In Praise of the N95 Hero
If you saw a true hero, would you know it?
You might know it if you were on the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. You might also know it if you were in the fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 1, 1863. And you would indeed know it if you were aboard United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.
Yet today, during the most pernicious viral pandemic in more than a century, there is one relatively easy way to know if you’ve seen a true hero — because he/she is likely to be wearing a N95 respirator mask.
In addition to that N95 mask, you’ll also find that hero wearing latex gloves, a full-body disposable gown, a face shield and other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE).
You see, today, in this fight against COVID-19 (“CO” stands for corona, “VI” for virus, and “D” for disease, identified in “19” or 2019), the real hero on the front lines of this battle is the doctor, nurse, hospital worker, first responder, medical researcher or other healthcare professional risking his/her own safety to take care of the victims of this microscopic menace.
Now, I know I am not the first observer to feel a combination of awe, sympathy, gratitude and inspiration at the work these heroes are doing. Recent op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and CNN.com all have done a beautiful job of chronicling the heroism of the N95 hero.
In the Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Nurses Are the Coronavirus Heroes,” Paul Dohrenwend writes about nurses in the following way:
“The nurses marinate in risk as they spend the greatest amount of time with the patient. They draw blood, obtain samples, provide oxygen, and steadfastly tend to their patients’ needs. They are by the doctors’ side as we intubate patients struggling to breathe. Once that patient is transferred to the intensive-care unit, it’s the nurses who do the mundane and the heroic to make sure the patient survives the illness or dies more comfortably.”
I don’t know about you, but to “marinate in risk” is not how I want to spend my day.
In the Washington Post, “These are the heroes of the coronavirus pandemic,” Deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus muses:
“There is some danger inherent in the ordinary practice of medicine, but not this much. I confess: I do not know that I would do the same in their circumstances; I am not sure I am so generous or so brave. If my child were graduating from medical school, how would I deal with her being sent, inadequately protected, into an emergency room? If my husband were a physician, would I send him off to the hospital — or let him back into the house in the interim?”
Photo courtesy Shutterstock
And at CNN.com, “The real heroes in the fight against coronavirus,” Thomas Lake writes:
“Someday, when all this is over, we’ll likely put up statues of people in hospital scrubs. We’ll have parades in their honor. Their names will go on bridges, highways and memorial walls. Maybe they’ll get their own national holiday. Right now, though, our nurses and doctors are busy fighting for our lives. Some of them are dying.”
Of course, not all heroes in this battle wear N95 masks. There also are heroes of the sort that Elan Journo writes about in the New Ideal in his piece, “Unsung Heroes of the Pandemic: Creators of Our Digital Age.”
Journo has much praise for the N95 hero, whom he has previously called “under-appreciated heroes.” But he also identifies another hero helping society survive through this pandemic:
“Reflecting on this crisis, I’ve come to have a deeper appreciation for another group of heroic individuals. We rely on their tireless work and achievements every day, but all the more so as millions of us are subjected to stay-at-home orders. But they are unsung. Call them the builders of our digital age. Thanks to them, the lockdowns are more tolerable than they otherwise would have been.”
Journo then goes on to praise the creators of products such as Gmail, Dropbox, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Netflix and YouTube and Disney Plus, Hulu, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and Instacart for making it possible for us all to stay safe and sane while under virtual home quarantine.
Yet as much respect, admiration and praise as these creators deserve, there is something extra valorous about someone who dons the N95 mask and engages in hand-to-hand combat with this viral predator.
At this time, for this effort, and for this heroism, I am reminded of what Shakespeare wrote in “Henry V” in the epic speech known as “This day is called the feast of Crispian.”
Here are the final lines of this rousing and inspirational speech, which is perhaps the best motivational passage ever written:
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
So today, I want to praise the few, the happy few, the band of brothers, these N95 heroes, who shed their blood with each other in the fight against COVID-19.
May the rest of us who are not on the frontlines strive to replicate their valor.
P.S. Do you know precisely when to sell your stocks? We do, because we have a plan in place to tell us when to buy — and more importantly — when to sell our positions. That plan is the proven, four-decade-plus trend-following strategy at the core of my Successful Investing advisory service.
If you want to make sure you have our proprietary “Safety Switch” in place that tells you when this market should be sold, and when it’s safe to get back into the market after you sell, then you simply must check out my Successful Investing advisory service, today.
ETF Talk: An Infrastructure Fund for a V-Shaped Oil Recovery
(Note: Today’s ETF Talk is the third in our series on funds that are likely to do well when the market begins a “V-shaped” recovery.)
