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S&P Futures In Holding Pattern Ahead Of Jackson Hole

S&P Futures In Holding Pattern Ahead Of Jackson Hole

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S&P Futures In Holding Pattern Ahead Of Jackson Hole Tyler Durden Wed, 08/26/2020 - 07:47

U.S. equity futures were unchanged on Wednesday, while global stocks and bond yields rose as investors were stuck in a holding pattern amid optimism about U.S.-China trade and expectations of ample central bank stimulus before a key speech by Jerome Powell at Jackson Hole. Treasuries and European government bonds declined, while the dollar was flat.

Eminis were flat at 3,443 after the cash index closed at another record high on Tuesday.

The MSCI world equity index gained 0.1%, just shy of its all time high. Europe's Stoxx 600 shrugged off early losses to gain 0.4% by late morning as news on jobs support and trade was countered by persistent concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic, with indexes in Frankfurt and Paris up 0.5% and 0.2% respectively, though London’s FTSE 100 and Italy's FTSE MIB were both in the red.

Earlier in the session, markets in Asia were mixed, with Shanghai Composite and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 falling, and Taiwan's Taiex Index and Thailand's SET rising. The Topix was little changed, with AltPlus rising and Land Co falling the most. The Shanghai Composite Index retreated 1.3%, with Shenyang Jinshan Energy and Founder Technology Group posting the biggest slides. Chinese equities retreated Wednesday after a three-session rally as investors were seen worried about some companies’ earnings. Tech stocks were the worst performers. "A lot of firms’ first-half earnings growth have failed to keep up with their valuations and that’s one key reason for the selloff,” said Wang Chen, a partner with XuFunds Investment. "That’s especially the case for Star board and ChiNext stocks. Expectations on overall liquidity have also turned negative and weighed on the market."

"The Fed has all but guaranteed that rates are going nowhere for at least two years," Saxo strategist Eleanor Creagh told Bloomberg TV. "Equity remains the place for investors to escape the secular stagnation that we’re seeing within the real economy that this zero-yield world produces."

In rates, Treasurys were sold ahead of the Jackson Hole speech where Powell is expected to unveil Average Inflation Targeting, with the yield on U.S. 10-year debt rising as high as 0.7190%, close to a two-month peak before paring some losses as markets begin to price in a return to inflation and growth for major economies. A day earlier, investors dumped U.S. debt and bought stocks after a productive call between top Beijing and Washington officials stoked hopes of smoother trade relations between the world’s two biggest economies. Eurozone bonds calmed, with safe-haven Bund yields rising a smidgeon after enduring on Tuesday their biggest daily losses since May as better German economic data and trade dented hunger for government debt.

With trading muted, traders were eagerly looking at tomorrow's Jackson Hole webcast where for many investors, bets on even looser policy were at the forefront. Powell is due to speak at a virtual Jackson Hole symposium on Thursday, where investors think he could outline a more accommodative approach to inflation which would open the door to easier policy for a long time to come.

"Jackson Hole is a big one," said Jeremy Gatto, an investment manager at Unigestion in Geneva. "Investors are expecting a bit more clarity on what the Fed is looking at. We are likely to see a high level of accommodation for some time to come."

In fx, the dollar was unchanged after taking a knock a day earlier on data that showed U.S. consumer confidence falling to the lowest in more than six years because of worries over the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on jobs. The Japanese yen fell 0.2%, with MUFG analysts arguing that uncertainty over the health of Shinzo Abe, the long-serving premier, was adding to downward pressure along with advances for stocks and rising U.S. yields.

China’s yuan sets another 7-month high on Wednesday, as some banks sold the dollar, according to four foreign exchange traders. Onshore yuan advances as much as 0.29% to 6.8911 versus the dollar in afternoon trading, the strongest since Jan. 21; it was at 6.8958/USD as of 4:06 p.m. in Shanghai. Sales of the greenback by investors including some big Chinese banks drive the yuan’s rise, before some dip buying of the dollar caps yuan’s gain, say four traders who asked not to be identified as they are not authorized to comment on the market.

In another sign of a more positive mood, Reuters notes that gold faced collateral damage from rising bond yields, falling 0.5% as it headed for a fourth straight day of losses. “Higher yields also tend to act as a headwind against the gold price,” said John Hardy, head of FX strategy at Saxo Bank, in a note to clients.

In other commodity markets, a positive mood on trade and U.S. producers shutting most of their offshore output in the Gulf of Mexico ahead of Hurricane Laura kept Brent crude oil mostly steady. Producers evacuated 310 offshore facilities and shut 1.56 million barrels per day of crude output, 84% of Gulf of Mexico’s offshore production - near the 90% outage that Hurricane Katrina brought 15 years ago. Brent futures lost 7 cents, or 0.2%, to $45.78 a barrel by late morning, shedding earlier gains, with the benchmark having settled at a five-month high a day earlier.

