Archive for May, 2020

What the Heck & What Now?

The Covid-19 viral pandemic that hit our shores in early 2020 shut down the economy to a virtual halt, and unemployment has skyrocketed to an estimated 19%, as 30 million people have now filed for unemployment benefits over the last six weeks (see chart below). Shockingly, we have not seen joblessness levels this high since the Great Depression. All this destruction has investors asking themselves, “What the heck, and what now?

Forecasts for 2nd quarter economic activity (Gross Domestic Product) are estimating an unprecedented decline of -12% (see chart below) with some projections plummeting as low as -34%. Despite the dreadful freefall in the stock market during March, along with the pessimistic economic outlook, the major stock indexes came back with a vengeance during April. More specifically, the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared +2,428 points, or +11% for the month. The other major indexes, S&P 500 and NASDAQ, catapulted higher over the same period by +13% and +15%, respectively.

Source: The Atlanta Fed

Certainly, there have been some industries hurt by Covid-19 more than others. At the top of the misery list are travel related industries such as airlines, cruise lines, and hotels. Retailers like Neiman Marcus, Pier 1, and JCPenney are filing for bankruptcy or on the verge of closing. Restaurants have also been pummeled (partially offset by the ability to offer pickup and delivery services), and entertainment industries such as sporting arenas, concert venues, movie theaters, and theme parks have all painfully come to a screeching halt as well. Let’s not forget energy and oil companies, which are battling for their survival life in an environment that has witnessed oil prices plunge from $61 per barrel at the beginning of the year to $19 per barrel today (with a brief period at negative -$37…yes negative!) – click here for an explanation and see the chart below.

Source: Trading Economics

What the Heck?!

With all this horrifying economic data financially crippling millions of businesses and families coupled with an epidemic that has resulted in a U.S. death count surpassing 60,000, how in the heck can the stock market be up approximately +34% from the epidemic lows experienced just five short weeks ago?

I was optimistic in my Investing Caffeine post last month, but here are some more specific explanations that have contributed to the recent significant rebound in the stock market.

  • Virus Curve Flattening: The wave of Covid-19 started in China and crashed all over Europe before landing in the U.S. Fortunately, as you can see from the chart below (U.S. = red line), social distancing and stay-at-home orders have slowed the growth in coronavirus deaths.
Source: Our World in Data via Calafia Beach Pundit
  • Fiscal Stimulus: The government fire trucks are coming to the rescue and looking to extinguish the Covid fire by spraying trillions of stimulus and aid dollars to individuals, businesses, and governments. Most recently, Congress passed a $484 billion bill in stimulus funding, including $320 billion in additional funding for the wildly popular Payroll Protection Program (PPP), which is designed to quickly get money in the hands of small businesses, so employers can retain employees rather than fire them. This half trillion program adds to the $2 trillion package Congress approved last month (see also Recovering from the Coma).
  • Monetary Stimulus: The Federal Reserve has pulled out another monetary bazooka with the announcement of $2.3 trillion dollars in additional lending to small businesses  . This action, coupled with the long menu of actions announced last month brings the total amount of stimulus dollars to well above $6 trillion (see also Recovering from the Coma for a list of Fed actions). You can see in the chart below how the Fed’s balance sheet has ballooned by approximately $3 trillion in recent months. The central bank is attempting to stimulate commerce by injecting dollars into the economy through financial asset purchases.
Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog
  • Improving Healthcare System: Treatments for sick Covid patients has only gotten better, including new therapeutics like the drug remdesivir from Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD). Dr. Anthony Fauci, the NIAID Director (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) stated remdesivir “will be the standard of care.” With 76 vaccine candidates under development, there is also a strong probability researchers could discover a cure for Covid by 2021. With the help of the Defense Production Act (DPA), the government is also slowly relieving critical manufacturing bottlenecks in areas such as ventilators, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and Covid test kits. Making testing progress is crucial because this process is a vital component to reopening the economy (see chart below).
Source: Calculated Risk
  • Economy Reopening: After I have completed all of Netflix, participated in dozens of Zoom Happy Hours, and stocked up on a year’s supply of toilet paper, I have become a little stir crazy like many Americans who are itching to return to normalcy. The government is doing its part by attempting a three-phase reopening of the economy as you can see from the table below. You can’t fall off the floor, so a rebound is almost guaranteed as states slowly reopen in phases.

What Now?!

In the short run, it appears the worst is behind us. Why do I say that? Covid deaths are declining; Congress is spending trillions of dollars to support the economy; the Federal Reserve has effectively cut interest rates to 0% and provided trillions of dollars to provide the economy a backstop; our healthcare preparedness has improved; and global economies (including ours) are in the process of reopening. What’s not to like?!

However, it’s not all rainbows, flowers, and unicorns. We are in the middle of a severe recession with tens of millions unemployed. The Covid-19 epidemic has created a generation of germaphobes who will be hesitant to dive back into old routines. And until a vaccine is found, fears of a resurgence of the virus during the fall is a possibility, even if the masses and our healthcare system are much more prepared for that possibility.

As the world adjusts to a post-Covid 2.0 reality, I’m confident consumer spending will rebound, and pent-up demand will trigger a steady rise of economic demand. However, I am not whistling past the graveyard. I fully understand behavior and protocols will significantly change in a post-Covid 2.0 world, if not permanently, at least for a long period of time. Before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, nobody suspected air travelers would be required to remove shoes, take off belts, place laptops in bins, and carry tiny bottles of mouthwash and shampoo. Nevertheless, a much broader list of social distancing and safety codes of behaviors will be established, which could slow down the pace of the economic recovery.

Regardless of the recovery pace, over just a few short months, we have already placed our hands around the throat of the virus. There are bound to be future setbacks related to the pandemic. Physical and economic wounds will take time to heal. Turbulence will remain commonplace during these uncertain times, but volatility will create opportunities as the recovery continues to gain stronger footing. Although Covid-19 has produced significant damage, don’t let fear and panic infect your long-term investment future.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (May 1, 2020). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in GILD, Zoom, Netflix , and certain exchange traded funds (ETFS), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in Neiman Marcus, Pier 1, and JCPenney or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

May 1, 2020 at 3:22 pm 3 comments


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