Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Time Slowed

While the dates of 29th June to 12th July might seem a long way off, there will be no Wimbledon this year suggesting the shutdown still has a while to run. Even further out, with a scheduled start date of August is College Football, and the possibility of a cancelled season is now being openly discussed.

What was once unthinkable, even as recently as two weeks ago, is now being discussed openly throughout college sports: coronavirus could force the cancellation of the 2020 college football season.
College football brings in about 80% of the revenue for college sports so the loss of this would have a huge impact to those lower profile sports.

The NFL still plans to start its season in September, with a new play-off format meaning 14 teams will now play in the post-season, up from 12. Wild-Card weekend will now have six matches instead of the usual four. Time will tell whether the season actually takes place as scheduled.

The unprecedented shutdown of all sports and sports betting last month hasn't slowed the number of visitors to this blog, with last month seeing the highest number since October. I know at least two people are using this downtime to read through the blog from the start, which is a very productive way to spend your time in my completely impartial opinion.

For those readers stuck at home with spouses and / or partners, Malaysia's Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development advised the nation's women to help with the country's partial lock-down by not nagging their husbands.
The ministry also advised women to refrain from being "sarcastic" if they asked for help with household chores. And it urged women working from home to dress up and wear makeup.
Not sure that advice is totally PC, but feel free to share it if you don't mind getting slapped. For unknown reasons, the campaign has since been abandoned. 

We're probably all aware that our perception of time changes as we age. A term at school takes forever, whereas a year passes in a flash when you get old (so I am told).

A post from Collaborative Fund suggested that:

Time slowed in March because for the first time since childhood many of us are being bombarded with new and surprising experiences.
The writer goes on to say this:
I’ve heard people say the economic damage this leaves depends on how long the shutdown lasts. The idea is that if, in theory, everything reopens tomorrow we’d go back to business as usual; only if this drags on for another six or 12 months will we be forever altered.
But I think the amount of surprise we’ve all felt in the last month means this is already a life-defining event. The consequences will be different, but I believe more than ever that Covid-19 will end up similar to the Great Depression, World War II, and September 11th in its ability to reshape the world, driven by a generation that will go on to view everything else in life through the lens of their experience. Too many critical assumptions of the future have already been upended for it to be any different.
I have to agree. All of us will remember these weeks and months forever. The Spanish Flu pandemic was something of a footnote to the end of the Great War, and although most of us knew that something similar could happen again, I'm not sure many of us thought it ever would happen again.

My trip to South Africa seems to have marked the end of an era and seems a long time ago now. I returned with a pretty firm retirement date of March 2021 in mind, but after a first quarter loss of 10.2% (a record) and a poor start to Q2, that date is looking unlikely. We'll see. One of the consequences of COVID-19 may well be an appreciation of what is really important in life, and while accumulating money is certainly important, it's only important to a point. It can't buy time.

As bad as March was, perspective is maintained by seeing that I am simply back to where I was last June, and last June I was pretty happy. In other words, things could always be a lot worse.

Those of us who like our numbers and who have been looking ahead will know that April will be a depressing month with the below prediction for the US:  
I have the peak slightly later and slightly higher, but others have better data than me so I'll follow along. I'm not betting on it so my interest is purely academic. 

Stay safe, and stay home. 

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Cake or Death?

That poverty, stress and bad lifestyles cause death isn't in question, although the timeline is usually measured in decades rather than in weeks as is the case with COVID-19.

One reader commented on a story out of Italy where some people in the south are becoming restless after almost three weeks of "lock-down". 

As is the case here in California, and it looks like I may well be here for a while, grocery stores remain open, but the south of Italy has a big cash economy of unregistered workers and a higher level of deprivation and unemployment and money might be running out for some.

So while the virus hasn't reached the same crisis levels in southern Italy, hunger and hardship threaten to be problematic.

The comment was:

When the medicine becomes more toxic than the disease.
That logic doesn't hold up too well when the disease results in death, and it's hard to come up with a medicine any more toxic than that.

Trump hinted at this same argument last week suggesting that the country would be opened up in time for packed churches on Easter Sunday. Experts were horrified of course, and the unnecessary lives that would be lost were much discussed. 