Economic data include durable goods orders, mortgage applications. Scheduled earnings include Royal Bank of Canada, Dick’s Sporting Goods

Market Snapshot

  • S&P 500 futures up 0.06% to 3,445.00
  • STOXX Europe 600 up 0.3% to 370.89
  • MXAP up 0.1% to 173.67
  • MXAPJ up 0.06% to 575.43
  • Nikkei down 0.03% to 23,290.86
  • Topix down 0.05% to 1,624.48
  • Hang Seng Index up 0.02% to 25,491.79
  • Shanghai Composite down 1.3% to 3,329.74
  • Sensex up 0.3% to 38,961.01
  • Australia S&P/ASX 200 down 0.7% to 6,116.36
  • Kospi up 0.1% to 2,369.32
  • Brent Futures up 0.2% to $45.93/bbl
  • Gold spot down 0.5% to $1,919.13
  • U.S. Dollar Index up 0.09% to 93.11
  • German 10Y yield rose 1.1 bps to -0.42%
  • Euro down 0.2% to $1.1813
  • Brent Futures up 0.2% to $45.93/bbl
  • Italian 10Y yield rose 8.1 bps to 0.9%
  • Spanish 10Y yield unchanged at 0.382%

Top Overnight News

  • Germany extended its wage-supporting program, which helped millions of workers to keep their jobs, until the end of 2021 to drive economic recovery
  • In the U.S., the summer virus spike shows signs of easing. Japan’s virus czar said the country faces a second wave of Covid-19 cases larger than the first, while Singapore is tightening restrictions for South Korean travelers
  • Hurricane Laura is poised to become a life-threatening category four storm as it nears the U.S. Gulf Coast, potentially inflicting as much as $18 billion in damage on the region and keeping some of America’s largest oil refineries shut for months
  • Finland is leading the action in Europe’s market for new bond sales, supported by an easing in risk sentiment across the region ahead of the Jackson Hole summit

Asian equity markets traded cautiously amid a lack of fresh macro drivers and following on from the somewhat choppy performance of US counterparts, where the DJIA underperformed whilst the S&P 500 and Nasdaq eventually extended on record highs. ASX 200 (-0.7%) underperformed in which utilities and financials led the broad descent across its sectors and as earnings continued to dominate headlines. Nikkei 225 (-0.1%) swung between gains and losses in tandem with an indecisive currency and as early momentum was stalled by resistance at the 23,350 level, with slight political uncertainty also clouding sentiment following PM Abe’s recent hospital visits that have spurred some speculation of a possible step-down, although officials were quick to refute this. Elsewhere, Hang Seng (U/C) and Shanghai Comp. (-1.3%) were subdued despite the recent constructive trade discussions, as there were also reports the Trump administration is mulling accusing China of 'genocide' over the maltreatment of Uighur Muslims. Furthermore, the PBoC continued its liquidity efforts but to a lesser extent and refrained from 14-day reverse repos in today’s open market operations, while Alibaba shares were a notable gainer overnight after its affiliate Ant Group filed for an IPO in Hong Kong and Shanghai as it targets a USD 225bln valuation and could raise as much as USD 30bln which would be the biggest on record. Finally, 10yr JGBs were lower in a continuation of the retreat from the 152.00 level and amid spillover selling from USTs, while prices also failed to benefit despite the lacklustre risk appetite and BoJ’s presence in the market for nearly JPY 1.2tln of JGBs with 1yr-10yr maturities.

Top Asian News

  • China Stocks, Sovereign Bonds Drop on Worries About Liquidity
  • Southeast Asia’s Virus Hotspot Risks Losing in Vaccine Race
  • Three-Decade Economic Boom Comes to a Sudden Halt in Vietnam
  • H.K. Police Arrest Bank VP For Alleged Rioting in 2019 Protest

European stocks are mixed (Euro Stoxx 50 +0.2%), having opened with mild losses of around 0.3-0.5%, albeit cash bourses and equity futures remain contained amid a lack of fresh catalysts. There was no particular news flow that prompted the initial turnaround in the first half-hour since the cash open – it is worth keeping in mind the holiday-thinned conditions and caution heading into the Fed Jackson Hole Symposium, with the schedule set for release at 20:00ET/0100BST. Sectors are mixed with no clear risk profile to be derived; the IT sector outperforms as SAP (+1.3%) moves higher on the back of stellar numbers from Salesforce (+13% pre-mkt), who raised guidance. Note: SAP carries an almost 6% weighting in the Euro Stoxx 50. In terms of individual movers, Elekta (+13.7%) tops the European charts post-earnings, Telecom Italia (+3.8%) trades firmer after the Italian government gave the green light for KKR’s purchase of a stake in Co’s secondary grid. Meanwhile, Carnival (+2.8%) shares trade higher amid a firmer performance in the Travel & Leisure sector, although Co’s Princess Cruises has announced early-2021 world cruise cancellations for two out of 19 ships.

Top European News

  • Angela Merkel Is Exasperated by Putin as Navalny Lies in a Coma
  • EU Trade Chief’s Defense of Quarantine Actions Draws Irish Ire
  • Ambu Shares Fall as FY Outlook Cut to Low End of Range
  • Mowi Falls; Handelsbanken to Lower 2020 Estimates

In FX, the Dollar is holding up relatively well ahead of durable goods, spot month end and the start of this year’s global Central Bank ‘gathering’ in Wyoming, albeit with assistance from certain currency rivals and a fade in broad risk sentiment after the recent bull run. The index has tightened its grip around 93.000 following several false breaks below, but is also meeting stiff resistance on rebounds amidst the usual sell signals for portfolio rebalancing from various bank models. Hence, the DXY is meandering within a 93.215-92.990 band and Usd/major pairs remain mixed/rangebound.

