The Triad Perspective

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Anopheline the Great

I like to travel.  My wife LOVES to travel.  It's a challenge keeping up with her suggestions (ok, demands) to visit some far-flung locations.  For instance, we're scheduled to go to Vietnam and Bali in November.  I feel compelled to negotiate the terms of these trips, to ensure I'm not out of touch for too long.  Although nowadays it's awfully hard to be really out of touch, given technology's reach into our lives.
An African safari is on my bucket list of things to do.  Guided of course.  Not knowing the area, I have zero interest in renting a Land Rover and exploring the savannahs on my own.  And I'm not interested in rounding a tree or bush and meeting a lion or rhinoceros.  To be sure, Africa has plenty of dangerous animals.  But I'll bet you can't guess which is the most dangerous animal in Africa?
No, it's not the Cape Buffalo, 1,500 pounds of romping, stomping madness.  And it's not the aforementioned African Rhinoceros.  It's not even the lion.  Or the Nile Crocodile, Black Mamba, African Elephant or hippopotamus.  Don't get me wrong.  All of these animals are plenty dangerous.  Each individually can and does kill many people each year.
Instead, if you decide to visit Africa, you should be aware that the single most dangerous enemy you will the lowly mosquito.  While lions, rhinos, crocodiles, etc. kill hundreds of people each year, malaria, which is spread by mosquitoes, kills hundreds of thousands of people each year on the African continent.  It's not even close, mosquitoes are the leading death squad on the continent.

In our world, risk is the possibility of loss or, in the case of Africa, injury.  I'd guess most of us, contemplating a trip to Africa, would think long and hard about avoiding areas with lions, crocodiles and other dangerous animals.  Whether we would consider mosquitoes a real danger is debatable.  Just put on some mosquito repellant and sleep under nets, right?  However, the hard statistical evidence would suggest spending a disproportionate amount of time ensuring you avoid the mosquito's deadly bite.
It's human nature to put greater emphasis on known, highly visible dangers, and lesser concern where our perception lulls us into thinking we have more control.  When in fact, the real danger can be found far from the jaws of a lion, hippo or crocodile.  It is a silent killer, weighing just a couple of milligrams, lurking in the background, almost invisible but quite deadly.
The investing landscape at times can exhibit similar barely visible yet significant risks.  You thought the risk was over here.  But it's really over there.  Say, for example, in China.  Or the Middle East.  Or the banking system.  The mortgage market.  Ultra-low interest rates.  Junk bonds.  Investor complacency.  "Safe" stocks.  High-growth stocks. Higher-yielding stocks.  Geopolitical events.  Elections.  Terrorism.  On and on.
A thoughtful investor should consider a range of potential risks.  Not just the known, visible risks, like the lion or Cape Buffalo.  But the less visible risks that can be overlooked, like the tiny mosquito, quietly going about its business, infecting millions of people and causing many more deaths than all of the other African animals combined.
The title?  I'm glad you asked.  Although several competing theories have arisen, it's believed that Alexander the Great, one of history's greatest military commanders, creator and ruler of empires, may have died from malaria in 323 B.C.  Anopheline refers to the genus of mosquito that carries the malaria parasite.  The mighty warrior felled by a lowly bug.  Alexander had no idea the risks were in the barely visible, the miniscule.  We modern folks do (or should).  Here's hoping we put that knowledge to use.
-John Heldman, CFA

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