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Jim Bianco Warns The Coming Surge In Inflation “Will Be A Game-Changer”

Jim Bianco Warns The Coming Surge In Inflation "Will Be A Game-Changer"



Jim Bianco Warns The Coming Surge In Inflation "Will Be A Game-Changer" Tyler Durden Fri, 10/09/2020 - 12:50

Authored by Christoph Gisiger via,

The financial markets seem disoriented. The mood on Wall Street changes daily, the S&P 500 keeps trading sideways. Rising counts of Covid-infections in Europe and in the US as well as political uncertainty keep investors on their toes.

Jim Bianco advises caution. When we last spoke to the internationally renowned macro strategist from Chicago in mid-March, panic was in the air. There were even fears that markets would have to close.

«Luckily we didn't get that far,» says Bianco. «But it was a lot closer than most people realize.»

Today, things seem calmer. Nevertheless, Mr. Bianco, founder and chief strategist of Bianco Research, sees no reason for complacency. According to his view, there are obvious signs of a full-blown retail mania in the stock market. He also warns that the Federal Reserve could lose control over the bond market if inflation picks up next year.

In this in-depth interview with The Market/NZZ, the outspoken investment specialist explains why he thinks the risk of renewed lockdown measures is significant, what kind of market reaction investors should expect with the respect to the US elections and how to position your portfolio for the current environment.

Mr. Bianco, trading has become quite choppy as investors cope with an uncertain outlook for the economy and political risk in Washington. What’s your take on the financial markets?

The stock market has a two-fold issue. On one hand, retail investors are dominating the market. There’s no doubt that we’re seeing a full-blown mania coming from the single-stock options market. What’s more, valuations are at or near the 2000 peaks. Whether you’re looking at forward P/E ratios, market capitalization to GDP or other metrics. If you take out the FANG stocks, valuations are even higher than in 2000. This all sounds really bearish: You’ve got mania, and you’ve got stretched valuations.

What’s the second aspect of this two-fold issue?

On the other side of the equation you have the Federal Reserve, and they have kitchen sinks which they can throw at the market. At least, that’s the feeling. This is more than traditional monetary policy. The Fed was always involved in the markets, but never to this degree. They maintain facilities to buy corporate bonds, ETFs, municipal securities, PPP loans and other things - and that’s in addition to quantitative easing on levels no one would have ever imagined.

Yet, over the past few months the Fed’s balance sheet basically stopped growing.

That’s correct, but today these facilities are in place, and the Fed can start buying ETFs again in ten minutes. When they made their announcements in March, it took them two months to put these facilities together. Now, they can turn it back on at any point. That’s the other side of the equation, and it was tempering the recent decline in stocks.

What’s going to happen next?

We had exactly a 10% correction on the S&P 500 on an intraday basis. I think that’s about the extent of it for now. Until a new narrative develops, we are probably going to trade sideways. It’s very possible that this new narrative can be negative, and there are two potential negatives hanging out there: The presidential election and a second Covid wave.

Let’s start with the election. You’ve recently talked about the race for the White House in your new Podcast, Talking Data.

I’m looking at two things. Number one, the gut reaction is that everything you think you should do is already in the market. But I don’t think it is. According to poll analyzers like Nate Silver, Charlie Cook or The Economist magazine, there is like a 85% chance Joe Biden is going to win. They’re basically announcing it’s over; we’re just quibbling how big Biden’s victory is going to be. But if you look at the betting markets, Donald Trump has almost a 40% chance to win. Also, there is a London based pollster called Survation. They recently polled 91 investment managers and 60% of them said Biden is going to win. That means investors line up with the betting markets, not with the polls. So if the polls are right, there is going to be a negative Biden discount in the market to come as Trump's betting odds fall. On the other hand, if betting markets are right and the polls eventually start to tighten, we’re not going to see a big move like a pro-Trump rally because the market is already there.

And what’s number two?