  • CHF - A marginal G10 underperformer, though still straddling 0.9100 vs the Greenback and 1.0750 against the Euro after an improvement in Swiss investor sentiment and eyeing Q2 GDP on Thursday that is expected to confirm a technical recession via a more pronounced q/q contraction compared to the previous quarter.
  • EUR - The Euro has waned ahead of 1.1850 for a 3rd consecutive session and failed to convincingly breach a technical barrier in the form of the 200 HMA that is currently at 1.1848, but the latest pull-back is shallower and not far from daily chart support just above 1.1800. Fundamentally, not much from an independent perspective as the single currency continues to track Buck moves alongside the general market mood.
  • NZD/JPY/AUD - No real reaction to NZ trade data overnight, but the Kiwi may be benefiting from a combination of short covering/corrective price action given the magnitude of post-RBNZ policy meeting depreciation. On that note, Assistant Governor Hawkesby may have contributed to the Nzd/Usd bounce from sub-0.6550 towards 0.6575 and latest Aud/Nzd retreat from near 1.1000, as he seemed to infer a preference for upping the balance sheet over conventional easing. However, the Aussie has also staged a firmer rebound vs its US counterpart to retest 0.7200 in wake of considerably less weaker than anticipated construction work completed during Q2. Similarly, the Yen has regained some poise between 106.55-17 parameters following firmer than forecast Japanese services PPI.
  • GBP/CAD - The Pound is pivoting 1.3150 against the US Dollar and outpacing the Euro as the cross dips a bit further beneath 0.9000, but Cable stopped just a handful of pips short of Tuesday’s best awaiting commentary from BoE chief economist Haldane for some specific inspiration. Elsewhere, firm oil prices could be keeping the Loonie afloat above 1.3200 rather than remarks from BoC’s Schembri on alternative policy measures including an average inflation target, as the spotlight switches to Senior Deputy Governor Wilkins this afternoon.

In commodites, WTI and Brent front month futures remain relatively uneventful but remain near 5-month highs as traders keep an eye on the Hurricane situation in the Gulf of Mexico. In terms of the latest update, NHC said Hurricane Laura is expected to rapidly strengthen to a Category 4 hurricane (out of 5 categories), and is forecast to produce a life-threatening storm surge, alongside extreme winds, and flash flooding over Eastern Texas and Louisiana later today. The hurricane is forecast to make landfall in late US hours. Meanwhile, the BSEE’s latest estimates note that ~84.3% of current oil production in the region has been shuttered in anticipation of the hurricane, whilst Shell resists shutting its Deer Park Texas refinery (275k BPD), Marathon Galveston Bay Texas refinery (571k BPD) reported a potential shutdown, Valero Port Arthur Texas refinery (395k BPD) was also ceasing operations and Citgo Lake Charles Texas refinery (428k BPD) announced also it was shutting ahead of Hurricane. Elsewhere, prices also remain propped up by the latest inventory figures – which printed a larger than expected drawdown of 4.5mln barrels vs. exp. 3.7mln barrels. WTI and Brent October futures are contained, with the former towards the bottom of its USD 43.20-47/bbl current range, and the latter sub-46/bbl having had printed a range of USD 45.76-46.10/bbl. Elsewhere, spot gold moves at the whim of the Buck but holds onto a USD 1900+/oz status within a USD 20/oz range. Spot silver similarly sees losses and reside below USD 26.50/oz, having touched a base at USD 26.150/oz. In terms of base metals, LME copper prices eke mild gains, with a similar performance seen in Shanghai, whilst stainless steel futures in Shanghai rose in excess of 1% amid supply shortages of nickel ore and ferronickel.

US Event Calendar

  • 7am: MBA Mortgage Applications, prior -3.3%
  • 8:30am: Durable Goods Orders, est. 4.65%, prior 7.6%; Durables Ex Transportation, est. 2.0%, prior 3.6%
  • 8:30am: Cap Goods Orders Nondef Ex Air, est. 1.7%, prior 3.4%; Cap Goods Ship Nondef Ex Air, est. 1.75%, prior 3.3%

DB's Jim Reid concludes the overnight wrap

Being in quarantine there’s not a lot to tell you this morning apart from the highlight of our week being the arrival of the supermarket delivery man yesterday. Even I downed tools to greet him as it was our first contact with the outside world for over a week. The poor delivery man was only too happy to escape after all the attention he got from 5 humans and a dog.

Luckily I have markets to escape to and in spite of some weak consumer confidence data from the US, equity markets climbed to fresh records stateside yesterday with both the S&P 500 (+0.36%) and the NASDSAQ (+0.76%) seeing a late day rally. Global bonds were more exciting even with a sell-off that reversed a bit in late European trading and the second half of the US session.