The Global X MLP ETF (MLPA) invests in some of the largest, most liquid midstream energy master limited partnerships (MLPs) to give investment results that generally align with the price and yield performance, before fees and expenses, of the Solactive MLP Infrastructure Index.
The index fund focuses on transportation, storage and processing MLPs that often have less sensitivity to energy prices. Specifically, MLPA offers investors exposure to midstream MLPs in a C-corporation exchange-traded fund (ETF).
C-corporations, unlike many ETFs, pay taxes at the fund level. However, MLPs typically pay high yields to investors because they do not pay corporate income taxes. Plus, MLPA’s expense ratio of 0.46% is about 24% lower than the industry average.
MLPA has $476.84 million in assets under management, an 0.18% average spread and offers a 22.55% dividend yield. Its next distribution date is May 7, 2020. MLPA’s share price dipped in late March but it has been rising lately after President Trump intervened in an oil production dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia to lift oil prices after a recent plunge.
This midstream energy ETF allocates 76.57% of its total assets to its top 10 holdings. MLPA’s top five holdings currently are Enterprise Products Partners LP (EPD), 12.52%; Magellan Midstream Partners LP (MMP), 11.26%; MPLX LP Partnership Units (MPLX), 7.80%; Cheniere Energy Partners LP (CQP) 7.59%; and Energy Transfer LP (ET), 7.38%.
In sum, the fund is aimed at providing exposure to midstream energy holdings that are on the rise with a recent upward move in oil prices. For investors looking to gain exposure to the energy sector, the ETF offers a chance to align with the largest and most liquid midstream MLPs.
As always, I am happy to answer any of your questions about ETFs, so do not hesitate to send me an email. You just may see your question answered in a future ETF Talk.
Viewing the World with Healthy Skepticism
I’ve always believed that it’s important to engage the world with an objective, scientific mindset that is always skeptical of truth claims that don’t pass rigorous intellectual muster.
Helping the world see things from that perspective is Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, host of the Science Salon Podcast, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101.
In the latest episode of the Way of the Renaissance Man podcast, Michael tells me about how he created his “non-traditional career” as a writer, publisher and critical thinking advocate.
In addition to becoming the world’s point man in the battle to cultivate healthy scientific skepticism, Michael also spent more than a decade as a professional bicycle racer, which basically vaults him directly into Renaissance Man status.
In this episode, we also discuss the history of science, the rise of postmodernist thinking, the current assault on truth, the changing nature of politics and the downside of using labels to categorize people.
I’ve been an admirer of Michael Shermer for some time and, in this podcast, you’ll discover why.
Your Coronavirus Financial Survival Guide
We are coming off the worst quarter for stocks in history.
Let that sink in for a moment. The first quarter of 2020 was literally the worst showing for stocks ever, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging 6,621 points or 23.2%. The S&P 500 did slightly better, sinking 646 points, or “just” 20%. The NASDAQ Composite held up the best of the big three, but it still plummeted 1,273 points or 14.2%.
Unfortunately, the market numbers aren’t the worst damage caused by the coronavirus. The worst damage is going to be to the economy, as a virtual shutdown of commerce in the United States and throughout most of the world will undoubtedly send us into a recession. How long we stay there will depend upon one key thing, which is how fast we can bring the rate of new coronavirus cases down.
According to the experts, we could be in for some extremely tough weeks ahead. This is true in terms of both new cases and, sadly, the national death toll. To try to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus cases, and therefore to reduce the number of future deaths, the country is going to continue its current “stay at home” policies. Even President Trump has signed on to the extension of these guidelines until the end of April.
Given the situation, the economy isn’t likely to get better for at least the next month. Now is the time for you to take any and all necessary action to help yourself survive this coronavirus financial crisis.
To help you do that, I’ve enlisted my friend, real estate and personal finance expert and host of the popular show Unlock Your Wealth Today, Heather Wagenhals.
I always learn things from Heather, as she is a fountainhead of information when it comes to uncovering useful tips to help people improve their financial lives. So, today I asked her to help me put a few tips together to help The Deep Woods readers prevail during this time of acute financial stress. I think you’ll find her insights extremely useful.
Heather Wagenhals and Jim Woods at FreedomFest 2019
Jim Woods (JW): Given the tremendous economic uncertainty caused by this pandemic, what options do individuals have to mitigate financial risk and endure the coming months of potential hardship? More specifically, what’s the first thing you recommend individuals and/or business owners do right now to create some relief?