Here’s a rational argument for last week’s ridiculous debate: About 95% of the country - and this is no joke - already knows who they are going to vote for. Whatever people thought going into the debate, is what they think after the debate. That said, only 60% of the public votes. So this election is going to be determined by turnout. Biden and Trump were not on stage to convince somebody to vote for them. They were trying to get people to actually do it.

Shortly thereafter, we learn about the Covid-outbreak in the White House and the President needs to get treated in the hospital. What do you think is going to happen on election night after all that drama?

My biggest concern is a «red mirage» or a «blue shift»: The mail-in balloting is expected largely to be Democrat, whereas in-person voting at polling stations is expected to largely skew Republican. Because of that, it’s very possible that on election night, Trump has enough votes to win the election, and comes out to declare victory. But then, as we start counting the mail-in ballots over the following couple of weeks, one by one states flip from Republican to Democrat, and by Thanksgiving, the election is gone the other way. I’m not suggesting any impropriety or fraud, but if that’s the scenario that plays out, I have a feeling that a lot of people won’t accept the outcome. They’ll think it was rigged and that the election was illegitimate.

How would the markets react to that?

This is not 2000 when the contested election came completely out of the blue and lasted 36 days. During that period of the time, the S&P 500 declined 13%. I think we won’t know on election night who won, and certifying the election results will take several days. If it doesn’t result in a legitimacy question, it’s largely a non-event for the markets. But if it takes a longer period of time, and it results in a question of legitimacy, that’s a big negative for the market. Even worse: If it gets really acrimonious with lawyers and everything else, and we get into January 20th and we don’t know who won, it’s a disaster scenario for the markets.

How does Covid play into this? Leading up to the first wave, you’ve been one of the very few market observers who saw the pandemic coming and warned early about the dire consequences for the economy.

Right now, Europe has the highest case counts. The virus is spreading especially in the UK, in Spain and in France. True, this time the case counts are resulting in less hospitalizations and less deaths. That’s possibly because we have better treatments and a better understanding of the virus. It’s also possible that this mutation is more contagious but less lethal. But death and hospitalization charts don’t really matter.


People’s mobility - their economic activity - and government policy are going to be determined on the case count. If cases go up, older people won’t go out and interact with other people. Also, no politician is going to say: «Cases are booming, but no one is getting really sick, so we won’t change our policies and roll back some of the shutdown.» Let me be clear: We won’t go back to April, but there will be policy measures to slow down the spread. You are starting to see that in the UK, for instance. There will be some roll back pulling down economic activity.

What does this mean for the US economy?

The question is if Europe and the Northern Plains - states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado - are leading indicators. The situation is especially bad in Wisconsin, where they are openly talking about hospitals getting overrun. In addition to that, Wisconsin is a swing state, and if it winds up having a full blown Covid crisis by November 3rd, that could play into the election. At this point, I bet that you are going to see some kind of second Covid wave in the US, and I suspect we will get some roll back of the lockdowns.

How would that impact the financial markets?

As mentioned, by most measures the market is probably overvalued. The hope is that despite the market being a little bit ahead of itself, the economy will eventually speed up and justify these valuation levels. But if we get a second Covid wave, even if it’s not as lethal as the first one, it will retard growth enough that the economy will not meet those valuation levels.

There are already signs that the recovery is slowing. What’s the current state of the US economy?

According to high frequency data such as initial claims, restaurant bookings and mobility indicators, the economy bottomed in late March/early April, just like the stock market did. But then, around mid-July to early August, the recovery stalled. It’s not reversing, but it stopped getting better. We know that real GDP growth in the second quarter was the worst ever recorded at -31.4%. And we know that Q3 should be the best ever recovered with estimates near +28%. So we’ve gotten back around two thirds of the loss during the shot down.

What should be expected next?

Now, the recovery has stalled. Back in June, the consensus was expecting a massive growth quarter for Q4 of more than 11%. This forecast has been falling hard and is now just 3.6%. While 3.6% is a decent quarter, there are no assurances this forecast is done falling. The quarter is only seven days old and some economists are openly talking about Q4 being another negative growth quarter.

But isn't there also a chance that the economy could pick up steam again.

