Guidance Wealth will be closed Friday, April 10th to observe the Good Friday holiday
The United States set some records last week.
First, we became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Popular Science explained:
“An increase of 15,000 known cases in just one day pushed the United States past Italy and China, making it the new epicenter of the pandemic…Experts suspect the actual number of U.S. cases is much higher than currently reported…the United States has tested a far lower percentage of its large population than other hard-hit countries.”
On Friday, March 27, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported there were 103,321 confirmed cases and 1,668 deaths in the United States.
Second, as businesses across the country closed, leaving many workers without income, first-time claims for unemployment benefits hit an all-time high of 3.3 million. The previous record of 695,000 was set in 1982, during one of the deepest recessions the United States had experienced to date.
Third, Congress passed the biggest aid package in history. The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) was signed into law last week. The CARES Act authorizes financial support for workers and businesses, including:
Relief checks. If you earn less than $75,000, and file taxes singly, you can expect a one-time payment of $1,200. If you’re married, you and your spouse will each receive a check. Children will receive $500 each. Social Security benefit recipients will receive checks, too.
Higher unemployment benefits. CARES raised unemployment benefits by $600 a week for four months.
Tax credits for businesses that keep paying employees. Businesses of all sizes are eligible for a tax credit intended to keep workers on the payroll. The credit is up “to 50 percent of payroll on the first $10,000 of compensation, including health benefits, for each employee,” reported NPR.
U.S. stock markets rallied on the news. Some speculated the shortest bear market in history had ended, but Randall Forsyth of Barron’s cautioned, “To anybody who has been around for a market cycle or more, that pop was the very essence of a bear-market rally, and such rallies are the most violent.”
Major U.S. indices moved higher during the week.
The painfully obvious news is that the coronavirus (COVID-19) has continued to spread across the United States and much of the world last week. Much of the increase in the U.S. numbers can be attributed to more testing, resulting in finding more people who have been exposed. However, according to the raw data provided by websites from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the overall mortality rate in the U.S. from the disease continues to hover somewhere between 1.2%-1.3%. While this mortality rate is still lower than what was initially feared, it is still higher than the common flu, which kills tens of thousands in the U.S. alone each year. The fact that this strain of virus is new, and that we do not yet have a known cure or vaccine to prevent it, is causing much of the concern in the markets. However, there is also a lot of unnecessary drama and fear mongering on TV news that is making this MUCH worse than it should be. While it is common sense to want to protect what you have built, and we all have a natural instinct to want to pull something we value out of danger, the script writers for the daytime and evening news cycles are playing on those instincts and, as a result, are irresponsibly creating and working to increase the intensity of our fears in order to garner advertising dollars. Please just do your jobs and tell us what is important, and why - and without all the intense hyperbole and drama. Thank you.
As of Monday, March 23, there were more than 46,000 virus cases identified in the U.S., with a large percentage of those in New York, Washington State and California. At the time of this writing (Tuesday, March 24), the number of deaths attributed to this virus in the U.S. is 593. By contrast, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, https://www.bts.gov/content/motor-vehicle-safety-data, deaths by automobile accidents account for an approximate average of over 36,000 (approximately 100 per day) people of all ages are killed in automobile accidents each year, just in the U.S.; and death by suicide in 2019 in the U.S. totaled more than 47,000. This, by no means is an effort to dismiss the potential physical, psychological and economic effects of this virus, and the efforts to contain and mitigate the growth of the virus are definitely real. Several states – including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and now Wisconsin and Indiana – have issued various shelter-in-place orders that apply to the entire state or one or more counties within the state. The intent is to enforce social distancing and slow the spread of COVID-19, reported Wired. This is new to us, and it is fear of the unknown (and the visual evidence in other countries of what it can do to a nation if left unchecked), which has many people worried about how long this will last, and how long our medical and economic infrastructure (as well as our personal bank and retirement accounts) can endure this. Yes, we will endure it, and we will be a better and stronger nation for it.
Mandates varied by region. Many included closing non-essential businesses and required residents to stay home unless they were buying groceries or gasoline, filling prescriptions, seeking medical care, or exercising outdoors (while practicing social distancing). The shape of many Americans’ daily lives has changed significantly. Last week, Barron’s reported initial claims for unemployment benefits in the United States increased sharply, while U.S. manufacturing productivity dropped significantly. The impact of measures taken to fight the spread of COVID-19 on companies, financial markets, and the economy is difficult to quantify at this point. However, there is reason to hope it will be relatively brief. The Economist reported:
“Despite stomach-churning declines in GDP [gross domestic product, which is the value of goods and services produced in a nation or region] in the first half of this year, and especially the second quarter, most forecasters assume that the situation will return to normal in the second half of the year, with growth accelerating in 2021 as people make up for lost time.”
