@theMarket: Don't Trade This Market
Markets that go up or down several percentage points a day is the new norm. As COVID-19 begins to infect the U.S. heartland, more and more of the country is shutting down. Deaths and cases have still not peaked, so why should we expect the stock market to have bottomed out?
The financial media, I believe, is providing investors a great disservice. Every day, some analyst, money manager, or company executive is either trying to pick a bottom, or telling you the bottom is already in, or arguing that it may be weeks or months away. Ignore them.
My column is not about giving you false hope, or doom-and-gloom warnings. It is about the fact that the stock market is simply "un-investible," right now. I haven't used that term for more than a decade (since the financial crisis of a decade ago), but it is as true today as it was then.
It is a time when events move too quickly for investors to even guess at the financial and economic implications of each news item. Facts are difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain. Financial markets, as a result, react in a strange and unpredictable manner. That describes today's markets to a "T."
But un-investible does not mean you should sell everything and get out of the market. It means that you should do nothing until such time that we have at least an inkling that the storm has passed. A good place to start would be to listen to the medical experts, while ignoring the administration and its constant stream of misinformation. When the doctors see a peak in the virus around the nation, then we can start adding up the economic and financial damage.
Right now, we don't know enough to make any kind of assessment as to what earnings will be, what unemployment will be, how long it will take the economy to get back on firmer footing, and at what rate of growth it may or may not return to. Given that, the probabilities of trying to invest in the stock or credit markets successfully has about the same odds as playing the blackjack table in Las Vegas (if you can find one that is still open).
The unemployment numbers, which doubled again this past week to 6.6 million new jobless claims, was higher than expected. Friday's monthly jobs report for the month of March was expected to be a loss of some 100,000 jobs but the number came in at 701,000 jobs lost. It is simply another indication of people trying to game the economic effect of the pandemic without all the facts. The markets swooned on that data, but bounced back, thanks to some good news in the oil market.
The price of oil has evidently dropped to a point where the Russians, Americans, and Saudis have decided enough is enough. The turnaround began with a series of tweets by the president, who is taking credit for getting Putin and the Saudis to at least negotiate a truce. The price of oil has skyrocketed as a result, up almost 30 percent in two days since the news broke. That is good news for our shale producers, who were teetering on the economic edge ever since the price war erupted.
Over the next few weeks, we should be able to form a clearer picture of what is in store for the country and the markets. Remember that markets tend to discount the future rather quickly. In the absence of any good news (a vaccine or a cure), it wouldn't surprise me if we retested the recent lows. The new virus cases and deaths should continue to climb and that would likely put added pressure on investor sentiment.
My advice is to hang in there. Give it time. Even a hurricane like this will ultimately pass and when it does the sun will break out on all of us.
@theMarket: The COVID Crash of 2020
The stock market has not only erased all the gains of this year but is now working on giving back last year's gains as well. Are we close to a bottom or is there more pain in store for investors?
Unless you are invested in gold, or U.S. Treasury bonds, there are few places that offer protection to investors right now. What may have spooked traders most this week is the freefall of interest rates as exemplified by the benchmark U.S. Ten-Year Treasury bond. It has done the unthinkable falling below one percent in yield. Some believe it is on its way to zero.
You might assume that all this selling is based on the fear that the United States will soon see thousands of new cases of the virus, while deaths skyrocket, and multiple cities become quarantined, but you would be wrong. It is not that nightmare that keeps traders trading all night, but the potential impact on the economy if even a mild outbreak occurs.
The fact that no one knows (and won't know for weeks to come) has investors hitting the sell button. Remember how I've said many times in the past that investors can deal with the good or bad but just hate the unknown? We now have "unknown" in spades.
There are two sides of this concern: the demand side impact and the supply-side effects of this economic virus-related blow. It started with a supply-side problem. China and other nations, such as South Korea, were hit first by COVID-19 causing a dramatic decline in parts the rest of the world needed to produce goods and services.
As people sickened, stayed home from work and stopped travelling, the demand side of the equation also started to become apparent. No one was going to the movies, eating out, using transportation, etc. As a result, spending also began to drop and then snowball as the virus spread out across the globe. When you put two and two together, market participants' major fear is that the pandemic could well usher in a global recession.
Compounding this situation was the record high levels of the world's stock markets when the virus began. Even today, with the U.S. stock markets down 13-14 percent, there could be a whole lot more to go if one looks at how far the markets have gained since 2016.
Here in the U.S., aggravating the anxiety, is that it appears the country was caught totally unprepared for this event. In 2018, the administration gutted the Center for Disease Control's ability to respond to a pandemic. The administration's response to the decline in the financial markets was to blame the Fed and the Democrats and to shut down all communication between government health officials and the public. President Trump demanded the Fed cut interest rates again.