The medical bailout is still hanging out there. By that I mean a vaccine or a treatment. Today, there are several vaccines in Phase III trials. Thanks to Operation Warp Speed, the US government has already awarded massive contracts to start producing doses of all these vaccines now, and the military is putting together ways to administer them ASAP. So as soon as a vaccine is approved, they already have hundreds of millions of doses ready. But according to leading companies like Moderna or Pfizer a vaccine will not be ready until spring or summer 2021. That means a second Covid wave can really slow down the economy.

That’s why the financial markets are laser focused on a new stimulus bill. How likely is it that Republicans and Democrats will agree to a deal?

I thought a deal would come already in August. If you had a PPP loan or any of the bailout money from the earlier stimulus packages, part of the deal was that you will get your PPP loan forgiven or get a better deal on your bailout money if you don’t lay off anybody until September 30th. But now, we have airlines and other companies like Disney furloughing tens of thousands of people. Therefore, I expect a renewed push by both, the Democrats and the US administration, to get a deal. Both sides are afraid to be blamed for a giant jump of unemployment. So I’m operating under the assumption that we are going to get see at least some kind of partial deal.

In stark contrast to stocks, the bond market has hardly been moving until recently. It this bond market now finally waking up?

The bond market has seen one of its quietest periods in history. The MOVE index, the VIX index for the bond market, hit an all-time low last week. A main reason for that is heavy central bank intervention. Since March 13th, when the Fed ramped up QE, it has purchased $3.3 trillion of bonds, and it’s still doing 10 or 11 billion dollars a day. That has a big dampening effect. Another reason is yield curve control. Basically, that’s just price fixing where the Fed announces it will buy or sell as much bonds as it needs in order to keep interest rates at its target level. Well, with all that bond buying going on today, we virtually have already yield curve control, and it’s killing volatility. It’s killing interest in the bond market, and it is keeping rates low and stable.

The Fed’s strategy seems to be working for now. But what about the unintended consequences of these war like policy measures?

The game changer will be inflation. The recovery has stalled, so we are producing less stuff. On the demand side, 9 million people have lost their job since the beginning of the pandemic. That's why we’re artificially stimulating demand with government intervention. Less supply and more demand equal higher prices, and it’s likely that we are going to see a rise in inflation in the next year when the year-over-year comparisons get through the worst of the pandemic. Today, the core PCE - the Fed’s favorite metric - is around 1.25%. For me, inflation would mean a reading of 2.5 or 2.75%. Essentially, the last time the core PCE was at that level was 1993. If we get that, it’s going to be a real problem.

Then again, a rise in inflation is exactly what the Fed wants.

One of the things that’s larger than central banks is the market itself. The Fed wants to let inflation run because they want unemployment to go down. They’re sincere about that, but when the bond market decides that inflation is a problem, the Fed is going to be forced to react. Think about it this way: The Fed is like a post, and the market is a horse tied to that post. If you tie a horse to a post, it just sits there, and it doesn’t do anything for a while. But a horse is a 1500-pound animal, and if inflation spooks the horse, it will tear the post right out of the ground and run away. So yes, the central banks can control the bond market for some time. But when you spook it, it will rip that post right out of the ground and go, no matter what the central banks try to do to tamp down rates. My bet is that’s what’s going to happen in the second half of 2021.

What does this mean for risk assets like stocks?

I don’t think we have much more in the cards for the S&P 500 because I see too many problems: Stretched valuations, the election and a second Covid-wave. For now, they’re offset by the Fed. But I still contend that the 39-year bull market in bonds has ended on March 9th at 33 basis points on the ten-year treasury note. The next big move is going to be higher in rates. If I’m right, higher rates are going to be a big problem for all risk markets: stocks, credit and the whole nine yards.

How should investors position themselves against this background?

If I’m wrong and the yield on the ten-year note goes down to 33 basis points again, or we make a new low, this would mean we have another bad economic contraction, probably another recession. So what’s the best scenario for risk markets? The bond market stays asleep. If it wakes up in either direction, it’s going to be problematic. Higher rates mean inflation which is a problem for the bond market and filters into everything else. If rates plunge on the other hand, that’s an economic contraction and a problem for earnings.

