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Who Is Helen Branswell?

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On Monday, with the Dow Industrials up nearly a thousand points on news that a Boston-based company, Moderna, has a promising vaccine, I warned that U.S. equity markets were about to start trading like a drug stock in trials. Lo,  on day two, we’ve already got our first inkling of how damaging even mildly disappointing news can be to asset values when Wall Street is stoked on vaccine hubris. Moderna fell hard, taking the entire stock market with it, after a reporter at the web site statnews.com expressed skepticism over the quality of the company’s PR releases. “While Moderna blitzed the media,” noted Newstat’s Helen Branswell,  “it revealed very little information — and most of what it did disclose were words, not data. That’s important: If you ask scientists to read a journal article, they will scour data tables, not corporate statements. With science, numbers speak much louder than words.”

So there you have it: Hedge-fund buyers of shares trampled each other on Monday because of mere words. Maybe next time they’ll be more careful.  We had better get used to this kind of craziness, because it’s going to make investors’ tariff-war angst last year look like a game of tiddlywinks.  And who, you ask, is Helen Branswell?  A day ago few of us had ever heard of her. On Tuesday, though, she was the most influential reporter on the planet, causing shares, ETFs and stock indexes everywhere to shed tens of billion of dollars worth of value in mere hours. Now THAT’s power!  The thing is, now there will be a hundred Helen Branswell wannabes out there in the blog world eager to take on the biggest story of the century. Will investors be able to live with incontinence for the next three months as, predictably, vaccine stories continue to roil their lives? How about a year? Two years? ______ UPDATE (May 20, 8:37 a.m. EDT): A subscriber familiar with Branswell assures me that she is well known and respected as a medical reporter, and that her words carry considerable weight in the investment world. I replied as follows: “Whatever Helen Branswell’s credentials, her influence on trillions of dollars worth of assets is an absurdity. It exists because investors behave like a herd of cattle inflicted with Mad Cow Disease. Going forward, the only difference between Branswell and other reporters eager to please their editors is that she is probably more likely to at least get her facts straight. I did, however, remove the words hit-job’ from my commentary, since, as you’ve made me realize, her article simply stated the facts.”

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