Even most Republicans seem to understand that life is more important than money with polls showing 81% in favour of looking at the data and keeping restrictions in place until such time as that data says it is safe to ease up. "The virus sets the timeline". 

A joke doing the rounds here, not in the bars though, is:
What did Trump give up for Lent? Your grandparents.
It's been described as social Darwinism and is a non-starter with even Trump walking back the idea. 
Alabama’s disaster preparedness plan says that “persons with severe mental retardation, advanced dementia or severe traumatic brain injury may be poor candidates for ventilator support.”
This is the same Trump who announced in February that:
"When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done."
That would indeed have been quite a remarkable job, but a failure to react to the alarms in early January and ramp up testing have put the US in a bad position, made even worse by Trump's decision to disband the NSC's pandemic response team in May 2018. Despite those facts, he rates his performance as a 10 and takes no responsibility!

Anyway, I digress. After pointing out that we're talking about a deadly virus that can kill in three weeks, I got this response:
Charming. Not sure where 18 months suddenly came from but when you run out of rational, fact-based arguments and turn to abusive language, I guess the argument is won although given the situation we are in I'll put the reaction down to stress. 
While most of us are not expert epidemiologists, anyone who is interested in statistics has an abundance of data and models to look at, and as horrible as the topic is, it is statistically interesting. It was a while ago now, but I remember covering the Spanish Flu pandemic in my Pure Maths with Statistics 'A' level course and learning about CFR and R0.

It is this ever changing data that clearly shows the benefit of social distancing, lock-downs, travel bans and testing. 

With no action taken, viruses typically double the number of infections every six days, a rate of spread that would saturate the health care system in a matter of weeks. States and the UK are responding by building new field hospitals, but unless the rate of spread slows, these efforts will prove futile.

And once hospitals run out of ICU beds, equipment and staff the number of unnecessary deaths soars and it seems there are already serious shortages on both sides of the Atlantic for equipment right now, with staffing and beds to come in the next few weeks.

Stay safe and stay home and look at the data to see what's likely coming. It's not going to be pretty. 

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Opening Day - Postponed

Today should have been Opening Day for Major League Baseball. I should have been watching my wife's home town team play the Colorado Rockies, but of course the season has been postponed indefinitely. 

All those trends for opening day will be saved for another day.

Whether or not it is possible to play a shortened season perhaps extending into November and a neutral World Series in an indoor stadium remains to be seen, but it seems likely that there may well be more than a few doubleheaders, a feature of the game I wrote about last September, if the season ever gets started. 

The NBA is still hopeful of completing its season in some form with one suggestion being that: 
The NBA could decide to cancel the remainder of its regular season and create a play-in tournament for lower-seeded teams to enter the postseason. The league could then set up a best-of-five series for the first round, before moving to a one-and-done tournament to determine the two teams that will play in the NBA Finals, which would also be a best-of-five, people familiar with the planning said.
The tournament and NBA Finals would be held in Las Vegas at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion, where the league hosts its annual Summer League events.
The NHL is hopeful of resuming in July and completing its season in September but we shall see. 

As I mentioned previously, it's difficult to get motivated for something as trivial as betting while the ongoing pandemic plays out. 

Some light reading here for you in an article by Dave Hill titled The Perilous Future of Gambling in the Time of the Coronavirus.

Neither Dave or his friend are that great at maths: 
I texted a friend who is better than me at math and asked him what the odds were. He told me it was (½)^7, or about 99-1.
I made it 127-1, but let's not allow the truth to get in the way of a good story at a time like this. The more people gambling without solid math skills, the better. 

Monday, 23 March 2020

Glorious Twelfth

This blog has now been active for a full 12 years, after debuting in March 2008 with this opening post

My usual anniversary joke can be seen here, and the blog is now up to 2,686 posts, but it's not the funniest of jokes and probably most of us aren't in the mood to joke much these days.

Keeping the blog going when the profits are flowing sounds very poetic, but it's true. With nothing to bet on, there's not exactly much to write about and while it seems like this is the perfect time to look at past data and research, I'm struggling to motivate myself to be honest. 

Not only are there more important things to concern us, but the return of sports is likely to be several weeks or months away.