What’s a good way to prepare yourself for more volatile times ahead?

The big thing I would emphasize is that the traditional stock-bond relationship is changing. That’s a fancy way of saying a 60/40 portfolio is not going to work as well as people think. You don’t have a natural hedge anymore when you put 60% in equities and 40% in bonds. At this point, the stock market really has to stumble in a big way, and you are not going to get as much help from the bond market. That’s why portfolio construction between bonds and stocks needs to be rethought. Gold can be a part of the solution, but gold is still a very uncorrelated asset. The negatively correlated asset for stocks used to be bonds, and there really isn’t any other one.

What else besides gold do you want to own in such an environment?

One of the interesting things happening in the stock market this year is the unprecedented dispersion of returns. On a year-to-date basis, the technology information sector is up close to 30%, and the energy sector is down 50%. That is a 80% swing from the best to the worst sector. Also, financials are down 20%. These are unbelievable dispersions. If you get everything right, but you own a little bit too much energy, you have a really bad year. In contrast, if you have everything wrong, but you wound up with a lot of FANG stocks, you are having a really good year. So sector positioning is going to continue to be a big play.

So what’s the best strategy when it comes to sector positioning?

I am not a fan of the financial sector, but I’m interested in the energy sector because it has been so eviscerated. Although, it’s a very speculative play. Also, I do like consumer staples and healthcare. Count me as one of those thinking that we’ve completely played the tech sector out. Sure, we’re talking on Zoom for this interview. But the fact that the entire US airline sector has an $80 billion market cap, and Zoom has a $140 billion market cap tells me that Zoom has likely done its thing. At this stage, everybody knows what WFH means. I’m not extraordinarily bearish on technology stocks, and I don’t think they are a short. But they have kind of run their course at this level.

How about investments outside of the US?

I prefer the US over Europe right now. With the second Covid wave, Europe is going to really struggle until it looks like the economy is going to return to normal. If we do get a vaccine, and people want to take it, a good play would be emerging markets. Once we do get back to normal, they will benefit more than everybody else. They are producers of stuff for the developed world. Today, the developed world is hiding in their house. But as soon as the developed world goes back to buying stuff, emerging countries will prosper. It’s a little bit early, but next year I will be looking at emerging market investments as well. What’s more, if you want to buy inflation protected securities, things like TIPS will play, too.

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Trump “Clearly Hasn’t Learned From His COVID-Era Mistakes”, RFK Jr. Says

Trump "Clearly Hasn’t Learned From His COVID-Era Mistakes", RFK Jr. Says

Authored by Jeff Louderback via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),




Trump "Clearly Hasn't Learned From His COVID-Era Mistakes", RFK Jr. Says

Authored by Jeff Louderback via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

President Joe Biden claimed that COVID vaccines are now helping cancer patients during his State of the Union address on March 7, but it was a response on Truth Social from former President Donald Trump that drew the ire of independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. holds a voter rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Feb. 10, 2024. (Mitch Ranger for The Epoch Times)

During the address, President Biden said: “The pandemic no longer controls our lives. The vaccines that saved us from COVID are now being used to help beat cancer, turning setback into comeback. That’s what America does.”

President Trump wrote: “The Pandemic no longer controls our lives. The VACCINES that saved us from COVID are now being used to help beat cancer—turning setback into comeback. YOU’RE WELCOME JOE. NINE-MONTH APPROVAL TIME VS. 12 YEARS THAT IT WOULD HAVE TAKEN YOU.”

An outspoken critic of President Trump’s COVID response, and the Operation Warp Speed program that escalated the availability of COVID vaccines, Mr. Kennedy said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that “Donald Trump clearly hasn’t learned from his COVID-era mistakes.”

“He fails to recognize how ineffective his warp speed vaccine is as the ninth shot is being recommended to seniors. Even more troubling is the documented harm being caused by the shot to so many innocent children and adults who are suffering myocarditis, pericarditis, and brain inflammation,” Mr. Kennedy remarked.

