For four weeks, the U.S. stock market has sparked and sputtered like a campfire in light rain.
Today, pandemic-driven demand is providing fuel for the investors. The need for certain types of products and services has accelerated and innovation is creating new opportunities. Consider:
Throughout 2020, investors’ enthusiasm has pushed markets higher. However, concerns about a variety of issues have dampened enthusiasm in recent weeks. Last Friday, Ben Levisohn of Barron’s reported:
“In a week filled with headlines about government stimulus (or the lack thereof), Supreme Court nominations, the election, the gain in the Nasdaq…suggests that it was the fear of another COVID-19 wave that really got the market down. And for good reason. The week began with the U.K. talking about a second shutdown and ended with all of Europe facing down a second wave of infection…In the U.S., the number of cases is rising and the death toll passed 200,000 midweek…”
Many of these concerns aren’t likely to dissipate soon, and volatility is likely to continue.
Last week, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and Dow Jones Industrial Average lost value, while the Nasdaq Composite gained value.
Investors weren’t happy with central banks last week.
After the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell confirmed the economy is recovering more quickly than anticipated:
“With the reopening of many businesses and factories and fewer people withdrawing from social interactions, household spending looks to have recovered about three-quarters of its earlier decline…The recovery has progressed more quickly than generally expected, and forecasts from FOMC participants for economic growth this year have been revised up since our June Summary of Economic Projections. Even so, overall activity remains well below its level before the pandemic and the path ahead remains highly uncertain…We remain committed to using our full range of tools to support the economy in this challenging time.”
Investors weren’t satisfied. Colby Smith of Financial Times reported stocks, “sold off sharply during Mr. Powell’s press conference on Wednesday, and again on Thursday,” because the FOMC did not provide information about “how it might adapt its balance sheet policy to generate…inflation and aid the U.S. economic recovery.”
The Bank of England (BOE) also delivered news that unsettled markets last week. Minutes from the BOE’s latest meeting noted it was studying negative interest rates. Some banks and analysts interpreted this to mean the bank intends to implement negative rates. Eva Szalay and Chris Giles of Financial Times reported, “People familiar with the matter said the preparations now under way were aimed more at fully understanding the effects of negative rates, rather than at seeking to implement them.”
It’s possible the BOE wants to better understand negative rates so it’s prepared for a worst-case scenario, such as the economic impact of COVID-19 containment measures combined with failure to reach a trade agreement with the European Union (EU), reported David Goodman and Lucy Meakin of Bloomberg. The EU trade deadline is fast approaching and, currently, no deal seems likely.
In the face of uncertainty, markets are likely to remain volatile.
Last week, the Nasdaq Composite Index set another record.
So far, 2020 has been memorable for many reasons, not the least of which is the incredible speed at which some events have been occurring in financial markets. This year, we’ve experienced:
Last week, we witnessed the swiftest correction on record as the Nasdaq fell by 10 percent in just three days. By the end of the week, the Index had recouped some losses and finished down 4.1 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and Dow Jones Industrial Average also finished the week lower.
It would be gratifying if the recent drop in share price steadied U.S. stock markets. However, we are likely to see stocks remain volatile through the end of 2020. The Economist explained:
“Because of the influential role of turbocharged retail investment, prices can be expected to remain choppy. Moreover, the market is entering a period where typical COVID-19-related volatility may be exacerbated by the twists and turns of America’s presidential election.
“That said, much of the tech recovery from the lows in March was rooted in fundamental shifts, like policy interventions, or pandemic-prompted changes to consumer behavior, such as online shopping, that have helped firms…Even if the giddy obsession with tech firms exhibited during the summer fades, there may be little reason for investors to throw in the beach towel yet.”
This is a good time to take a gut check and make sure your asset allocation aligns with your financial goals and your response to market volatility.
Stock markets in the United States retreated a bit last week.
U.S. stocks have been trending higher for months. Last week, they gave back some gains. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 3.3 percent, while the S&P 500 Index fell 2.3 percent, and the Dow lost 1.8 percent, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
It was difficult to pinpoint a specific reason for the market’s retreat. Levisohn offered a litany of possibilities that included:
The downturn could also have something to do with the Congressional Budget Office report on U.S. debt levels. Next year, our country is expected to owe more (government debt) than it produces (gross domestic product or GDP). By 2023, the U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio is estimated to be 107 percent, which would be the highest in our nation’s history.
A high debt-to-GDP level, typically, is bad news for economic growth. The World Bank has found countries with debt-to-GDP ratios that exceed 77 percent for extended periods of time, see significant slowdowns in economic growth, reported Will Kenton and Julius Mansa in Investopedia. U.S. debt-to-GDP has been above 77 percent since 2009, according to data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve.
Michael Mackenzie of Financial Times cautioned ultra-loose central bank monetary policy and enormous government spending can have unwelcome side effects. He cited an emerging markets strategist who argued, “…excessive stimulus and easy money policies led either to asset bubbles or a burst of inflation. Both outcomes ‘bode ill for share prices in the long run.’”
On the other hand, Mackenzie says, “Given the current U.S. policy mix that penalizes investors sitting on the sidelines and holding cash – given they are earning next to nothing in interest – any cooling of a red-hot market is easily framed as an opportunity. For many, it is another chance to ‘buy the dip.’”
We’ll see what happens next week.