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On My Mind | April 2020


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Good morning from… hold on, let me ask Siri… day 54 of official quarantine. If you’re wondering, yes, I’m still in Italy. And if you’re wondering why, even after the season was cancelled a few weeks ago, I encourage you to watch one of the White House’s daily coronavirus press briefings. That should tell you everything. Better yet, here’s a video my brother blessed our sibling group chat with a few days ago. Jokes aside, I just haven’t felt any rush to get back. Plus, on the bright side, in a few days (May 4) Italy will reassess the situation on the ground and consider easing quarantine measures. Keeping my fingers crossed for that.


I’m writing this month's post (well this recap portion) morning of posting. I usually like to neatly organize my thoughts and finish it a few days before the month's end but... I guess there is no deliberate reasoning. There’s been a lot on my mind this April and I couldn’t decide what I wanted to share so I kept putting it off until I felt something--whatever that means. I figured it would be a gametime decision, that I would find something by May 1 aaaannnnnnd here we are. May 1, 2020. Is that procrastination? Maybe. Probably. Or, hear me out, it could be my way of mixing it up, adding some spice to the predictability of two months in quarantine. No time to endlessly pour over wording, syntax and editing? Now that’s what I call spontaneity. That’s living on the edge. Right?


I’m going to keep that paragraph. There’s some truth to it. Although April was rather physically and geographically monotonous (also read, uneventful), from a mental, and to some extent social, standpoint it was anything but. This past month was all about finding an equilibrium with quarantine and diving deeper into personal projects. A lot of thinking, reading, researching, and learning. And to my surprise, there was also a lot of connecting.


One of my favorite features of this last month was witnessing all the projects friends and fellow athletes are brainstorming, launching, and scaling during this time. My childhood friend Paris Leonce is producing and storytelling at UNINTERRUPTED. Jori Davis, a fellow American playing women’s pro basketball here in Italy, is building Wevolve, a resource platform for pro athletes. Gio Sottana, fellow pro and captain of the Italian women’s national team, launched the digital magazine, I AMagazine, to tell behind the sports stories of fellow athletes. My ex-teammate and good friend Carlon Brown is expanding his sports consulting business, Point Advising, to help prospective and current pros athletes navigate the business. And my Stanford basketball family Anthony Goods is scaling his sports media platform, SwishCultures. 


Seeing everything they’re building during this pandemic, this reminder of just how fragile a pro sports career can be, has been nothing short of refreshing and inspirational. I had the honor of being invited to connect on a few of these projects throughout April. It was particularly fun filming some behind the scenes looks at quarantine in this SwishCultures vlog:


I’ll link the rest of the projects somewhere in the extras below. But outside of these pleasant surprises, the story of the past month was routine. And by routine what I think I really mean is balance. 


The productivity trap is real. I think it’s easy to give in to this creeping desire to always be doing something (especially when you technically have nothing to do at all). For this, I like to reflect on a quote my coach Johnny Dawkins shared with me while I was at Stanford. He said you can make a whole lot of movement on a rocking horse and still not go anywhere. At that time he was teaching me how to think about practice and workouts. About working smarter and not harder. In this case, I’m extrapolating that out to how I should manage quarantine. So much of the past month has been reminding myself to avoid the rocking horse and just sit down and relax sometimes (or feel free to get in bed and go to sleep at 9PM). 


That said, this past month confined between my apartment and, on occasion, the grocery store was quite peaceful. Compared with the long slog of uncertainty and bad news that was  March (and to some extent February), April actually flew by. I think a lot of that ease and sense of flow was afforded by giving my brain this aforementioned balance. Moments of deep thinking coupled with others of empty silence. 


On the thinking side, I spent the month taking courses, brushing up on DCF modeling, learning a new investing platform, following Fed policy and continuing to wrap my head around the global economic landscape and this general dislocation between markets and the real economy in the USA. I took a deep dive into the history of The Great Depression (see below in Books) and revisited past financial crises in search of some hint of context for what’s going on right now. Let me tell you, it’s equally fascinating and bewildering stuff. A few days ago on Instagram I joked about having this month’s post feature only the below chart with no commentary.




This has been one of the more puzzling infographics at the forefront of my mind lately. But I won’t expand on that here. No “continued thoughts” section on this post lest it turn into any more of a ramble than it already is. Maybe I’ll nerd out in a separate post in the near future.


Hoping you all are healthy, safe and avoiding life’s "rocking horses" during quarantine. For my people in Italy and Europe, let’s keep optimistic about quarantines safely easing. For my people in the states that have the option to stay home, uhhhhh, I’d look at those early openings with a critical eye and a healthy dose of skepticism. Until next month (or next post) enjoy your start to May wherever you are in the world. I read three books this past month. As always, you can find the recaps below. 


Blessings.


