Equity markets moved up strongly in April. The S&P500 moved up 12%, and currently off 3% from the April 29th intraday high. Gold jumped early in the month, then flat for a gain of 7% in April. Long treasury bonds moved up in price by 1% but have been on the wane since April 21st. Most asset classes have been rangebound (+/-3%) since early to mid-April, reflecting a decrease in market momentum. The average moderate portfolio gained approximately 9% vs the SP500 gains of 12% in April. Year to date, through April 30, SP500 is off 9.9% while most portfolios are very close to 0% year to date.
Economic data continues to come in at extremely negative levels. Auto sales fell by 45% April 2020 vs April 2019. China, in February saw a 90% drop. Current market sentiment is bearish and consumer confidence declined from 101 in February to 71 in April. This is similar to the decline from February 2007 to June 2008 (the month Fannie and Freddie’s first attempted bailout, after losing 50% of their value that month), which saw a decline of 35%. This could be another reflection on how this recession is being ‘front-loaded’. We have seen already how GDP and employment has fallen as much as the entire 2008 Great Financial Crisis, but now expect robust rebound by year end.
In light of all this, equity markets have remained buoyant, after the March decline. This may further indicate the front-loaded- ‘ness’ of this economic period. And at the root of it all is the expectation that the economy will rebound strongly in the second half and especially in the 4th quarter of 2020. While GDP estimates for Q2, which will come out at the end of July, range from -10% to -30% (annualized basis), some estimates for Q4 are as high as +20%. I believe that we are again priced for perfection. The past few years saw valuations (price to earnings, price to sales, etc.) elevated with expectations of an acceleration in earnings and wages to justify the then-current prices. Today a significant economic rebound is priced into the market. If the economy in late May and June isn’t picking up quickly enough it could put pressure on equity prices. It depends on re-opening the economy and that depends on subduing the pandemic.
We have seen momentum decline recently and thus increases the potential for volatility in equity markets. If the S&P500 cannot breakout above 3000 in the near term, we’re likely to remain rangebound vacillating +/- 6%. Bonds and gold are at a point where they are testing support and have the potential to move several percent as well. If we are to remain rangebound, my preference would be to reduce risk until there is more confidence in further upside.
On a side note, I have significantly reduced the amount of cable and national news I watch on TV. It’s the same sad and fearful story we’ve heard the past 6 weeks. I have noticed I feel better doing this. A client went back north recently and was surprised/disheartened at the difference in the local news in Naples vs the local news in the tri-state area. Avoiding the bad news TV and enjoying the good news of spending time with family/projects/hobbies/exercise can be an important factor in getting through this time and being ready to embrace the other side of this crisis.
Stay safe and thank you,
Adam Waszkowski, CFA