Volatility Continues as Fiscal Stimulus Package Takes Shape

Stocks Had Range-Bound Week Amid Nonstop Pandemic News

  • 04.24.20
  • Markets & Investing
  • Article

Additional relief packages are expected to take shape in coming weeks, which may provide additional support for the markets and economy.

After its best 18-day rally since the 1930s, the S&P 500 was up and down during the week. The movement was range-bound, meaning it went up and down within a relatively small range as investors reacted to both positive and negative news. And there was plenty of both, according to Chief Investment Officer Larry Adam.

The markets were hampered by falling oil prices, rising jobless claims and disappointing news about trials for COVID-19 therapeutics. Alternately, the markets were supported by select positive earnings reports, rebounding oil prices, another fiscal stimulus bill and the continued expectation for a turnaround in economic activity in the second half of the year.

Nearly half of the companies in the S&P 500 index are scheduled to provide earnings reports in the coming week, though accurate projections are difficult to make with so much uncertainty about efforts to combat the virus and the extent to which consumers will resume spending.

“We believe that the lack of visibility into future earnings, combined with the lack of a therapeutic, will continue to drive uncertainty for investors going forward,” Adam said. “Despite this, given our assumption of a turnaround in both earnings and economic growth in the second half of the year, we expect the equity market to be higher relative to current levels over the next 12 to 24 months.”

Nearly 15% of the U.S. labor force – one in seven workers – filed for unemployment during the five-week period ending April 17, Chief Economist Scott Brown said. And though COVID-19 has affected data collection, Brown believes the numbers are weak enough to push first-quarter growth for GDP (gross domestic product) into negative territory. And he anticipates second-quarter figures, which will be reported in July, will be worse.

“The economic outlook in the second half of the year and beyond depends on how we unwind social distancing, which I believe should be a gradual process,” he said.

Congress has approved almost $3 trillion in fiscal stimulus over the past month, including additional help for small businesses this past week. Washington Policy Analyst Ed Mills will continue to assess the situation, and he expects additional relief packages to develop over the coming weeks, providing support for individuals, the economy and financial markets.

“The negotiations may produce headlines related to consideration of expanded emergency funding for state and local governments, hazard pay for essential workers and frontline responders, tax incentives for affected sectors and expanded individual support,” Mills said.

A surplus of oil has driven prices down sharply, with global demand down at least 20% compared to pre-pandemic levels because of lockdowns and stay-at-home mandates around the world, Energy Analyst Pavel Molchanov said. Though prices rebounded slightly by the end of the week, the long-term solution, he said, is for demand to recover.

“Although there will be no ‘flip-the-switch’ moment when everything gets back to normal, we expect COVID’s oil demand impact to peak in the second quarter and then subside in the summer, especially toward the end of the year,” Molchanov said.

Until the path forward becomes clearer, market volatility is likely to continue.

“The current situation with the virus is fluid, and details can shift quickly,” said Joey Madere, a senior portfolio strategist with the Equity Portfolio & Technical Strategy group. “We believe market bottoms are a process. Thus, we would reserve some buying power to accumulate during pullbacks.”

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