I mentioned that I was planning to watch an MLR game here yesterday, but the entire season has now been cancelled, as has the XFL season although I have no interest in that.

My trip to Queensland in July is looking less and less likely, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Crystal Palace, and less importantly West Ham United, announce a change in plans anyway. They may well be busy completing the 2019-20 season. I'll take that right now.

If I think of anything interesting or relevant to write about I will post, but it's looking like I'll be stateside for a while. 

It's probably only a matter of time before California upgrades the current 'stay-at-home' order to a 'shelter-in-place' one followed by the total lock-down now in place in my ancestral homeland Italy.

Looking at the latest numbers, the CFR for Italy is now a terrifying 9.3%, (this is what happens when the curve isn't flattened and health systems are swamped) for the UK it is 4.9% and for the USA it is 1.3%.

As hospitals reach full capacity and run out of equipment in the UK and USA as now seems inevitable, not only will more patients die of the virus, but additional patients with other illnesses will also die as they can't get the treatment they need, although these will not be included in the official COVID-19 numbers.

Stay safe and stay home.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Roxy, Thank You and ICU

That "Roxy" Roxborough is an intelligent man is clear from his pinned Tweet which states:

Four words to better health: Eat Less, Exercise More.....Four words to better sports gambling: Bet Prices not Teams.
That Roxy is a generous man with impeccable taste in betting related blogs became clear at the weekend when a generous donation to my retirement fund was made with the note:
Good stuff you write. Maybe this will get you a good bottle of Scotch. Roxy.
Donation and comment both very gratefully received and appreciated.

On the topic of Roxy's pinned tweet, to be honest I seem to do better with the last four words than the first four, but having arrived in California to the news that bars are closed, and restaurants only allowed to serve drive-thru, take-out or delivery, and with no sport (and no 'Final Four') to bet on, it appears to be a golden opportunity to focus on those first four words.

For those of you unfamiliar with Roxy, he has his own Wikipedia page while one 2018 article described him as:
A syndicated columnist, author and teacher, Roxborough is best known throughout the bookmaking world as the founder and owner of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which generates betting odds for just about anything that moves.
If you follow 'Las Vegas legend' Roxy on Twitter, you'll find other gems, such as this one from January last year:
"Anyone can win betting small," Zeljko Ranogajec told me over lunch in Sydney in the early 1990's before he became the world's largest better. And so it is. Winning is just the first step. The next step, much harder, requires imagination to scale up your bets and stay in the game.
I would have linked to Zeljko's Twitter account, except apparently he has been a naughty boy, and has violated Twitter's Rules, so I link to his Wikipedia page lest anyone not know who he is. One might be excused for being unaware that Twitter actually has any rules given some of the tweets which are allowed with no concerns, but there you are. Scaling up is a skill that Zeljko seems to have mastered!

My wife's hometown here is a beach community with a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your perspective) number of bars, the aforementioned closure of which will probably see some of them go out of business. Sad enough in itself, but there are also the bar staff who lose their jobs, the cleaners and maintenance staff who lose theirs, the beer distributors who service the area need fewer staff, fewer trucks, and so it goes on.

Roxy's Las Vegas, (he doesn't own the whole city, just calls it home at least some of the year), is also seeing some dramatic changes, with MGM shuttering their Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, Luxor, New York-New York, Excalibur, and Park MGM casinos / hotels. The leisure business will be hit hard.

While not everywhere has yet adopted such extreme measures, several have, and many more will in the coming weeks. What that all adds up to is at best a recession, and quite possibly a depression. 

As generous as Roxy's donation was, I have to say that it didn't quite cover the hit taken by the collapse of stock prices over the last couple of weeks. What a difference a month makes. I returned from South Africa to a spreadsheet that peaked on February 19th and serious thoughts of a March 2021 retirement, yes less than a month later several hundred thousand worse off, at least on paper and looking like I'll be working for a while longer. 

After conducting my 'keep things in perspective exercise', I'm now back to where I was in January 2019.

As the Irrelevant Investor put it (from a US perspective):
The declines over the last few weeks in the stock market have been fast and unrelenting. But being concerned about your portfolio at this stage of the game is a luxury.
Roughly half of the country doesn’t own stock. These people are much more anxious about their job security than the decline in the Dow.
For millions of Americans, the next few months are going to be trying times. Wages will be cut and jobs will be lost.
As sorry for myself as I might feel, which actually isn't that sorry since it's been a good run for many years, there are many more people who will be far more impacted by COVID-19 and the stock plunge than me.