“This has been confirmed by a CDC-funded study of 99 million people. Instead of bragging about its speedy approval, we should be honestly and transparently debating the abundant evidence that this vaccine may have caused more harm than good.

“I look forward to debating both Trump and Biden on Sept. 16 in San Marcos, Texas.”

Mr. Kennedy announced in April 2023 that he would challenge President Biden for the 2024 Democratic Party presidential nomination before declaring his run as an independent last October, claiming that the Democrat National Committee was “rigging the primary.”

Since the early stages of his campaign, Mr. Kennedy has generated more support than pundits expected from conservatives, moderates, and independents resulting in speculation that he could take votes away from President Trump.

Many Republicans continue to seek a reckoning over the government-imposed pandemic lockdowns and vaccine mandates.

President Trump’s defense of Operation Warp Speed, the program he rolled out in May 2020 to spur the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines amid the pandemic, remains a sticking point for some of his supporters.

Vice President Mike Pence (L) and President Donald Trump deliver an update on Operation Warp Speed in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Nov. 13, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Operation Warp Speed featured a partnership between the government, the military, and the private sector, with the government paying for millions of vaccine doses to be produced.

President Trump released a statement in March 2021 saying: “I hope everyone remembers when they’re getting the COVID-19 Vaccine, that if I wasn’t President, you wouldn’t be getting that beautiful ‘shot’ for 5 years, at best, and probably wouldn’t be getting it at all. I hope everyone remembers!”

President Trump said about the COVID-19 vaccine in an interview on Fox News in March 2021: “It works incredibly well. Ninety-five percent, maybe even more than that. I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly.

“But again, we have our freedoms and we have to live by that and I agree with that also. But it’s a great vaccine, it’s a safe vaccine, and it’s something that works.”

On many occasions, President Trump has said that he is not in favor of vaccine mandates.

An environmental attorney, Mr. Kennedy founded Children’s Health Defense, a nonprofit that aims to end childhood health epidemics by promoting vaccine safeguards, among other initiatives.

Last year, Mr. Kennedy told podcaster Joe Rogan that ivermectin was suppressed by the FDA so that the COVID-19 vaccines could be granted emergency use authorization.

He has criticized Big Pharma, vaccine safety, and government mandates for years.

Since launching his presidential campaign, Mr. Kennedy has made his stances on the COVID-19 vaccines, and vaccines in general, a frequent talking point.

“I would argue that the science is very clear right now that they [vaccines] caused a lot more problems than they averted,” Mr. Kennedy said on Piers Morgan Uncensored last April.

“And if you look at the countries that did not vaccinate, they had the lowest death rates, they had the lowest COVID and infection rates.”

Additional data show a “direct correlation” between excess deaths and high vaccination rates in developed countries, he said.

President Trump and Mr. Kennedy have similar views on topics like protecting the U.S.-Mexico border and ending the Russia-Ukraine war.

COVID-19 is the topic where Mr. Kennedy and President Trump seem to differ the most.

Former President Donald Trump intended to “drain the swamp” when he took office in 2017, but he was “intimidated by bureaucrats” at federal agencies and did not accomplish that objective, Mr. Kennedy said on Feb. 5.

Speaking at a voter rally in Tucson, where he collected signatures to get on the Arizona ballot, the independent presidential candidate said President Trump was “earnest” when he vowed to “drain the swamp,” but it was “business as usual” during his term.

John Bolton, who President Trump appointed as a national security adviser, is “the template for a swamp creature,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Scott Gottlieb, who President Trump named to run the FDA, “was Pfizer’s business partner” and eventually returned to Pfizer, Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Kennedy said that President Trump had more lobbyists running federal agencies than any president in U.S. history.

“You can’t reform them when you’ve got the swamp creatures running them, and I’m not going to do that. I’m going to do something different,” Mr. Kennedy said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump “did not ask the questions that he should have,” he believes.