10yr Treasury yields were up +6.0bps at one point intraday, before settling up +2.9bps at 0.684% with both bonds and equities rallying in the back half of the session. In Asia 10yr USTs are back up another +2.5bps though and within touching distance of yesterday’s yield highs. This comes ahead of Fed Chair Powell’s much-awaited speech tomorrow at Jackson Hole in which he’s set to discuss the monetary policy framework review. It’s true to say that volatility in Treasury markets has been subdued by historic standards recently, with the MOVE index having reached a multi-decade low in late July, but since then the index has risen somewhat off the bottom, hitting a one-month high yesterday.

Over in Europe, the rates selloff was even more severe, with 10yr bund yields up +6.0bps in their largest one-day increase since late May, as OATs (+5.5bps) and BTPs (+8.2bps) also saw yields move higher. The sharp rise in European rates seemed to start with the German Ifo business climate indicator rising for a fourth straight month and ahead of expectations (more below). Also notable ahead of Powell’s speech was that 10-year inflation breakevens in the US hit a post-pandemic high yesterday of 1.704%, having last been at those levels in January. Back then 10yr Treasuries were 105bps higher than now at 1.73% so collapsing real yields have been the big swing factor.

Back to equities and the S&P has now traded within a relatively narrow 18-20 point range in each of the last three sessions. August has been a particularly quiet month for the S&P with only 2 sessions seeing a daily trading range eclipse 1% (1.08% and 1.64%). The index has not seen such low volatility since the market was reaching new highs back in February prior to the pandemic. Tech (+0.52%) and communication services (+0.97%) once again took the reins, after the previous day’s rotation into cyclicals. This was helped in particular by Facebook rising +3.47% on news that the company is adding a new e-commerce offering on its main app, aiming to benefit from the significant rise in online ordering during the pandemic.

The index being led higher by a mega cap growth stock tied into out CotD yesterday where we showed the S&P 500 has outperformed its equally weighted equivalent over the last 3-4 years, with the pandemic exacerbating this trend. However over the long term owning more of the smaller cap names has been clearly beneficial and time will tell if that pattern continues. See here for the chart and comments.

The risk rally and bond sell off all occurred even as a poor consumer confidence reading from the Conference Board reminded investors that there’s still a long way to go before the economy returns to any kind of pre-Covid normality. The main reading fell to a 6-year low of 84.8 in August, as both the present situation and the expectations readings declined. Moreover, the differential between those saying jobs were “plentiful” and those saying they were “hard to get” saw a further deterioration, and that’s been a good indicator of the unemployment rate previously, so a concerning harbinger of future labour market performance.

Oil was another segment that saw sizeable price moves yesterday, as the incoming arrival of Hurricane Laura to the United States led to worries over potential fuel shortages. Both Brent crude (+1.97%) and WTI (+1.71%) rose to new post-pandemic highs of $46.02/bbl and $43.35/bbl respectively, as the National Hurricane Center warned that Laura would reach the northwestern Gulf Coast tonight, with the danger of life-threatening storm surges. Much of the oil production in the area has already been shut down, and there are obvious concerns of further damage to come.

Overnight the risk rally has stalled a touch in Asia with the Nikkei (-0.18%), Hang Seng (-0.21%), Shanghai Comp (-1.08%) and Kospi (-0.19%) all down. Meanwhile, futures on the S&P 500 are trading flat while those on the Nasdaq 100 are up +0.13%.

Before looking at the latest on the virus it's worth noting a Reuters report from last night which highlighted that the US Treasury has determined that Vietnam's currency was undervalued in 2019 by about 4.7% against the US dollar due in part to government intervention. This is the first assessment issued by the US Treasury under a new US rule that allows the Commerce Department to consider currency undervaluation as a form of subsidy when determining anti-subsidy duties and potentially increasing them. However, the assessment doesn’t necessarily mean that countervailing duties will get imposed by the commerce department but nonetheless should be a significant input.

Onto the coronavirus, attention continues to remain fixed on how leaders react to the current rising caseloads. Spain reported another 7,117 cases in the last 24 hours, though the PM has rejected the idea of another national lockdown. The weekly number of new cases in Germany has not been this high (9400) since the last days of April, while some countries like France and Italy have seen cases drop again slightly in the last 2 days. However you’ll remember that early week case counts often include a lagged weekend effect.

In efforts to help the German government and ensure that its operations will not have to be stalled again due to lockdown measures, Volkswagen has installed sites for voluntary testing across the country, with the largest one allowing 2400 tests per day and results within 24 hours. Germany also announced that the government would extend subsidies aimed at preserving jobs through 2021, after it was originally intended for 12 months. According to the Ifo Institute, 5.6m received benefits in July, down from 7m in May. Elsewhere Bloomberg has reported overnight that the UK government has asked staff and pupils in secondary schools in areas under possible local lockdowns to compulsorily wear masks from September 1 when moving around the building and in communal areas, but not in classrooms. In less risky areas, face masks will not be obligatory but schools will have the discretion to make it a requirement. In the US, Governor Cuomo of New York announced that 5 states would be removed from the 14-day quarantine requirement, including Arizona. New cases are continuing on an easing trajectory in the US with California and Florida adding to the positive trends.