-jo



Extras:


UNINTERRUPTED Podcast 

IAMagazine Interview

SwishCultures 24 Hours Vlog 





BOOKS


“Investment Biker: Around the world with Jim Rogers” by Jim Rogers


The Rundown: Billionaire investor Jim Rogers documents investment and historical observations on a two year motorcycle adventure around the world.


Some Thoughts: I picked up this book because I was interested in understanding how different investors frame macro level events in their investment philosophies. In this book, Jim Rogers, a history buff most famous for co-founding the Quantum Fund with George Soros, embarks on a worldwide motorcycle road trip and shares investment insights and predictions garnered from his travels. The book is part adventure log and part investment principles. As someone who travels often and tries to learn from the different places I live, the book’s premise intrigued me. 


One aspect that I particularly enjoyed was the fact that this book was written in the early 1990s. Throughout the book, Rogers makes a number of macroeconomic predictions based on his travel experiences. It was interesting to reflect on how many of those predictions in fact came to fruition.


I also appreciated how Rogers took many opportunities to teach from these travel experiences both big and small. For example, he dives into the historical, political, and economic reasons he cannot get a tire replacement or bike maintenance during the thousands of miles ride across Russia. At other points, he breaks down how exchanging money on the street (in the black market) instead of in the bank informs him about the broader health of an economy and its currency. Rogers’ ability to leverage his understanding of history and economics to give broader context to otherwise mundane travel details was my favorite part of this book. 


Unfortunately, I think this dichotomy between travel log and investment philosophy is the very thing that holds the book back. There are a number of points where the book dragged and  felt out of balance by veering too far in either direction. Some of the purely adventure writing falls flat while some of the investment analysis feels forced and unnecessary. A number of times I found myself thinking he was not enjoying his trip simply because he was so preoccupied with seeing the business in everything. 


Review: Macroeconomics for the adventurer (4/5)


Did You Know?: From 1970 to 1980, Rogers and Soros' Quantum Fund returned 4200% compared to the S&P’s 47%.



“Lord of Finance: The bankers who broke the world” by Liaquat Ahmed 


The Rundown: A comprehensive profile of the world’s four most powerful central bankers and a historical account of their decision making in the years leading up to The Great Depression.


Some Thoughts: At the moment, there is a severe dislocation in how financial markets and real economies are responding to the covid-19 pandemic. The coronavirus has a global-scale economic impact so I thought it’d be interesting to take a deep look into past economic disasters. I wanted to gain some context not only for understanding how governments and central banks used policy, but also how markets and people in the real economy responded to that policy. 


This was a long (at times dense), but fascinating look at the buildup to the Great Depression. This book takes a historic dive into the geopolitical, economic, and social environments that existed at the time. I think this book does a masterful job simplifying the complicated interplay between these different factors. This provides a more comprehensive understanding of why The Great Depression happened in the first place.


More importantly, the book is framed through the lives and relationships of the era’s four most powerful central bankers--from the USA, Enlgand, Germany and France-- and details how their decision making (and relationships) over the course of two decades influenced things like WWI reparations, the gold standard, and eventually The Great Depression. I enjoyed this aspect of the book because it shows not only how much power was concentrated between a few individuals, but it showed how those personal relations and biases reverberated into broader economic and political outcomes. Part of the genius of this book is that it helps the reader easily identify the different points that central bankers could have helped avoid the eventual disaster that was The Great Depression.


Review: A must read historical account of The Great Depression (5/5)


Did You Know?: The concept of war debts and reparations were a key contributing factor to the Great Depression. After World War I, Germany owed France and Britain $12 billion in reparations; France owed the United States and Britain $7 billion in debts, and Britain owed the United States $4 billion in debts. In 2009 dollars, that was the economy crippling equivalent of Germany owing $2.4 trillion, France owing $1.4 trillion and Britain owing $800 billion.



“Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel


The Rundown: A nomadic Shakespeare symphony fights to protect their lives and their art in a pandemic ravaged, post-apocalyptic North America. 


Some Thoughts: A former Phillips Exeter classmate recommended me this book over Instagram a month or so ago. To be honest, I was quite skeptical going in. Shakespeare symphony? Post-apocalypse? Didn’t exactly sound like my kind of read. But needing a breather from all the finance and economics, I gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised.


This was a fun read that tells the stories of lives intertwined by a depressed Hollywood actor, a comic book, and a flu pandemic that wipes out more than 99% of the population. It’s centered around a Shakespeare symphony traveling the Great Lakes region in search of audiences and safety. This is a story that transcends time and investigates the many meanings and forms of survival. It’s an exploration of the things we hold onto when everything around us collapses. 


Review: An entertaining journey through crisis and through time. (4.5/5)


Did You Know?: The novel’s recurrent line “Survival is insufficient” comes from Star Trek: Voyager episode 122.



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