Heather Wagenhals (HW): Forbearance is always at the top of my list to create instant relief of financial headaches and give some “financial breathing room” when there is an income reduction or interruption. This is simply a written agreement between the borrower and the lender to move a negotiated number of payments to the end of a financial obligation, eliminating the need for required installment payments now, and preserving your credit rating integrity. Another term this process may be known by is payment deferment. It doesn’t eliminate your monthly financial obligation; it just moves the obligation to the end of your loan term.
JW: Can you give us an example of how forbearance works in practice?
HW: Certainly. Let’s say you have a monthly payment on some debt of $100, and you negotiate with your lender for a six-month forbearance (traditionally the standard). You will then resume your standard monthly payment after the forbearance term. Then, when your final $100 payment is due, you will also pay that deferred $600 and any other charges due at that time. I encourage everyone to ask for the max forbearance available because we don’t know how long this coronavirus will keep our nation in economic lockdown.
JW: What is your second recommended action to take to create financial relief?
HW: The second step is to evaluate ongoing expenses. We need to keep in mind that we are in a crisis, and while we have been inconvenienced, ideally this is not a change in our way of life or something long term. That means we want to err on the side of judicious versus drastic. The things we want to look at are what expenditures have fallen outside of the “essential need business” definition. If we don’t have access to utilize memberships such as health clubs/spas, golf or tennis memberships, tanning, recreational clubs, social clubs, etc., and those organizations haven’t voluntarily suspended membership dues, you can always request to “freeze” those memberships, preserving your inclusion when you are able to return to those activities and freeing up additional cash resources now. Often, it’s already spelled out in your member agreements that you can reference for specific instructions.
JW: That’s a great idea. I know I have some memberships I am not even allowed to use right now that I should make sure and suspend. So, how about resources available to homeowners, aside from requesting a forbearance? Are you a fan of refinancing your existing mortgage right now?
HW: Homeowners definitely have options open to them right now. In fact, streamlining your mortgage is an excellent way to reduce your monthly mortgage expenditure if you’ve been in your home for a while. The technical term is called mortgage re-casting or mortgage re-amortization. If you’ve been making additional principal payments, made a lump sum principal payment, or have been in your property a number of years and paid down a fair portion of your principal, you can have your lender recalculate your mortgage based on the new principal balance.
As for refinancing, the challenge individuals will have right now with refinancing is that first, it requires a new underwriting determination for the lender during a period where lending guidelines are becoming stricter. Second, it’s going to require you to qualify, and if you have had an income reduction or a material change in your job or company’s status (like being labeled as a “nonessential business” and forced to close therefore eliminating your income stream) you may not qualify, or you may not have as favorable terms as you do now. Finally, refinancing costs money. You will have to pay origination fees, title and escrow fees and multiple other fees. When you streamline your mortgage, it’s not a new underwriting decision for the lender, so if you’ve had great payment history, it’s simply recalculating the interest and likely a small documentation fee right around $300 if any is required.
JW: Outstanding. Finally, are there any other tips, tactics or resources my readers can access in your financial survival tool kit?
HW: I always say that any time is a good time to ask for an interest rate reduction for any accounts you have. And in a crisis, such as the one we are experiencing now, this is a great time to save some money and be rewarded for your excellent payment history. You’d be surprised to find out how many people are not aware that you can renegotiate your annual interest rates and fees charged on your credit cards and revolving credit lines. The better your high-balance management and good payment history are with a lender and/or card issuer is, the greater likelihood you will have of getting that rate reduction with the first level of customer service representative you encounter.
JW: Thank you for sharing some of your insights with my readers. Anything else you’d like to share before we wrap it up?
HW: You’re welcome, Jim. It’s an honor to collaborate with you. And, I do have some final words. Keep in mind this is a trying time for everyone. Call centers are having employees work from home and hold times are extended. That means that remaining calm before and during your negotiations is essential. As you wrote about in your recent article “Make the Coronavirus Kindness Choice,” I think it’s important to lead with kindness, but also to remain assertive and to keep asking questions. You also should continue to escalate your requests to the next level of customer service representative until you get what you are seeking. Those extra minutes invested in patience and kindness may equate to hundreds of dollars in savings for you.
JW: Excellent advice. Thank you so much, Heather. And with some smart thinking, sound planning, a positive attitude and a focus on making the kindness choice, we’ll all come out of this mess stronger and better equipped to deal with adversity than we were before this crisis.
The Good Kind of Virus
“Happiness is viral… Go infect someone!!”
— Nitya Prakash
The Indian author is in favor of spreading the happiness virus, and I couldn’t agree with him more. So, go infect someone today. It will make them feel great, and it will make you feel great. Just make sure you do it while staying six feet apart.
Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.
In the name of the best within us,