We've learned a ton in the last year about pandemics, most importantly that we know nothing about them. Hardly a day goes by without acknowledging we did so many things wrong. First we minimized it, with the president and the vice president talking about single digit casualties as the beginning of the scourge. Then we decided it was all about surfaces. Washing your hands and making sure that you don't touch anyone seemed to be the best ways not to spread it.
We heard that masks meant nothing, perhaps the single worst judgment rendered by our government because the previous administration and many governors then decided that masks didn't work, thereby elongating the whole darned thing. We still aren't sure why the government held to such an ignorant ground. Was it a lack of personal protective equipment for the first responders and health care workers? Was it some sort of disbelief in the science that drove other, healthier countries, to where masks everywhere?
Or was it because the health care officials didn't get that COVID is like aerosol droplets and you need masks to help filter those droplets from spreading. It's so palpably obvious as to be painful but it's too late now even as our CDC director wails about impending doom better than any character in a Stephen King novel. The worthlessness of masks was determined a year ago and keeping them on seems atavistic to a huge part of the country.
But here's something I think we did learn: while the pandemic might be winding down, still killing people, still being caught, but winding down, we know this is the beginning of a time where we can expect many more pandemics. This is not 1919 when the Spanish flu went away. After a full year of investigation, admittedly much of it bogus, we still don't know the cause of the darned thing? We are starting to get out arms around the idea that it was bat related. Was it bats mixed with pigs? With fish? What the hell do we know. Have the Chinese shut the wet markets that may or may not have caused the pandemic? Do they even care now that they have pulled ahead of us in much of commerce because they solved it long ago, something authoritarian societies can do best?
Given our lack of knowledge there's an undercurrent that I predict will grow bigger and bigger over time, basically what tailwinds from the pandemic will stay with us after the pandemic's over.
Right now when you are on a conference call you are hearing about which companies picked up customers that will stay with them, something we heard from Chewy (CHWY) last night, a big reason why that stock's up big today.
But what you are not hearing is about changes in behaviors that could get even more pronounced as we go along.
First, is that we have decided, collectively, that when it comes to the pandemic, cities are a more dangerous place than we thought. That's why I don't see the homebuilders getting clubbed any time soon even as rates have gone up a great deal, admittedly from very low levels. Lennar's (LEN) through it part in part because of its new ecosystem but also because the exodus, the great reshuffling as Zillow (Z) calls it, hasn't ended. That makes me like this group, as well as Zillow and Tractor Supply (TSCO) . Yes I think big cities will come back over time, but fear of the next pandemic will keep driving this trend.
Second, we now know that those with co-morbidities, a term we didn't even know last year at this time, are what kills. The easiest way to lessen your chances for co-morbidities? Staying in shape. That's one of the reasons why I like Planet Fitness (PLNT) here. It's a reason that, when the fluff comes out of it, I think the stock of Peloton (PTON) will be worthwhile. The addition of a treadmill, right now in short supply, will only make it more valuable. But there's a big short in it -6.6% so I don't know how much of it and even though it is down 29% for the year, it might be overinflated because of those who might be short busting.
Finally, I like Apple (AAPL) . Several years ago Tim Cook told us that he felt his greatest legacy will be Apple's tilt to health. The more I use my watch, the more we use our watches, the more we know how indispensable they are to staying healthy. The legacy is real, the earnings palpable.
The next pandemic. It's in the back of our minds now. It will be in the foreground once it is beaten.