In one of those strange side consequences of the virus, the Associated Press reported overnight that KFC is temporarily suspending its long-time tagline that its food is “Finger Lickin’ Good,” deeming it “the most inappropriate slogan for 2020” due to the pandemic.

Looking at yesterday’s other moves now, equity markets in Europe didn’t experience a great deal of movement for the most part, with the STOXX 600 (-0.30%), the DAX (-0.04%) and the CAC 40 (+0.01%) seeing mixed performance. Separately, the move out of sovereign bonds was reflected in the performance of safe havens more generally, with the Japanese Yen (-0.39% vs. USD) as the worst-performing G10 currency yesterday, whilst gold (-0.04%) and silver (-0.27%) prices also fell back. On precious metals, our colleague Michael Hsueh, wrote a report taking profit on his gold-silver ratio trade idea, seeing the ratio at “a point which might be consistent with complete normalisation in economic conditions to pre-Covid status.” For more see his piece here.

The other main data release yesterday was the aforementioned Ifo business climate indicator from Germany, which beat consensus expectations in August with an increase to 92.6 (vs. 92.1 expected). That makes it the 4th consecutive monthly increase since the trough of 74.4 back in April, though it still stands below February’s 95.8. Looking in more depth, expectations are now at their long-term average, with the August reading of 97.5 its highest since November 2018. On the other hand, the assessment of the current situation is at 87.9, which is well below its pre-covid levels (98.8 in February). The other German data release yesterday was a small positive revision to the GDP contraction in Q2, which is now estimated at -9.7% (vs. -10.1% previously).

To the day ahead now, and the data highlights include French consumer confidence for August, along with the preliminary July readings for US durable goods orders and nondefence capital goods orders ex air. Central bank speakers include the Fed’s Barkin, the BoE’s Haldane and the ECB’s Schnabel and Kazimir. Finally, Royal Bank of Canada will be releasing earnings.

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Government

Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide…

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter riots in the summer of 2020, some elite colleges and universities shredded testing requirements for admission. Several years later, the test-optional admission has yet to produce the promising results for racial and class-based equity that many woke academic institutions wished.

The failure of test-optional admission policies has forced Dartmouth College to reinstate standardized test scores for admission starting next year. This should never have been eliminated, as merit will always prevail. 

"Nearly four years later, having studied the role of testing in our admissions process as well as its value as a predictor of student success at Dartmouth, we are removing the extended pause and reactivating the standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admission, effective with the Class of 2029," Dartmouth wrote in a press release Monday morning. 

"For Dartmouth, the evidence supporting our reactivation of a required testing policy is clear. Our bottom line is simple: we believe a standardized testing requirement will improve—not detract from—our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus," the elite college said. 

Who would've thought eliminating standardized tests for admission because a fringe minority said they were instruments of racism and a biased system was ever a good idea? 

Also, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. More from Dartmouth, who commissioned the research: 

They also found that test scores represent an especially valuable tool to identify high-achieving applicants from low and middle-income backgrounds; who are first-generation college-bound; as well as students from urban and rural backgrounds.

All the colleges and universities that quickly adopted test-optional admissions in 2020 experienced a surge in applications. Perhaps the push for test-optional was under the guise of woke equality but was nothing more than protecting the bottom line for these institutions. 

A glimpse of sanity returns to woke schools: Admit qualified kids. Next up is corporate America and all tiers of the US government. 

Tyler Durden Mon, 02/05/2024 - 17:20

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Spread & Containment

From Colombia to Laos: protecting crops through nanotechnology

In a recent breakthrough, DNA sequencing technology has uncovered the culprit behind cassava witches’ broom disease: the fungus genus Ceratobasidium….

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In a recent breakthrough, DNA sequencing technology has uncovered the culprit behind cassava witches’ broom disease: the fungus genus Ceratobasidium.

Credit: Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT / A. Galeon

In a recent breakthrough, DNA sequencing technology has uncovered the culprit behind cassava witches’ broom disease: the fungus genus Ceratobasidium.

The cutting-edge nanopore technology used for this discovery was first developed to track the COVID-19 virus in Colombia, but is equally suited to identifying and reducing the spread of plant viruses. The findings, published in Scientific Reports, will help plant pathologists in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand protect farmers’ valued cassava harvest.

“In Southeast Asia, most smallholder farmers rely on cassava: its starch-rich roots form the basis of an industry that supports millions of producers. In the past decade, however, Cassava Witches’ Broom disease has stunted plants, reducing harvests to levels that barely permit affected farmers to make a living,” said Wilmer Cuellar, Senior Scientist at the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT.

Since 2017, researchers at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT have incorporated nanotechnology into their research, specifically through the Oxford Nanopore DNA/RNA sequencing technology. This advanced tool provides insight into the deeper mysteries of plant life, accurately identifying pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and fungi that affect crops.

“When you find out which pathogen is present in a crop, you can implement an appropriate diagnostic method, search for resistant varieties and integrate that diagnosis into variety selection processes,” said Ana Maria Leiva, Senior Researcher at the Alliance.

Nanotechnology, in essence, is the bridge between what we see and what we can barely imagine. This innovation opens a window into the microscopic world of plant life and pathogens, redefining the way we understand and combat diseases that affect crops.

