That's all I can say about this ongoing dilemma of when and where to start up this giant frozen economy that's spinning toward becoming a sequel to the Great Depression, a once unthinkable prospect that is very much on the agenda.
The market's flummoxed about what's about to happen, because, frankly, it's pretty darned flummoxing. How confusing is it? All businesses are asking for direction, except the dominant companies that can figure out exactly what to do.
I have been a huge supporter of the stock of Amazon (AMZN) , because it's got the scale and the price. But Target's (TGT) figured it out and its online numbers -- something that they were actually roundly criticized about when CEO Brian Cornell announced them not that long ago -- have been correctly embraced as vastly superior to almost all alternatives. Walmart's (WMT) stock remains too cheap for me, given that it's got an online business with 4,769 warehouses, brick and mortar stores, and fabulous food delivery, something that has eluded Amazon to date.
Costco (COST) ? How can you not own a stock of a company that took the hit and demanded that both associates and customers must wear masks. You bet they should. And you can load up on a lot of merchandise not available online. The stock of Home Depot (HD) is a bit mystifying in that the last quarter was nothing to write home about. But when it comes to your stimulus check it's the best bang for your money to make that home office that you now use look like an office. Same with Lowe's (LOW) , which I think is putting its pre-CEO Marvin Ellison troubles behind it.
Same with restaurants. They don't know what to do. We know they are trying out all sorts of delivery and pick-up strategies. But the only one that's making money on these efforts is Chipotle (CMG) , which CEO Brian Niccol told us in an interview are very profitable. Chipotle can call the shots, it's even got the real estate investment trusts, who own most mall space, playing ball in allowing extremely lucrative Chipotle-lanes.
The only problem is that's about it. That's about the only group of companies that we have that figured this new, crummy world out because they are essential. Almost everyone else is shut and it's crushing the economy.
Witness the craziness in California where some unelected official is keeping Elon Musk's Tesla (TSLA) Factory closed even as the governor is opening up all sorts of enterprises that can't really be governed or regulated like book stores, clothing stores and florists. The plant Musk wants to open puts a huge number of people to work, especially when you consider the supply chain, and can be heavily regulated by OSHA, the agency that has every right to shut the assembly line down. I know OSHA needs more of a backbone. We will have Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, on tonight on "Mad Money" to talk about the Heroes Act, which includes a worker safety provision that will require OSHA to issue a strong, enforceable standard within seven days to require all workplaces to develop and implement infection control plan based on CDC expertise and prevents employers from retaliating against workers who report infection control problems.
That's an important extension of what OSHA can do, but it can stop Musk in his tracks if he makes mistakes along these lines.
Which brings me to the real issue.
We have become a grab bag of rules and regulations that no one knows anything about. We have some industries that are deemed essential in some places, like liquor stores, but health clubs, which are actually about health, are mostly closed. We have some schools going to open and others shut. We don't have any idea what we are doing, because we, it suddenly it turns out, have a very weak federalist hand when it needs to be strong and uniform.
Here's why. Because we don't know what works and what doesn't, and there is simply no magic bullet. But here's the gun we have against Covid-19 as brought to you by Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com (CRM) , who has thought more about reopening than anyone in the country. We need: 1. Masks for all; 2. Aggressive hand-washing; 3. Social distancing; 4. Testing when symptomatic; and 5. Contact tracing.
The numbers on masks, our principal weapon against this scourge? "Eighty percent wear masks that are 60% effective," which gets this darned thing to about the level of the normal flu in its ability to be transmitted. The numbers go down even more when you use social distancing, any social distancing as the Chinese favor one meter in the Shanghai Disney (DIS) .
We have to face some facts here. We can order masks, but we don't have all the testing yet. We soon will, though, and that will be a boon for the economy. We don't have enough guidance from Washington, particularly the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or locally. For example, at my restaurants we are mostly going to take the Tennessee pledge on table distance, no bar and aggressive questioning about illness. All I can say is it's a recipe for disaster. But that's why we need another stimulus bill to get us through this period and closer to where we have something else in our arsenal against this disease. In the meantime the clock on the Paycheck Protection proceeds unabated.
I don't expect a strong economy for ages. I am totally on the "U" camp of a recovery, but the only thing that will help us is a strong set of rules from Washington that green lights what can be green lit and then open wide when we can get at-home testing, something I think isn't far away and is worth being ready for and the Apple (AAPL) -Google (GOOGL) plan for contact tracing using your phone and public health authorities to tell you whether you have been near someone with Covid-19 in your travels and you can get tested yourself. There is no stigma to having Covid, so contact tracing should be required.
Why am I so adamant that we have to get the show on the road even as doctor Anthony Fauci says it could be disastrous?
Because I think without the opening of most places we will have so many defaults that they will take the banks under with them and then a health crisis becomes a credit crisis and that's a heck of a lot harder to get out of. With this level of unemployment already we can take the entire economic edifice down. Too many revolvers have been drawn, to many loans to car dealers, retailers, franchisers, all of which are in jeopardy, which is why the bank stocks trade as if their dividends are in jeopardy. They are unless we forcefully open our economy and stop doing silly things like banning Elon Musk from making cars.
What makes the situation more urgent? Although we have a well-funded vaccine maker Novavax (NVAX) on "Mad Money" tonight, and there are many other vaccines in the pipeline, it is far more likely that we are going to have to rely on antivirals to cut morbidity, not time in the hospitals. But I no longer think we can wait for either. Our weapons will still be the same, masks, hand washing, physical distance and the like. So what's the point, really, of waiting? If you can't leave your house because of pre-existing conditions, we need a federally funded program to help you get through to a vaccine. Otherwise, let's face it, nothing better's coming along any time soon. What are we waiting for? The "Great Depression No. 2, the Sequel"? Now that would be the real killer.