Monetary stimulus will have a significant impact on outcomes around the globe. Central banks have been implementing supportive monetary policies. Last week, the Federal Reserve lowered its benchmark rate to near zero, announced a new round of quantitative easing, and took additional steps to inject liquidity into markets.
Fiscal stimulus – the measures implemented by governments – will also be critical. To date, the United States has passed two stimulus measures. The first provided $8.3 billion in emergency funding for federal agencies to fight COVID-19. The second is estimated to deliver about $100 billion for testing, paid family and sick leave (two weeks), funds for Medicaid and food security programs, and increases in unemployment benefits. The third stimulus is currently being negotiated in Congress and may provide more than $1 trillion dollars in relief to individuals and companies, reported Axios. On Sunday, Reuters reported the Senate planned to vote on the bill on Monday, March 23, 2020.
Major U.S. stock indices finished last week lower, reported CNBC.
We hope you and your family are well and remain so. Please take the precautions advised by your city, state, and federal governments to limit the advance of COVID-19.
Last week was one for the history books.
Mid-week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus a global pandemic. At the time, there were more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and the death toll exceeded 4,000 people. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported 46 states and the District of Columbia have been affected, so far. As of Friday, there have been 1,629 confirmed and presumptive cases and 41 deaths.
As the need for containment became clear, daily life underwent rapid change. Major gatherings, from sporting events to Broadway shows to industry conferences, were canceled. Travel was restricted. Schools closed or moved to online classes. Restaurants and bars began serving fewer customers. Many Americans began working remotely or, in some cases, not working at all.
Uncertainty about the economic impact of the virus contributed to stock market volatility. Major American stock indices dropped into bear market territory, last week. Bear markets occur when prices drop by 20 percent or more from recent highs. Peter Wells of Financial Times reported:
“…a combination of fears stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, oil price plunge, and a global recession killed off an 11-year bull market. Wall Street’s equities benchmark plunged 9.5 percent on Thursday, its biggest one-day drop since Black Monday in October 1987 and also its fifth-biggest one-day drop since 1928.”
On Friday, President Trump declared the coronavirus a national emergency. Reshma Kapadia of Barron’s reported the declaration freed up $50 billion to support local, state, and federal efforts. It also “…grants new authorities to the Health and Human Services department, and gives doctors and hospitals greater flexibility to respond to the virus and care for patients…”
All three major U.S. stock indices rallied after the national emergency declaration, but it wasn’t enough to recover losses from earlier in the week. Chuck Mikolajczak of Reuters reported:
“The indexes were still about 20 percent below record highs hit in mid-February, and each saw declines of at least 8 percent for the week. Since hitting the highs, markets have been besieged with big swings in the market, nearly matching as many days with declines of at least 1 percent as all of 2019. Friday’s surge was the biggest one-day percentage gain for the S&P 500 since October 28, 2008.”
On Saturday, the House passed a bipartisan economic stimulus and relief bill to provide support while the coronavirus is being contained. It is expected to pass the Senate next week, reported
Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis, Paul Kane, and Jeff Stein of The Washington Post. The current legislation is separate from the $8.3 billion emergency spending bill passed two weeks ago.
The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), which is known as Wall Street’s fear gauge, traded above 50 every day last week. At the start of the year, the VIX was trading at 12.47, and it has averaged 22.05 during 2020 to date, reported Macrotrends. A high VIX reading indicates traders anticipate markets will remain volatile.
Recent bouts of volatility appear to have been caused by institutional trading rather than individual investors. Abby Schultz of Penta reported:
“…individual investors are largely sitting tight, according to survey data from Spectrem Group in Chicago. About three-quarters of investors with $100,000 to $25 million in investable assets who were surveyed between Wednesday, March 4…and Monday, March 9…did not change their investment portfolios at all in light of the market sell-off…Among those with $5 million to $10 million in investable assets, as well as those with $10 million to $15 million, 31 percent bought stocks in the last 20 days…Among those with $15 million to $25 million, 39 percent bought stocks…”
Last week, market volatility reached levels that make many investors uncomfortable.
On Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average surged higher, delivering its biggest one-day point gain in history. The catalyst may have been reports that ‘Group of Seven’ (G7) finance ministers and central bank governors were meeting via conference call on Tuesday. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire indicated the discussion would lead to coordinated monetary efforts to address economic issues related to the coronavirus, reported Reuters.
The G7 includes seven countries: United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Japan, France, and Italy. The European Union is a ‘non-enumerated’ member. The nations represent about 50 percent of the global economy, according to the Council of Foreign Relations, and was formed to coordinate global policy.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) implemented a surprise rate cut. The pre-emptive move surprised many because the Fed’s policy-setting meeting was just two weeks away. The policy change sparked anxiety among investors. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, which had gained about 4.6 percent on Monday, dropped 2.8 percent on Tuesday, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
U.S. Treasury yields moved lower, too. The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasuries closed below 1 percent for the first time ever last week, reported Alexandra Scaggs of Barron’s.
On Friday, a robust employment report was largely ignored, reported Randall Forsyth of Barron’s, as were increases in the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s GDPNow estimate indicating economic growth during the first quarter may have been stronger than anticipated. Despite a downward swing on Friday, major U.S. stock indices finished the week higher.
Forsyth also reported Kenneth Rogoff, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard, is concerned the economic consequences of the coronavirus could include inflation. Production slowdowns and supply chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus could result in a mismatch between the supply of goods available and demand for goods across the globe.
In a Project-Syndicate commentary, Rogoff explained, “…the challenge posed by a supply-side-driven downturn is it can result in sharp declines in production and widespread bottlenecks. In that case, generalized shortages – something some countries have not seen since the gas lines of 1970s – could ultimately push inflation up, not down,” he contends.”
Until more is known about the coronavirus, markets may remain volatile.
Take a deep breath.
We have experienced downturns before.
Think back to 2018. During the last quarter of the year, major stock indices in the Unites States suffered double-digit losses, much of it during December. What happened next? By the end of 2019, those indices had reached new highs.
The reasons for, and performance following, market downturns varies. The key is not to panic.
Last week, U.S. stock indices lost significant value when the coronavirus spread outside of China, and expectations for companies’ performance in 2020 changed. At the start of the week, markets anticipated positive earnings growth (i.e., higher profits) during 2020. By the end of the week, they suspected earnings might be flat for the year.
At the end of last week, FactSet reported 68 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index had offered negative earnings guidance for the first quarter. In other words, the companies didn’t expect to be as profitable from January through March as analysts anticipated. That’s fewer companies than normal, relative to the five-year average. However, the number could increase. FactSet’s John Butters explained:
“…early in the quarter, a number of S&P 500 companies stated they were unable to quantify an impact from the coronavirus or did not include the impact from the coronavirus in their guidance. Thus, there may be an increase in the number of companies issuing negative guidance later in the first quarter as these companies gain clarity on the impact of the coronavirus on their businesses.”
Changing profit expectations are one concern for investors. Another is fear. Investors are afraid the current economic expansion and bull market may end. At this point in the economic cycle, investors often are both hopeful and doubtful. The Economist explained:
“[Investors] hope that the good times will last, so they are reluctant to pull their money out. They also worry that the party may suddenly end. This is the late-cycle mindset. It reacts to occasional growth scares – about trade wars or corporate debt or some other upset. But it tends not to take them seriously for long.”
Currently, investors are reacting to the coronavirus. They fear it will be the catalyst that sparks recession. While that’s possible, in the past, markets have responded negatively to coronaviruses and then recovered. (Keep in mind, past performance is no indication of future results.) Barron’s cited a private wealth manager who pointed out:
“…this isn’t the first time that an epidemic has rocked the stock market. The S&P 500 fell 15 percent after SARS hit the market in 2003 but was up just over 1 percent six months after the outbreak began.”
No matter the reason, it is unnerving to be an investor when stock markets head south. There is nothing comfortable about watching the value of your savings and investments decline. Regardless of the discomfort, selling when markets are falling has rarely proved to be a good idea. Investors who stay the course may have opportunities to regain lost value if the market recovers, as it has before.
Investors also may have opportunities to buy shares of attractive companies at reduced prices. Warren Buffet offered this reminder last week in a Barron’s article:
“…[the coronavirus] makes no difference in our investments. There’s always going to be some news, good or bad, every day. If somebody came and told me that the global growth rate was going to be down 1 percent instead of 1/10th of a percent, I’d still buy stocks if I liked the price, and I like the prices better today than I liked them last Friday.”
Until the full effect of the coronavirus is known, markets are likely to remain volatile.