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We are approximately eight months into a global pandemic that has infected an estimated 18 million people and taken almost 700,000 lives. Everyone is wrestling with the ripple through effects that COVID-19 has not only had on our personal lives, but also on the broader aspects of our economy, including science, politics, economics, education, mental health, food supply, and transportation. The 7.8 billion people on the planet, including investors, are waiting for a bridge to a COVID-19 vaccine cure to come as soon as possible, so people and the world can begin returning towards normalcy.
The bridge to a COVID cure is not complete yet, but investors are currently paying notice and giving researchers the benefit of the doubt. Last month, stocks continued their advance with the S&P 500 catapulting another 5.5%. Since the low in March this year, stock prices have appreciated an astounding +49%, and are actually in the black (i.e., positive) for the year despite unemployment climbing above 11% and a massive 2nd quarter economic contraction in GDP of -32.9%. Some stock enthusiasm can be attributed to forecasted 3rd quarter GDP growth of 16%. The stock market story is even brighter, if you consider the technology-heavy NASDAQ index rose +6.8% for the month, +62% from this year's low, and +20% for 2020.
With the destruction of lives and economic activity so severe, how can stock prices be so lofty? In short, after the economy ground to a virtual halt in March, business has been slowly getting better. At the heart of this improvement, the learning curve in treating this deadly virus has slowed the bleeding of the COVID-19 disease. The progress in controlling the virus can be seen in the declining number of daily COVID-19 cases (see chart below).
Source: The COVID Tracking Project
The stabilization and the beginning of a downward trend of cases can be explained with the successful application of therapeutics like remdesivir (manufactured by Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD)); generic steroids like dexamethasone; improved ventilator implementation in conjunction with blood thinners; and better compliance with social distancing/mask-wearing protocols.
In California, we appear to be on the right path of the curve, as well. Daily infections peaked at 12,807 however, and as of August 1st, daily COVID-19 cases declined to 6,542 (see chart below).
Source: The COVID Tracking Project
The hospitalization picture tells a similar story (see chart below). Even though the number of daily cases more than doubled nationally to record highs, the number of people hospitalized plateaued because of better treatment and the concentration of newly infected cases in the younger demographic age level.
Source: The COVID Tracking Project
In addition to current trends mending, optimism for a COVID-19 vaccine cure is also building, as I alluded to earlier. Economist and blog writer Dr. Ed Yardeni summed up the research developments well.
"The Trump administration has launched "Operation Warp Speed" with the goal of delivering 300 million doses of a safe, effective vaccine for COVID-19 by January 2021, as part of a broader strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. Congress has directed almost $10 billion to this effort through supplemental funding, including the CARES Act. More than 100 clinical trials of dozens of potential coronavirus treatments are already underway around the world."
If these timelines are correct, the bridge to a cure is almost here.
Housing Market on a Tear
One of the very positive byproducts of the pandemic has been the red-hot housing market (see chart below), which has been driven by record low interest rates and demand for COVID-friendly housing. People are migrating from tight urban quarters to the suburbs, where people can obtain a home office, a spacious backyard, and a swimming pool. This ravenous home demand is coinciding with generationally low interest rates, including a jaw-droppingly low 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hovering around 3%. All else equal, lower interest rates means consumers make lower monthly payments and can carry more debt, which improves home affordability.
Fears of a COVID Collapse
Although there have certainly been some tangible improvements since the depths of the pandemic, there are definite challenges ahead.
Consider the following challenges:
Consequences to Unmitigated Government Spending: Congress is working to approve another $1 - $3 trillion dollar stimulus package to buttress our strained economy during the COVID-19 crisis. In the short-run, this money can provide relief to millions of people and businesses that have suffered through the global pandemic. However, in the longer term, spending cutbacks will likely be necessary. Just like somebody going on an endless credit card spending spree, eventually the money borrowed and spent needs to be paid back, or alternatively, a credit limit will ultimately be reached. Sooner or later, the trillions of dollars in spending will trigger collectors (investors) to come knocking. Under these possible scenarios, fiscal responsibility will force dramatic cuts to benefits and services like Social Security, Medicare, education, and military, among other areas.
Rising China Tensions: It doesn't take a genius to figure out our president's view on China. All one needs to do is read his daily posts on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR). Our president's commentary includes, but is not limited to, our massive trade deficits with China; political unrest in Hong Kong; Chinese consulate closure in Houston, Texas and American consulate closure in Chengdu, China; and blame regarding intellectual property theft and the spread of the "Wuhan" virus. These are only some of the factors contributing to the strained bilateral relationship between the United States and the #2 global economy, China.
Presidential Election: The November 3rd presidential election date is just around the corner, and the outcome will likely create uncertainty regarding the trajectory of future U.S. tax rates and other policies.
Burst in Tech Bubble? The top 1% of companies in the S&P 500 (Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT), Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Facebook Inc.(NASDAQ:FB)) account for 22% of the value of the index, or more than $6 trillion in market value. Some observers explain this explosion in concentrated technology values by pointing a finger at the Federal Reserve's zero-interest-rate policy and lack of government regulation, while others point to a behavioral shift in technology demand and usage.
Potential Inflation: The inflation threat has been created by trillions of dollars in money printing policies by the Federal Reserve. But it's not only the trillions of U.S. dollars being printed by the Fed, it's also trillions in euros, Japanese yen, and Chinese yuan being printed by other global central banks. As a result, the danger of rampant inflation could become a reality.
The foundation may not be fully sturdy yet, but a clear bridge to a recovery is under construction, and the blueprint confirms we have the pieces needed for completion (i.e., a vaccine). As I pointed out in last month's newsletter (Record Rebound), volatility has been a constant throughout the rebound. Given the pace and questionable sustainability of the bounce, active management is necessary. At Sidoxia Capital Management (www.Sidoxia.com), we continue to prudently manage our client portfolios with the purpose of meeting their customized objectives. Getting from here to achieving your financial goals is a serious challenge, and reaching your economic destination requires a well-designed bridge that won't collapse.
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (August 3, 2020). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in GILD, AAPL, AMZN, GOOGL, FB, MSFT and certain exchange traded funds (ETFS), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in TWTR or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.
This article first appeared on GuruFocus.