Keep Calm and Carry On #4

As we continue to deal with pandemic’s effects, the theme remains the same even as the situation evolves. In the last couple of weeks, stock market has rebounded nicely with the S&P Total Stock Market Index up about 27% from the low in March though still down ~15% for the year. This is still bad but not as bad. The focus seems to have shifted from discounting a deep depression to discounting a mere recession. There are two factors at play. One is the signs of improvement on the disease front. The reopening of Wuhan, plans to restart gradually in Austria, and signs of peaking deaths and declining rates of new cases in Italy and New York are all tentative signs that there is light at the end of the tunnel. We just don’t know how long that tunnel is. The other cause for less pessimism is the government response. There has been plenty of noise and evidence of chaos in the federal response to the crisis. But fiscal and monetary policies have been aggressive in supporting the economy including small business and individuals. This is very different that the financial crisis of 2008/2009. But this is not the end of the volatility. The markets will continue to be driven by news of the pandemic and the process of normalizing economic activity. We know there will be new hot spots and resurgence in areas that move too fast to loosen restrictions. As concern over the virus dissipates, concern over the economy may intensify. Some businesses will not make it. There will likely be more consolidation. Corporate earnings will be impacted, and the time needed to recover is unknown. The damage to corporate and individual balance sheets will be significant despite Fed action. The cracks in our social safety nets will be hard to ignore. Short-term news will roil the markets. Away from the news cycle and financial markets, the real economy will adapt. Widespread testing, contact tracing, treatments and a vaccine all are in the future. But they will come, and with each, more loosening of our social restrictions. We will find some sense of normalcy. That does not mean things will be the same. Some changes forced by the crisis will become “normal”. We will have new habits. Certainly, our idea of appropriate personal space will change and with it our appetite for large gatherings. We may stay at home more and eat out and travel less. And our air will be cleaner. Offices will be redesigned to give more space to workers, and we will work at home more. Some of the changes will be costly but some will save money and resources.