President Trump “knew that lockdowns were wrong” and then “agreed to lockdowns,” Mr. Kennedy said.

He also “knew that hydroxychloroquine worked, he said it,” Mr. Kennedy explained, adding that he was eventually “rolled over” by Dr. Anthony Fauci and his advisers.

President Donald Trump greets the crowd before he leaves at the Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit in Washington on Dec. 8, 2020. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

MaryJo Perry, a longtime advocate for vaccine choice and a Trump supporter, thinks votes will be at a premium come Election Day, particularly because the independent and third-party field is becoming more competitive.

Ms. Perry, president of Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights, believes advocates for medical freedom could determine who is ultimately president.

She believes that Mr. Kennedy is “pulling votes from Trump” because of the former president’s stance on the vaccines.

“People care about medical freedom. It’s an important issue here in Mississippi, and across the country,” Ms. Perry told The Epoch Times.

“Trump should admit he was wrong about Operation Warp Speed and that COVID vaccines have been dangerous. That would make a difference among people he has offended.”

President Trump won’t lose enough votes to Mr. Kennedy about Operation Warp Speed and COVID vaccines to have a significant impact on the election, Ohio Republican strategist Wes Farno told The Epoch Times.

President Trump won in Ohio by eight percentage points in both 2016 and 2020. The Ohio Republican Party endorsed President Trump for the nomination in 2024.

“The positives of a Trump presidency far outweigh the negatives,” Mr. Farno said. “People are more concerned about their wallet and the economy.

“They are asking themselves if they were better off during President Trump’s term compared to since President Biden took office. The answer to that question is obvious because many Americans are struggling to afford groceries, gas, mortgages, and rent payments.

“America needs President Trump.”

Multiple national polls back Mr. Farno’s view.

As of March 6, the RealClearPolitics average of polls indicates that President Trump has 41.8 percent support in a five-way race that includes President Biden (38.4 percent), Mr. Kennedy (12.7 percent), independent Cornel West (2.6 percent), and Green Party nominee Jill Stein (1.7 percent).

A Pew Research Center study conducted among 10,133 U.S. adults from Feb. 7 to Feb. 11 showed that Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents (42 percent) are more likely than Republicans and GOP-leaning independents (15 percent) to say they have received an updated COVID vaccine.

The poll also reported that just 28 percent of adults say they have received the updated COVID inoculation.

The peer-reviewed multinational study of more than 99 million vaccinated people that Mr. Kennedy referenced in his X post on March 7 was published in the Vaccine journal on Feb. 12.

It aimed to evaluate the risk of 13 adverse events of special interest (AESI) following COVID-19 vaccination. The AESIs spanned three categories—neurological, hematologic (blood), and cardiovascular.

The study reviewed data collected from more than 99 million vaccinated people from eight nations—Argentina, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, New Zealand, and Scotland—looking at risks up to 42 days after getting the shots.

Three vaccines—Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines as well as AstraZeneca’s viral vector jab—were examined in the study.

Researchers found higher-than-expected cases that they deemed met the threshold to be potential safety signals for multiple AESIs, including for Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), myocarditis, and pericarditis.

A safety signal refers to information that could suggest a potential risk or harm that may be associated with a medical product.

The study identified higher incidences of neurological, cardiovascular, and blood disorder complications than what the researchers expected.

President Trump’s role in Operation Warp Speed, and his continued praise of the COVID vaccine, remains a concern for some voters, including those who still support him.

Krista Cobb is a 40-year-old mother in western Ohio. She voted for President Trump in 2020 and said she would cast her vote for him this November, but she was stunned when she saw his response to President Biden about the COVID-19 vaccine during the State of the Union address.

I love President Trump and support his policies, but at this point, he has to know they [advisers and health officials] lied about the shot,” Ms. Cobb told The Epoch Times.

“If he continues to promote it, especially after all of the hearings they’ve had about it in Congress, the side effects, and cover-ups on Capitol Hill, at what point does he become the same as the people who have lied?” Ms. Cobb added.