None of those actions inspired confidence among investors, therefore when the Fed did cut one half point in an emergency move, the markets fell further. Both Trump and his economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, continue to dismiss concerns. They argue that Americans should simply ignore the pandemic, not worry about the economy and they continue to insist that the economy is strong.
It may be worth remembering that Kudlow has always been a "perma-bull." On the eve of the greatest recession since the Great Depression, he assured investors that there would be no recession in the U.S. and investors should not be concerned.
As for me, my prediction that we would have a rebound and then more volatility this week proved true, just far more violent that I had ever expected. I figure we continue down to 2,850 on the S&P 500 Index, which would be another 100 points or more before we attempt another rebound. If we hold that level, I would be constructive.
The bull case is that the Fed cuts another 50 basis points (1/2 percent) in the next two weeks, followed by an announcement that they would begin another round of quantitative easing. At the same time, the administration finally realizes that a large fiscal response (similar to what the Chinese government has done) is needed to combat the economic impact of the virus.
My own inclination would be to buy "when the blood is running in the streets." No one can call the bottom, but unless things really blow up, we should be getting close to one.
@theMarket: Pandemic Fears Decimate Markets
The COVID Crash of 2020 crushed the world's stock markets this week. The average decline in the United States topped 14 percent. How much further will they fall and, more importantly, what should you do about it?
My first bit of advice is to refrain from checking how much you lost in your retirement account. Why? Because it will only increase your angst and might trigger the emotional impulse to sell everything before you lose even more.
Next, lets look at the markets. There are two unknowns driving the markets lower. The first is the fear that the Coronavirus (COVID19) will get worse. Investors fear that self-imposed quarantines will be announced here in the U.S. and people will get sick and may even die. That could happen.
Whether our worst fears are realized or not, the damage done by this virus worldwide has already had an impact on global economies. We just don't know how much and for how long. That is the crux of the matter as far as stock and bond markets are concerned.
It is too early to predict the economic fallout from this calamity, but it doesn't stop Wall Street from guessing. Unfortunately, these guesstimates take on a life of their own. One analyst predicts that China, for example, will see zero growth in the first quarter of the year. The next strategist does one better and predicts negative growth. As time goes by, and the markets fall lower, the case for the worst-case scenario builds and builds.
By Friday, for example, the general sentiment among traders was that earnings for American companies would need to be drastically reduced for this year. And if that is the case, stocks just have to be too expensive at their present level. As the expectations for earnings drop, so do stock prices.
And it isn't just stocks that are falling. Commodities are plummeting as well. Oil has dropped below $45 a barrel. Gold, supposedly a safe haven, while initially rising, has reversed and is also falling toward $1,600 ounce. The dollar is gyrating as well. The only real safe haven so far appears to be U.S. Treasury bonds. Our government bond benchmark, the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond, is at its lowest yield ever recorded. Friday, it touched 1.17 percent and could drop to 1 percent before all is said and done.
In the past, whenever this kind of selling hit, the financial markets looked to the Federal Reserve Bank to come to the rescue. This time around, while the Fed may step in and cut rates, the impact would be largely symbolic. It would not hinder the spread of the virus and by the time the effects of an interest rate cut hit and worked their way through the economy, the COVID19 damage would already have been done.
So, what are my readers to do as the averages are once again in free-fall on a Friday? Last week, I suggested that if the S&P 500 Index broke a certain level, we could see a fairly steep decline. That happened, although the extent of the decline surprised everyone, including me. I expect we will see a bounce of some magnitude soon, possibly sometime next week. If so, it would likely signal a period of ups and downs as the markets attempt to find a floor.
My suspicion is that one should not expect a "V" shaped recovery in stocks this time around. There will be a bounce, then a re-test and then we will see. Until there is more and better information of how badly the global economy has been damaged by this COVID19, markets will remain unsettled. In the meantime, if you have any cash, pick your spots and begin to invest it.
@theMarket: Corvid-19 Impact Coming Home to Roost
It began Sunday night with a warning from one of America's largest icons. Through the week, other companies followed suit, issuing warnings that the China-spawned virus is beginning to impact revenues and profits. Investors are bracing for further announcements in the days ahead.
Now that the Corvid-19 virus has been spreading out through the world for more than three weeks, some companies are beginning to get a handle on at least some of the damage that will incur to their businesses as the virus persists. Apple was the first major company to warn investors that their iPhone sales in China will take a hit in the first quarter. Since then, a number of companies have sounded the alarm as well.
But it isn't only corporations that have businesses in China. Companies as diverse as General Motors and Nintendo are telling analysts that their supply chains, which begin in China (where many components are made), have resulted in shortages. Some investors were caught up short by the news.