For an in-depth look at the technology being used in Laos and Colombia, please explore this link.


About the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

The Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) delivers research-based solutions that harness agricultural biodiversity and sustainably transform food systems to improve people’s lives. Alliance solutions address the global crises of malnutrition, climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental degradation.

With novel partnerships, the Alliance generates evidence and mainstreams innovations to transform food systems and landscapes so that they sustain the planet, drive prosperity, and nourish people in a climate crisis.

The Alliance is part of CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. www.alliancebioversityciat.org


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Public Health from the People

There are many ways to privately improve public health. Such responses make use of local knowledge, entrepreneurship, and civil society and pursue standard…

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There are many ways to privately improve public health. Such responses make use of local knowledge, entrepreneurship, and civil society and pursue standard goals of public health like controlling the spread of infectious diseases. Moreover, private responses improve overall welfare by lowering the total costs of a disease and limiting externalities. If private responses can produce similar outcomes as standard, governmental public health programs—and more—perhaps we should reconsider when and where we call upon governments to improve public health.

Two Kinds of Private Responses

Following Vernon Smith and his distinction between constructivist and ecological rationality, private actors can engage in two general kinds of public health improvements. They can engage in concerted efforts to improve public health, and they can engage in emergent responses through myriad interactions.1 Three stories below—about William Walsh, Martha Claghorn, and Edwin Gould—indicate concerted efforts to improve public health.

Walsh, a Catholic priest and President of the Father Matthew Society in Memphis, Tennessee, used the society to organize a refugee camp outside of the city and helped hundreds of people avoid yellow fever during the 1878 epidemic—one of the worst yellow fever epidemics in the country.2 Shortly after learning mosquitos carried diseases prior to 1901, Claghorn chaired the Civics committee of the Twentieth Century Club in the Richmond Hill area of Long Island and led a community-wide anti-mosquito campaign, which rid the area of potentially infectious mosquitos.3 After realizing that many of his employees were sick with malaria, Gould—president of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway—used his wealth and business firm to finance and develop an anti-mosquito campaign throughout Texas.4

These stories show how individuals recognize a public health problem given their circumstances and use their knowledge and available resources to resolve the problem. More recently, we might all be familiar with private, constructivist responses to Covid-19. We all made plans to avoid others and produce our desired amount of exposure. Many people made facemasks from old clothes or purchased them from facemask producers. Businesses, retailers, restaurants, and many others adapted in various ways to limit exposure for their workers and customers. My favorite example, albeit not relevant for most, is the so-called bubble that was implemented by the NBA, which housed teams, encouraged play, and limited infection. The NBA finished their season and crowned a 2020 champion only because of the privately designed and implemented bubble solution. The key is that the bubble pursued all of those objectives, not just one of them. All of these responses indicate how private interactions among people can minimize their exposure, through negotiation, discussion, and mutually beneficial means.

In addition to privately designed solutions, emergent public health responses are also important, perhaps even more so. Long-term migration and settlement patterns away from infectious diseases, consumption to improve nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, and the development of social norms to encourage preventative behavior are all different kinds of emergent public health responses. Each of these responses—developed through the actions of no one person—are substantial ways to improve public health.

First, consider how common migration operates as a means of lowering prevalence rates. As soon as people realized that living near stagnant bodies of water increased the probability of acquiring diseases like malaria, they were more likely to leave those areas and subsequently avoid them. Places with such features became known as places to avoid; people also developed myths to dissuade visitors and inhabitants.5 Such myths and associations left places like the Roman Campagna desolate for centuries. These kinds of cultural associations are also widespread; for example, many people in North and South Carolina moved to areas with higher elevation and took summer vacations to avoid diseases like malaria. East End and West End, in London, also developed because of the opportunities people had to migrate away from (and towards) several diseases.6

While these migration patterns might develop over decades, movement and migration also help in more acute public health crises. During the 1878 yellow fever epidemic throughout the southern United States, for example, thousands of people fled their cities to avoid infection. They took any means of transportation they could find. While some fled to other, more northern cities, many acquired temporary housing in suburbs, and many formed campsites and refugee camps outside of their city. The refugee camps outside of Memphis—like the one formed by William Walsh—helped hundreds and thousands of people avoid infection throughout the Fall of 1878.

Second, more mundane public health improvements—like improvements in nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation—are also emergent. These improvements arise from the actions of individuals and entrepreneurs, often closely associated with voluntary consumption and markets. According to renowned medical scientist Thomas McKeown, that is, rising incomes encouraged voluntary changes in consumption, which helped improve nutrition, sanitation, and lowered mortality rates.7 These effects were especially pertinent for women and mothers as they often selected more nutritious food and altered household sanitation practices. With advancing ideas about germs, moreover, historian Nancy Tomes argues that private interests advanced the campaign to improve house-hold sanitation and nutrition—full of advice and advertisements in newspapers, magazines, manuals, and books.8 Following Tomes, economic historians Rebecca Stein and Joel Mokyr substantiate these ideas and show that people changed their hygiene, sanitation, house-hold cleaning habits, and diets as they learned more about germs.9 Such developments helped people to provide their desired exposure to germs according to their values.