“I think he should distance himself from talk about Operation Warp Speed and even admit that he was wrong—that the vaccines have not had the impact he was told they would have. If he did that, people would respect him even more.”

Tyler Durden Mon, 03/11/2024 - 17:00

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There will soon be one million seats on this popular Amtrak route

“More people are taking the train than ever before,” says Amtrak’s Executive Vice President.



While the size of the United States makes it hard for it to compete with the inter-city train access available in places like Japan and many European countries, Amtrak trains are a very popular transportation option in certain pockets of the country — so much so that the country’s national railway company is expanding its Northeast Corridor by more than one million seats.

Related: This is what it's like to take a 19-hour train from New York to Chicago

Running from Boston all the way south to Washington, D.C., the route is one of the most popular as it passes through the most densely populated part of the country and serves as a commuter train for those who need to go between East Coast cities such as New York and Philadelphia for business.

Veronika Bondarenko captured this photo of New York’s Moynihan Train Hall. 

Veronika Bondarenko

Amtrak launches new routes, promises travelers ‘additional travel options’

Earlier this month, Amtrak announced that it was adding four additional Northeastern routes to its schedule — two more routes between New York’s Penn Station and Union Station in Washington, D.C. on the weekend, a new early-morning weekday route between New York and Philadelphia’s William H. Gray III 30th Street Station and a weekend route between Philadelphia and Boston’s South Station.

More Travel:

According to Amtrak, these additions will increase Northeast Corridor’s service by 20% on the weekdays and 10% on the weekends for a total of one million additional seats when counted by how many will ride the corridor over the year.

“More people are taking the train than ever before and we’re proud to offer our customers additional travel options when they ride with us on the Northeast Regional,” Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Eliot Hamlisch said in a statement on the new routes. “The Northeast Regional gets you where you want to go comfortably, conveniently and sustainably as you breeze past traffic on I-95 for a more enjoyable travel experience.”

Here are some of the other Amtrak changes you can expect to see

Amtrak also said that, in the 2023 financial year, the Northeast Corridor had nearly 9.2 million riders — 8% more than it had pre-pandemic and a 29% increase from 2022. The higher demand, particularly during both off-peak hours and the time when many business travelers use to get to work, is pushing Amtrak to invest into this corridor in particular.

To reach more customers, Amtrak has also made several changes to both its routes and pricing system. In the fall of 2023, it introduced a type of new “Night Owl Fare” — if traveling during very late or very early hours, one can go between cities like New York and Philadelphia or Philadelphia and Washington. D.C. for $5 to $15.

As travel on the same routes during peak hours can reach as much as $300, this was a deliberate move to reach those who have the flexibility of time and might have otherwise preferred more affordable methods of transportation such as the bus. After seeing strong uptake, Amtrak added this type of fare to more Boston routes.

The largest distances, such as the ones between Boston and New York or New York and Washington, are available at the lowest rate for $20.

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The next pandemic? It’s already here for Earth’s wildlife

Bird flu is decimating species already threatened by climate change and habitat loss.

I am a conservation biologist who studies emerging infectious diseases. When people ask me what I think the next pandemic will be I often say that we are in the midst of one – it’s just afflicting a great many species more than ours.

I am referring to the highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza H5N1 (HPAI H5N1), otherwise known as bird flu, which has killed millions of birds and unknown numbers of mammals, particularly during the past three years.

This is the strain that emerged in domestic geese in China in 1997 and quickly jumped to humans in south-east Asia with a mortality rate of around 40-50%. My research group encountered the virus when it killed a mammal, an endangered Owston’s palm civet, in a captive breeding programme in Cuc Phuong National Park Vietnam in 2005.

How these animals caught bird flu was never confirmed. Their diet is mainly earthworms, so they had not been infected by eating diseased poultry like many captive tigers in the region.

This discovery prompted us to collate all confirmed reports of fatal infection with bird flu to assess just how broad a threat to wildlife this virus might pose.

This is how a newly discovered virus in Chinese poultry came to threaten so much of the world’s biodiversity.

