about China surrounding Taiwan, the WHO’s urge to protect China should also be examined critically.
This isn’t the only instance that has given me pause about the WHO, in addition to the aforementioned January 30, 2020 press conference.
For example, on January 14, 2020, the World Health Organization came out and said that “preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan.”
To say that the World Health Organization was proven wrong would be a severe understatement.
Yet what is obviously warranted criticism of the WHO has been pushed back on by China’s state run media, who calls it a “clumsy trick of the U.S. to fabricate rumors, like a thief crying”.
I’m not saying it’s a definite, but I’m saying we absolutely have to entertain the idea that we are simply being played. At this point, ignoring this angle is bordering somewhere between naive and criminally negligent, with history to eventually determine.
As I’ve said in previous pieces, I believe I have a feel for the ethos of the Chinese government a little bit more than the average American based on the work that I’ve done in the past. It is a sad theory and one that may shock many unknowing Americans, but I would not put it past China for them to have instituted a lockdown while putting out severely understated numbers in order to eventually shift the blame and responsibility off of their country to other major countries.
The reality, in my opinion, is that the virus is already here, has been running rampant for months and that the testing we’re doing now is only revealing cases that have occurring for a while. Remember also, there have been reports about people getting mysterious types of pneumonia in Italy as far back as November 2019.
And so before we go shaming the United States and praising both the WHO and China, I believe it is important for us to consider this possible sequence of events while looking back on how the coronavirus pandemic unfolded.
Let’s also not forget that ubiquitous testing and truthful reporting of these numbers is the ethically honest and morally right thing to do, which should give you a sense of pride in the work the United States is doing, even as case numbers rise.
Case numbers will continue to rise. Deaths will, unfortunately, continue to rise. Famous people and people you know will test positive. These are all side effects of our country uncovering the raw data that we need to do our best to understand, gauge and combat the problem directly.
To our credit, we’re being upfront with our citizens and the world about the numbers. I am confident that over the course of time, and through a long arduous process of subpoenas and investigations, we will eventually find out the truth.
I only ask that you hold reservation on which country is doing an effective job until such time. Now, the focus should remain on global unity and compassion to help our fellow man.
(For continued analysis on the coronavirus spread, its impact and the impact on our market and economy, please listen to this podcast with George Gammon and I, where we discuss these issues, at length, for over two hours).