The original version of this article first appeared in The Business Times.
It has been 23 days since the first confirmed case in my household, 14 days since I moved into the hospital with my children ages 2 and 4, and 13 days since I tested positive for Covid-19.
Experiencing Covid-19 in Singapore
It spreads like wildfire. This virus is smart and is getting more contagious. With limited contact, I literally saw the virus jump from person to person in my household, with each person developing symptoms two days apart and being taken down and out to the hospitals like clockwork.
Symptoms vary widely - my 2 year old was unwell for maybe five hours, and others developed pneumonia and a fever for two weeks. Perhaps the strangest of all symptoms is the loss of smell and taste. When people told me about this I always thought, "well...that does not sound too bad," but I did not realise that it was 100% sensory deprivation. I hold essential oil bottles to my nose trying to stimulate my senses and get no hints of smell whatsoever.
Thankfully no one in our cluster suffered from severe life-threatening symptoms.
Incubation is long and sneaky. I tested negative on the deep-nose tear-jerking PCR three times over 10 days before finally testing positive. So if you were in contact with a Covid-19 positive, but are still feeling good, just keep to yourself for the sake of your loved ones and the community. Your symptoms or contagiousness may turn in a heartbeat.
Contracting Covid-19 is unlucky
For April and May 2021, new Covid-19 cases fluctuated from 20 to 30 as a seven-day average. That is roughly 0.0005% of the population newly confirmed per day. There are more than 62,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Singapore to date on a cumulative basis, equivalent to just over 1% of the total population.
I am not in healthcare, or do have high exposure to many different people every day — and have remained relatively diligent about keeping my hands clean and mask on when out in the community. But in this instance — my family and I are the unlikely statistic.
Being the statistic
As humans, we always think about probabilities and extrapolate the likelihood of being the statistic. When that probability is unlikely we brush aside those who are the statistic and think of how our lives are inconvenienced by something we feel arrogantly invincible towards.
Being the statistic has made me think about my empathy for the marginalised. The "should not happen" happens. The human experience is full of such anomalies — both positive and negative — and we see this in disease, poverty, extreme wealth, athleticism, and more.
We have to be prepared for these statistical anomalies
One statistical anomaly that every real investor shares is the experience of markets. Financial advisers, brokers and bankers love telling me that certain negative scenarios are very unlikely to happen — and when they do happen they just call it a black swan.
Let's take as an example the MSCI All Country World Index, a very broadly diversified index covering both developed and emerging equity markets globally. Since 1988 when the index tracking began, it has had a Singapore dollar annualised return of 7.16% and annualised volatility (standard deviation) of 13.42%.
Statistically, it should only have 12-month returns worse than minus 40% once in 4,500 periods, or 0.02% of the time. But in just over 30 years, investors have experienced four drawdowns greater than minus 40%, or in just over 1% of periods. These anomalies happen way more often than they should and you have to be mentally and emotionally prepared for them.
When investing in globally diversified equity markets at a low cost, it is easy to say you will achieve a 6% to 10% annualised return. This is absolutely true when you invest for long enough, but when it comes to the actual experience of investing you must expect something very different. Despite a long-term annualised return of 7.16%, only 44 12-month periods, equivalent to 11% of all the assessed periods, had returns between 6% and 10%.
You are bound to be very disappointed or very elated with your returns most of the time.
Investing is the act of putting your capital at risk to target higher expected returns. Assets have different expected returns and sit at different levels of a company or country capital structure. These factors are constantly being priced by manic human market participants.
If you call yourself a true investor, you know that your wealth will fluctuate, and despite being inundated with news and friends telling you to do all sorts of things, you can stick to your sound, rational and disciplined investment strategy. Only then can you withstand the black swans and anomalies that I can almost guarantee will happen, in order to achieve higher expected returns and a wealthy life.
Life is full of anomalies. Someone human is that statistic, and that person could be you. The best we can do is be emotionally prepared and make rational decisions today that position ourselves for the future.
Thank you to the frontline healthcare workers for keeping Singapore safe, and containing this nasty bug.
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