Obviously, there were concerted public health improvements during this time that also explain falling mortality rates. For example, waterworks were conscious efforts to improve public health and were provided publicly and privately, with similar, positive effects on health.10 The point is that while we might be quick to connect the health improvements associated with a public water system, we should also recognize emergent responses like gradual changes in voluntary consumption.

Finally, social norms or rules that encourage preventative behavior might also be relevant kinds of emergent public health responses. Such rules identify behavior that should or should not be allowed, they are enforced in a decentralized way, and if they follow from the values of individuals in a community.11 If such rules pertain to public health, they can raise the cost of infectious behavior or the benefits of preventative behavior. Covering one’s mouth when sneezing is not only beneficial from a public health perspective, it also helps avoid earning disapproval.

The condom code during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is another example of an emergent public health rule that reduced infectiousness by encouraging safer behavior.12 People who adopted safer sexual practices were seen to be doing the right thing—akin to taking care of a brother. People who refrained from adopting safer sexual practices were admonished. No single person or entity announced the rule; rather, it emerged from the actions and interactions of individuals within various communities to pursue their goals regarding maintaining sexual activity and limiting the spread of disease. Indeed, such norms were more effective in communities where people used their social capital resources to determine which behaviors should be changed and where they can more easily monitor and enforce infractions. This seems like a relevant factor where many gay men and men who have sex with men live in dense urban areas like New York and Los Angeles that foster LGBTQ communities.

Covid-19 provides additional examples where social norms encouraged the use of seemingly appropriate behavior, e.g., social distancing, the use of facemasks, and vaccination. Regardless of any formal rule in place, many people adapted their behavior because of social norms that encouraged social distancing, the use of facemasks, and vaccination. In communities that valued such behaviors, people that wore face masks and vaccinated were praised and were seen as doing the right thing; people that did not were viewed with scorn. Indeed, states and cities that have higher levels of social capital and higher values for public health tend to have higher Covid-19 vaccine uptakes.13

Improving Public Health and More

“Private approaches tend to lower the total costs of diseases and they limit externalities.”

While these private approaches can improve public health, can they do more than typical public health approaches cannot? Private approaches tend to lower the total costs of diseases and they limit externalities. Each aspect of private responses requires additional explanation.

Responding to infectious diseases and disease prevention is doubly challenging because not only do we have to worry about being sick, we also have to consider the costs imposed by our preventative behaviors and the rules we might impose. Thus, the total costs of an infectious disease include 1) the costs related to the disease—the pain and suffering of a disease and the opportunity costs of being sick—and 2) the costs associated with preventative and avoidance behavior. While disease costs are mostly self-explanatory, the costs of avoiding infection warrant more explanation. Self-isolation when you have a cold, for example, entails the loss of potentially valuable social activities; and wearing condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases forfeits the pleasures of unprotected sexual activity. Diseases for which vaccines and other medicines are available are less worrisome, perhaps, because these are diseases with lower prevention costs than diseases where those pharmaceutical interventions are not available. Governmental means of prevention also add relevant costs. Many readers might be familiar with the costs imposed by our private and public responses to Covid—from isolation to learning loss, and from sharp decreases in economic activity to increased rates of depression and spousal abuse.14 Long before Covid, moreover, people bemoaned wearing masks during the Great Flu,15 balked at quarantine against yellow fever,16 and protested bathhouse closings with the onset of HIV.17

Figure 1 shows the overall problem: diseases are harmful but our responses to those diseases might also be harmful.

Figure 1. The Excess Burden of Infectious Diseases

This figure follows Bhattacharya, Hyde, and Tu (2013) and Philipson (2000), who refer to the difference between total costs and disease costs as the excess burden of a disease. That is, excess burden depends on how severely we respond to a disease in private and in public. The excess burden associated with the common cold tends to be negligible as we bear the minor inconvenience of a fever, a sore throat perhaps, or a couple days off work; moreover, most people don’t go out of their way to avoid catching a cold. The excess burden of plague, however, is more complicated; not only are the symptoms much worse—and include death—people have more severe reactions. Note too that disease costs rise with prevalence and with worsening symptoms but eventually decline as more severe diseases tend to be less prevalent. Still, no one wants to be infected with a major disease, and severe precautions are likely. We might shun all social interactions, and we might use government to impose strict quarantine measures. As disease severity rises along the horizontal axis, it might be the case that the cure is worse than the disease.

The private responses indicated above all help to lower the total costs of a disease because people choose their responses and they use their local knowledge and available resources to select cheaper methods of prevention. Claghorn used her neighborhood connections and the social capital of her civics association to encourage homeowners to rid their yards of pools of water; as such she lowered the costs of producing mosquito control. Similarly, Gould used the organizational structure of his firm to hire experts in mosquito control and build a sanitation department. These are cheap methods to limit exposure to mosquitos.

