Many believe the stock market rally during this pandemic is nothing more than a sugar high orchestrated by the Federal Reserve. Liquidity trends have always been important for the financial markets, and undoubtedly, the outsized policy-push by monetary officials has played a significant role in the market’s recent success.
Company earnings are currently collapsing but the coming year’s consensus profit expectations are poised to lift. Several indicators that have historically been highly correlated with improvement in profit forecasts have recently turned higher and the backdrop of massive policy stimulus is supportive for upgraded outlooks.
As economic activities restart around the country, bond yields have also begun to climb. Last week, the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield rose by about 25 basis points, to its highest level since March 19th, marking only the second time since yields collapsed that they showed any sign of leaving the “sub-1%” area.
Despite several issues of importance—national riots, an upcoming presidential election, Chinese relations, and an ongoing pandemic—the stock market is primarily focused on a single thing: the restart of U.S. and global economic activities. There is a worldwide, synchronized economic bounce afoot. Because of the unprecedented magnitude of the recent Covid-19 economic collapse (can it really get much worse?), economic news seems poised for a period of improvement.
Many believe it will take years to fully recover from Covid-19. Indeed, over the weekend, U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell suggested that although the economy will eventually recover, the process could stretch through until at least the end of next year and ultimately depends on the development of a vaccine.
The attempt to re-open parts of the U.S. economy amidst the ongoing Covid-19 crisis is either Red, Blue, or Purple! Using data from an employment tracking tool utilized by 100,000+ local businesses across the United States, the accompanying chart illustrates the speed and depth of the decline in hours worked and its recent slow recovery among traditional Republican, Democratic, and Swing states.
Volatility within the stock and bond markets has recently parted company. Since 1990, the correlation in daily movements of the stock market’s VIX Volatility index and the bond market’s MOVE index has been about 0.60. While they do not move perfectly together, they usually move in the same direction.
This has been a “speedy” Bear Market. Measured through the first 22 days of all bear markets in post-war history, the contemporary bear market declined by almost 6.5 times more than all the others! In 2020, the market dropped 32% in 22 days versus an average of just -5.1% for the previous 13 bear markets. See Paulsen’s Perspective “Recession By Proclamation!” posted on March 23rd.
The U.S. economy is in free-fall, perhaps headed for its deepest recession of the post-war era. Typically, recessions are necessary to correct overindulgences that build up during an expansion—for example, restoring liquidity, improving savings, purging bad debt, and realigning exorbitant risks. In the economic recovery that just ended, however, there were very few excesses or problems that needed to be addressed.
Overnight Tuesday, stock market futures hit their 5%-limit down trigger—this has become commonplace in the current crisis. Seemingly, in addition to the coronavirus, the stock market is also worried about rising bond yields, which many believe is occurring because governments around the globe are implementing massive fiscal-stimulus packages and, consequently, are poised to sell huge amounts of sovereign debt securities.
A pandemic sweeping across the globe leaving unprecedented human turmoil in its wake, while also abruptly freezing economic activities, has brought the longest bull market in U.S. history to a crashing and swift end. Wow! Unfortunately, investment textbooks offer little advice on the situation and this rapid change of events seems far from over.
Since the 2008 Great Recession, economic and investment uncertainties have been persistent and pronounced. The shocking depth of the last recession during the post-war era (the annual decline in real GDP growth had never been lower than -3%—until 2009—when it fell nearly 4%), its subsequent subpar recovery (real GDP growth has averaged only slightly more than 2% annually, a level which was traditionally considered the “stall speed” during past expansions), the wild actions of policy officials (Cash for Clunkers, TARP, a zero Fed funds rate, Quantitative Easing, and Modern Monetary Theory)..
A lot of moving parts of late. Record high stock markets with near record-low bond yields? A re-inversion of the yield curve. A pop in the U.S. manufacturing industry. Blow-out job numbers at full employment. Impeachment—Not. A botched Caucus. Brexit—Done. And, a Pandemic! Eh, just another day at the office…
Today, it was reported that fourth-quarter U.S. real GDP growth was 2.1%, nearly in line with expectations. However, business investment spending declined for the third consecutive quarter, continuing to raise fears that companies are pulling back and it is only a matter of time before they also reduce employment, sending the economy into a recession.
Extraordinarily low bond yields—often negative bond yields outside the U.S.—have significantly elevated investor anxieties, leaving the impression of facing a high-risk, low-return world. Consequently, during much of the contemporary expansion, the existence of very low yields has pushed several investors toward a more conservative portfolio allocation.
Investors are wondering what will ultimately crack this stock market. Its rising trend of late has improved investor sentiment, which is not surprising given the abject fears evident last summer about an imminent recession. While sentiment has recently turned positive, it hardly seems broadly optimistic or ridiculously bullish.
Geo-political conflicts, an oil crisis, impeachment drama, and an upcoming presidential election are all currently rattling the stock market. Yet, what really matters for stocks this year is profits. For the stock market to make sustained progress in 2020, companies’ bottom-line performance needs to show renewed life.