H5N1 originated on a Chinese poultry farm in 1997. ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock

The first signs

Until December 2005, most confirmed infections had been found in a few zoos and rescue centres in Thailand and Cambodia. Our analysis in 2006 showed that nearly half (48%) of all the different groups of birds (known to taxonomists as “orders”) contained a species in which a fatal infection of bird flu had been reported. These 13 orders comprised 84% of all bird species.

We reasoned 20 years ago that the strains of H5N1 circulating were probably highly pathogenic to all bird orders. We also showed that the list of confirmed infected species included those that were globally threatened and that important habitats, such as Vietnam’s Mekong delta, lay close to reported poultry outbreaks.

Mammals known to be susceptible to bird flu during the early 2000s included primates, rodents, pigs and rabbits. Large carnivores such as Bengal tigers and clouded leopards were reported to have been killed, as well as domestic cats.

Our 2006 paper showed the ease with which this virus crossed species barriers and suggested it might one day produce a pandemic-scale threat to global biodiversity.

Unfortunately, our warnings were correct.

A roving sickness

Two decades on, bird flu is killing species from the high Arctic to mainland Antarctica.

In the past couple of years, bird flu has spread rapidly across Europe and infiltrated North and South America, killing millions of poultry and a variety of bird and mammal species. A recent paper found that 26 countries have reported at least 48 mammal species that have died from the virus since 2020, when the latest increase in reported infections started.

Not even the ocean is safe. Since 2020, 13 species of aquatic mammal have succumbed, including American sea lions, porpoises and dolphins, often dying in their thousands in South America. A wide range of scavenging and predatory mammals that live on land are now also confirmed to be susceptible, including mountain lions, lynx, brown, black and polar bears.

The UK alone has lost over 75% of its great skuas and seen a 25% decline in northern gannets. Recent declines in sandwich terns (35%) and common terns (42%) were also largely driven by the virus.

Scientists haven’t managed to completely sequence the virus in all affected species. Research and continuous surveillance could tell us how adaptable it ultimately becomes, and whether it can jump to even more species. We know it can already infect humans – one or more genetic mutations may make it more infectious.

At the crossroads

Between January 1 2003 and December 21 2023, 882 cases of human infection with the H5N1 virus were reported from 23 countries, of which 461 (52%) were fatal.

Of these fatal cases, more than half were in Vietnam, China, Cambodia and Laos. Poultry-to-human infections were first recorded in Cambodia in December 2003. Intermittent cases were reported until 2014, followed by a gap until 2023, yielding 41 deaths from 64 cases. The subtype of H5N1 virus responsible has been detected in poultry in Cambodia since 2014. In the early 2000s, the H5N1 virus circulating had a high human mortality rate, so it is worrying that we are now starting to see people dying after contact with poultry again.

It’s not just H5 subtypes of bird flu that concern humans. The H10N1 virus was originally isolated from wild birds in South Korea, but has also been reported in samples from China and Mongolia.

Recent research found that these particular virus subtypes may be able to jump to humans after they were found to be pathogenic in laboratory mice and ferrets. The first person who was confirmed to be infected with H10N5 died in China on January 27 2024, but this patient was also suffering from seasonal flu (H3N2). They had been exposed to live poultry which also tested positive for H10N5.

Species already threatened with extinction are among those which have died due to bird flu in the past three years. The first deaths from the virus in mainland Antarctica have just been confirmed in skuas, highlighting a looming threat to penguin colonies whose eggs and chicks skuas prey on. Humboldt penguins have already been killed by the virus in Chile.

A colony of king penguins.
Remote penguin colonies are already threatened by climate change. AndreAnita/Shutterstock

How can we stem this tsunami of H5N1 and other avian influenzas? Completely overhaul poultry production on a global scale. Make farms self-sufficient in rearing eggs and chicks instead of exporting them internationally. The trend towards megafarms containing over a million birds must be stopped in its tracks.

To prevent the worst outcomes for this virus, we must revisit its primary source: the incubator of intensive poultry farms.

Diana Bell does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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