The markets assumed that once the Lunar New Year was over and quarantines were lifted in various cities, millions of workers, who were visiting their hometowns, would return to their factory jobs in the big cities. Instead, these workers stayed put. Fear of catching the infection at work convinced many to remain where they were. Others were afraid that if they did show up for work, they would be forced into quarantine.
Compounding this dilemma, new findings indicate that some recovered patients still show traces of the virus when tested. Similar cases were discovered in Canada. This further complicates the situation for both workers and quarantine officials. Li Xinggian, who runs China's Commerce Ministry's foreign trade department, is warning everyone that the growth rate for China's imports and exports will decline sharply in January and February.
And while officials in China and elsewhere are still optimistic that the economic downturn will be swift but short, Chinese President Xi Jinping, was quoted in the South China Morning Post on Friday as saying the corona virus epidemic has not reached its peak despite a two-day drop in the daily number of infections reported.
Last week, I advised readers that the future of the stock market depended upon the next development in the epidemic. If things were perceived to be getting worse, the markets would pull back. That is happening as you read this. The question is by how much? Again, that depends on the virus.
More and more companies may need to forewarn the markets that up coming quarterly earning's reports won't be nearly as robust as investors expected. In addition, the longer the fallout in production persists, the longer it will take for the supply chains that feed so many companies' profits and sales will require to get back to normal. Remember, too, that the benchmark index, the S&P, is made up of 500 companies, most of which are large multinationals that derive the lion's share of their profits from overseas.
Since we don't know the future risk posed by Corvid-19, what can we do? Is the present pullback the start of something deeper, or simply a much-needed dip? My advice is to watch the levels of the S&P 500 Index. So far, it is simply a dip. We could get down to the 3,325 area (give or take) and bounce from there. If, on the other hand, we cut through that level, then readers can expect a further drop of maybe another 3 percent or so, at the worse.
@theMarket: Central Banks Stem Coronavirus Fallout
Financial markets rebounded this week, despite the escalation of the number of coronavirus cases worldwide. The upturn may have surprised some, but their mistake was underestimating the power of central banks to support the markets.
The bear case last Sunday evening was that the Chinese stock market would crater upon opening after being closed for Golden Week, the traditional Chinese New Year. While Shanghai did open down 9 percent, it quickly reversed and spent the rest of the week climbing out of that hole.
The main reason for this rebound was the announcement by Chinese authorities that they were prepared to support their financial markets. Publicly, they announced a $22 billion injection into the banking system to provide additional liquidity and support the Chinese currency, the yuan. Here at home, our Federal Reserve Bank continues its "Not QE" repo market operations. Who knows what other actions other central banks have also implemented to calm markets this week?
The end result of all this additional money hitting the system was that financial markets once again climbed higher and higher until U.S. markets not only recovered all they had lost (less than 3 percent), but went on to make new historical highs.
Last week, I advised investors to look beyond this coronavirus scare. I was expecting no more than a 5 percent correction at worse, so the quick dip and recovery seems to have confirmed my views. That said, we do need a pause of sorts after five days of gains and that was what happened on Friday.
The labor market seems to be hanging in there, according to the latest non-farm payroll data announced on Friday. U.S. employers hired more workers than economists had expected. Forecasts were for gains of 165,000 jobs, but the number came in at 225,000. Wage gains were modest, bringing the total to 3.1 percent year-over-year. While a good report, I wouldn’t get too excited about it.
The good weather we have had over the last month had more to do with the surprise wage gains than the economy. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good number; just a little inflated in my opinion. I expect that there will be some ups and downs in the macroeconomic numbers both here at home and around the world over the next few months. The vast majority of economists are convinced that the Chinese-born epidemic will have an impact on economic growth. Exactly how much is impossible to predict.
China appears to be doing all they can to alleviate the worst effects on the economy. They have already lifted tariffs on a number of American goods this week and are promising a great deal of fiscal and additional monetary stimulus to combat the expected slowdown in the economy due to the coronavirus. However, there will be an impact and when China sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold, including our own country.
One positive by-product of the unfortunate virus and subsequent sell-off is the US Advisors Sentiment survey. Regular readers know I watch bullish sentiment as a contrarian indicator of where the markets might be heading. This week, the number of bulls tumbled from 52.8 percent (a sure-fire indicator that a correction was in the offing) to below 48 percent, which is a much more reasonable number.
I know that the higher the markets climb, the more nervous investors may get. That’s a good thing. There is very little exuberance among my clients and given the continuous stream of negative events (geopolitical or otherwise) that we face on almost a daily basis, it is understandable. Yet, remember my "Walls of Worry" principle — markets climb walls of worry. I see further gains ahead, so stay the course. The upside may surprise you.