Staying positive, and the Irrelevant Investor (again) published a table showing average returns after various numbers of years after buying stocks after falls of certain percentages.
The 3, 10 and 20 year percentages are annualised, and I am certainly not recommending investing in stocks at the moment but at some point, greed will be on a par with fear and prices will bottom out. 

Having sounded a positive note, here's a less positive one.

Unfortunately this virus causing this economic shutdown is going to run for a lot longer than I'm seeing mentioned. "July, August" was mentioned but it'll likely be longer than that. 
In the US, the population is 327 million, give or take a few. Spanish Flu infected 27% of the world population, and while COVID-19 appears to be more contagious, that percentage would equate to 88 million. About 17% of cases require ICU treatment which is 15 million people, and the USA has just under 15,000 ICU beds. 

In the UK, applying the same numbers (and yes they are best guesses), 18 million people would be infected, with 3 million requiring ICU treatment. The UK has about 4,000 ICU beds. 

Even assuming that every ICU bed is available (and most are not), and without accounting for the average treatment time or the fact that there may not be enough healthcare staff and personal protection equipment available, the importance of flattening the curve, of which we are all now familiar, is made starkly clear. It is highly unlikely that many / most cases requiring intensive care will get that level of care. 

We've probably all seen pictures from Italy of patients being treated in corridors when the health system was overwhelmed and the mortality rate there, based on the latest and always changing numbers, is about 7.7%. 

You can extrapolate the numbers for the USA and the UK if you want, but they are rather depressing. It puts those stock losses in perspective.

Wash your hands often and stay home if you can and if you don't understand the importance of social distancing, check out these simulators.

Stay safe. 

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Crisis Reaction and Sports Investing

I wasn't expecting a Sky News segment about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, (you may have heard of it), to trigger a blog post, but the words of the WHO's Executive Director Dr. Michael Ryan regarding acting decisively to slow down the spread of viruses do have a parallel with sports betting.

Dr. Ryan said:

If you need to be right before you move, you will never win. Perfection is the enemy of the good. Speed trumps perfection. 
Sound familiar? Dr Ryan continues with:
Everyone is afraid of making a mistake. Everyone is afraid of the consequence of error. But the greatest error is not to move.
As I've said about the far more trivial topic of sports betting, if you wait until a system is proven, you're too late.
The greatest error is to be paralysed by the fear of failure
A lesson not just for crisis reaction and sports investing, but for life in general.

Unfortunately with most top sports shutting down at least for a few weeks, there aren't a whole lot of opportunities for betting these days. Presumably markets in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases / deaths is considered bad form? 

A few weeks off isn't an issue for me personally, but thousands of people in the industry will be impacted as the shutdown goes on. 

Hopefully anyone who relies on sports or sports investment for their primary income has something to fall back on.

Expect a rush of offers for casino betting such as this one, from what used to be a fairly decent site, courtesy of @Day25:
"The next level"! Good grief. 

I had something of a nightmare a couple of nights ago, dreaming that I'd lost £10,000 betting in a market that I had no idea about. It was quite a relief when I realised it was just a dream and my account was still healthy.

One of my nephew's works for a "sports betting consultancy" but with no top class football to analyse or invest on, layoffs are a possibility.
"I'm a business person, I don't like having thousands of people around when you don't need them. When we need them, we can get them back very quickly."
So said Donald Trump a couple of weeks ago when asked if shutting down the White House National Security Council's entire global health security unit and eliminating jobs addressing global pandemics in 2018 was likely to hamper the U.S. government's response to the coronavirus.

Well of course not. Nothing is ever his fault. Just this past Friday, he said that he doesn't "take responsibility at all", quite a U-turn from his views on leadership in 2013.
It's a little concerning that some on social media still don't get why banning big crowds is important in slowing the spread of the virus. This article in the Washington Post explains it all quite clearly. I suspect the sports that have suspended for four weeks or so will be extending those suspensions. I hope I'm wrong.

