At the risk of boring readers, I’m not surprised that the global markets have taken fright at recent developments relating to the coronavirus. They should be frightened at the short-term impact. As I’ve been saying endlessly in Citywire, markets are consistently underestimating the short-term impact.

One small measure of this impact popped up in a note from the guys at Westbeck Energy.

Their particular focus is on the impact on energy prices. They are a fairly cautious bunch, but I am even more bearish short term than they are. I think we could see oil prices fall well below $50 a barrel and I have to say that I am very thankful I have cleared out most of my energy positions (bar Premier Oil which is crashing in value as I write).

Anyway, the WestBeck Capital Management guys have dug up a fascinating data set on real-time traffic data using TomTom data. Yep, you always knew that the satnav unit was spying on you.

“TomTom real-time traffic congestion monitors for major Chinese cities show road congestion is a tiny fraction of normal levels and has not picked up over the course of the week. Daily passenger trips (by air, road, rail and ship) have been down by more than 80% y/y since 24 January. Coal consumption at power plants is flatlining at extraordinarily weak levels, likely indicating a collapse in industrial demand. Property transactions have tanked, and some 80% of auto dealerships are still closed. ‘Wartime’ measures restricting population movements remain in place in a wide range of tier-one cities and provincial capitals. CNN estimates 780mn Chinese are under some form of movement restriction.”

Obviously, we need to apply all the usual caveats to this analysis but for me the point is obvious – China is hurting badly. And while I don’t believe many of the data points coming out of the country, I do think that the rest of the world could be doing more to help the Chinese recover from this trauma.

Not that investors seem to care as they sell stocks aggressively. And buy gold. I won’t say too much about the shiny stuff in advance of a column next week for the FT on the subject but the chart below caught my eye.

It’s from the St Louis Fed and shows the gold volatility price index.

Notice how over the last five years gold volatility has consistently declined bar a recent spike.

For me, this is a crucial development. We need our safe-haven assets to be…well….safe…havens, with prices moving in a fairly predictable line.

Unlike cryptocurrencies, which are about as safe as tinkering with a dirty bomb in your garage.

Last but no means least, its worth wondering whether we might see the re-emergence sometime soon of inflation in Europe (remember that strange phenomenon, continental readers?).

Talk to gold investors and of course, they always think that inflation is about to burst out everywhere.

Back in the real world, the evidence is less persuasive, especially in Europe.

Analysts at asset management firm DWS have been crunching the numbers on “Perceived” inflation rates. In particular, they’re interested in whether proposals to include costs incurred due to homeownership might boost inflation rates on the continent, as is the case in the US?

Here’s the DWS report:

“Assuming rent and owner-occupied housing made up 33% of the basket of goods and services in the Eurozone, too, the inflation rate would have fluctuated much more since 2010 and in some cases would have been 0.2 to 0.5 percentage points above the reported rate. From 2011 to 2013, on the other hand, it would have been lower. And on average it would have produced a similar value. “Such an index would thus better reflect the price reality of consumers, but it would not necessarily have led to a different monetary policy over the past decade,” Ulrike Kastens, DWS economist, concludes.”

So, inflation is still subdued, even if we include this measure, which means that Europe is still stuck with ever more unconventional monetary policy.

Meanwhile, over in Japan, a higher consumption tax has kicked off a deflationary bombshell as demand falls away rapidly. Next stop helicopter money ??