Emergent responses also help to lower the total costs of a disease because such responses indicate the variety of choices people face and their ability to select cheaper options. People facing diseases like malaria might be able to move away and, for some, it is cheaper than alternative means of prevention. Many people now are able to limit their exposure to mosquitos with screens, improved dwellings, and air conditioning.18 Consider the variety of ways people can limit their exposure to sexually transmitted diseases like HIV. If some people would rather use condoms to limit HIV transmission, they are better off doing so than if they were to refrain from sexual activity altogether. Similarly, some people would be better off having relatively risky sexual activity if they were in monogamous relationships or if they knew about their partner’s sexual history. That people can choose their own preventative measures indicates lower total costs compared with blunt, one-rule-for-all, governmental public health responses.

Negative and positive externalities of spreadable diseases indicate too much infectious behavior and too little preventative behavior, respectively. Hosting a party is fun, but it also incurs the internal costs of the drinks and appetizers and, more importantly, perhaps the external costs of raising the probability that people get sick. Attending a local cafe can be relaxing, but you have to pay for a cup of coffee and you might also transmit a disease to other coffee drinkers. The same could be said for many other public and social activities that might spread diseases like attending a class or a basketball game, transporting goods and people, and sexual behaviors. Our preventative behaviors from taking a vaccine to covering your mouth and from isolation to engaging in safer sexual practices emits positive externalities. If left unchecked, negative and positive externalities lead to higher rates of infection.

Overall, we should continue to think more critically about delineating how private and public actors can improve public health and overall welfare. More importantly, we should recognize that private actors are more capable than we often realize, especially in light of conscious efforts to improve public health and those efforts that emerge from people’s actions and interactions. These private efforts might be better at advancing some public health goals than public actors do. Individuals, for example, have more access to local knowledge and can discover novel solutions that serve multiple ends—often ends they value—rather than the ends of distant officials. Such cases and possibilities indicate cheaper ways to improve public health.


Footnotes

[1] Smith (2009), Rationality in Economics: Constructivist and Ecological Forms, Cambridge University Press.

[2] For more on Walsh, see Carson (forthcoming), “Prevention Externalities: Private and Public Responses to the 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic,” Public Choice.

[3] For more on Claghorn, see Carson (2020), “Privately Preventing Malaria in the United States, 1900-1925,” Essays in Economics and Business History.

[4] For more on Gould, see Carson (2016), “Firm-led Malaria Prevention in the United States, 1910-1920,” American Journal of Law and Medicine.

[5] On the connection between malarial diseases, dragons, and dragon-slaying saints, see Horden (1992), “Disease, Dragons, and Saints: the management of epidemics in the dark ages,” in Epidemics and Ideas by Ranger and Slack.

[6] For more on migration and prevalence rates, see Mesnard and Seabright (2016), “Migration and the equilibrium prevalence of infectious disease,” Journal of Demographic Economics.

[7] The American Journal of Public Health published several commentaries on McKeown in 2002: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/issues/130602/

[8] Tomes (1990), “The Private Side of Public Health: Sanitary Science, Domestic Hygiene, and the Germ Theory, 1870-1990,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine.

[9] Mokyr and Stein (1996), “Science, Health, and Household Technology: The Effect of the Pasteur Revolution on Consumer Demand,” in The Economics of New Goods, NBER.

[10] See Werner Troesken’s work on public and private waterworks in the U.S. around the turn of the 20th century. See Galiani, Gertler, and Shargrodsky (2005), “Water for Life,” Journal of Political Economy.

[11] Brennan et al., (2013), Explaining Norms, Oxford University Press.

[12] For more on the condom code, see Carson (2017), “The Informal Norms of HIV Prevention: The emergence and erosion of the condom code,” Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics.

[13] Carilli, Carson, and Isaacs (2022), “Jabbing Together? The complementarity between social capital, formal public health rules, and covid-19 vaccine rates in the U.S.,” Vaccine.

[14] Leslie and Wilson, “Sheltering in Place and Domestic Violence: Evidence from Calls for Service During Covid-19.” Journal of Public Economics 189, 104241. Mulligan, “Deaths of Despair and the Incidence of Excess Mortality in 2020,” NBER, https://www.nber.org/papers/w28303. Betthauser, Bach-Mortensen, and Engzell, “A systematic review and meta-analysis of the evidence on learning during the Covid-19 Pandemic,” Nature Human Behavior, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-022-01506-4

[15] On the great influenza epidemic, see CBS News, “During the 1918 Flu pandemic, masks were controversial for ‘many of the same reasons they are today’.” Oct. 30, 2020. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mask-1918-flu-pandemic-controversial/

[16] On yellow fever quarantine in Mississippi, see Deanne Nuwer (2009), Plague Among the Magnolias: The 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Mississippi.

[17] On these closures, see Trout (2021), “The Bathhouse Battle of 1984.” https://www.sfaf.org/collections/beta/the-bathhouse-battle-of-1984/

[18] Tusting et al. (2017), “Housing Improvement and Malaria Risk in Sub-Saharan Africa: a multi-country analysis of survey data.” PLOS Medicine.


*Byron Carson is an Associate Professor of Economics and Business at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, where he teaches courses on introductory economics, money and banking, health economics, and urban economics. Byron earned his Ph.D. in Economics from George Mason University in 2017, and his research interests include economic epidemiology, public choice, and Austrian economics.


This article was edited by Features Editor Ed Lopez.


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