I don't follow the NRL too closely but was planning to see my first live game in Township, Queensland on July 12th, but that league seems to be one that hasn't planned for a long stoppage and begging for a handout because "it's not our fault". 

Except that it is your fault for not planning for such an eventuality. We have business continuity exercises at work every six months, a royal pain in the arse to be honest, but when these things happen, the importance of the exercises and preparedness are clear.

But the big picture is that these are minor inconveniences. People are dying, and more people will die than necessary if the government continue with their 'herd immunity' idea which has a couple of gaping holes. One is that there is still some doubt about whether or not survivors develop immunity, and even if they do, what happened with "Wave Two" of Spanish Flu in 2018-20 was that the virus mutated anyway. 

The government should be doing everything they can to 'flatten the curve' and avoid saturating the NHS and seeing a mortality rate like that of Italy at 6.81% which is what happens when patients can't be treated properly. 

Unfortunately this policy being followed by every normal country basing their decisions on science comes at a huge economic cost, which the Tory government can ill afford after the Brexit debacle, so what's a few thousand lives if we can limit the damage to GDP? How about suspending Brexit for a few years?  

And on that note, I'm off. With yet another birthday anniversary fast approaching, as tradition dictates I shall be in the USA next week, although my plans to run a 5k race and catch an MLR game there on the big day have been scuppered. My daughter's plan to join my wife and I in the mountains with her kids for some skiing was blocked yesterday by the not-unexpected decision by Trump to add the UK to the list of countries for which the European travel ban applies. Stay safe. 

Friday, 13 March 2020

PGA - Playing Golf Abandoned

Although stock market futures for Friday the 13th have just turned green, the possibility that all the gains since the 2016 US election of Trump will soon be wiped out remains.

On Election Night the S&P 500 closed at 2,139.56. Yesterday it closed 9.99% down at 2,480.64 meaning that another 14% drop will see all the much talked about gains evaporate.
In true Trump style, the Tweet above contained a small error which is that there is no such thing as a 409k. He meant 401k, which is the common name of the personal retirement account used by many Americans. 

His son Eric, with almost perfect timing, tweeted (now deleted) last month:
The S&P 500 closed that Friday at 2,954.22 which means that the answer to his question is no. Down 16% since that great advice. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  

As I've mentioned before, it helps to maintain perspective and although my spreadsheet has never seen such carnage (currently down 8.37% this month and 15.79% off the February 19th high), I'm still where I was in June of 2019.

Work was quite interesting yesterday with the news spreading faster than COVID-19 itself that an employee's wife had tested positive for the virus, and that the employee was being tested triggering a rush for the exits and unilateral declarations of "I'm going to work from home". Turns out that it was all an unsubstantiated rumour but just to be safe, I'm working from home myself today although more because it's a Friday than from any viral concerns.

A little surprising that the PGA has also decided to cancel tournaments for the time being. Golf isn't the most physical of sports so a few precautions should have kept the players safe> It's outdoors and as fans are supposed to be quiet anyway, no one would notice if they were excluded. 

Will the Premier League follow suit today? Quite likely with players now testing positive. Unfortunately Lindsey didn't like my suggestion for deciding the title in the event of an abandoned season:

Everything's All Over

As predicted earlier, the NHL has followed the lead of the NBA in suspending their season, and the NCAA's hugely popular basketball tournament, aka March Madness, has been cancelled. The outdoor US sports of MLS and MLR have also suspended their seasons while MLB is delaying the start of their season by at least two weeks. 

If the NHL regular season is over, here is how that system has fared since the divisional re-alignment of 2013:

So sports investment opportunities will be seriously limited in the coming weeks. One former newspaper editor, in a rare show of common sense, tweeted:
Leaving aside that I couldn't find any "top" Premier League manager who has yet tested positive for COVID-19, I did see that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has tested positive and it will surely only be a matter of time before the league suspends action. 

Were it not for being attacked by their fans in January 1977, an incident which left a 12 year old Palace fan with a fractured skull, I might feel some sympathy for Liverpool, who may well have gone on to win their first title in many decades, but no, it's just too bad. Abandon the season as happened in 1939-40, expunge the results, and start the season again in August. Could be a reprieve for Bury!