U.S. markets are set to plunge again at the open on Monday morning, despite massive action by the Federal Reserve to support financial conditions. The Fed cut interest rates to zero and has initiated massive buying of financial assets, but this action is mainly to keep the credit markets running smoothly and is doing little to put a bid under equities.
Equity investors are still struggling with major uncertainty about the coronavirus. There are currently three major crises. There is a credit crisis, an economic crisis and a health crisis -- and all three have a tremendous impact on the stock market. The biggest problem is that there is no reliable forecast as to the extent of the coronavirus impact on the U.S. On Monday morning, there are around 3800 cases and 69 deaths reported in the U.S., but no one knows how many cases have not been tested for yet. Both the spread and intensity of the virus are still unknown.
There is massive action being taken around the country to ensure social distancing and to prevent the spread. Many businesses are closed and millions of people are now trying to work from home. There will be significant economic ramifications not only due to the decline in productivity but from the drop in discretional spending.
Goldman Sachs is forecasting a drop in second-quarter GDP of 5% before a rebound in the third quarter, but there is no way to accurately make such predictions at this time. If the coronavirus is not peaking within a few weeks, the economic damage will linger and have a domino effect.
While there is still great uncertainty about the economic impact that is taking place, there are some longer-term positions. The most important is that the current situation is quite different than 2008-2009, when financial organizations were weak and in danger of going under. The foundation of the economy and most business is much stronger at this point and will be able to withstand the uncertainty for a while. The coronavirus will eventually run its course and there will be an immediate economic surge.
The other major positive is the aggressive action by the Fed to provide support and that Congress is likely to take fiscal measures very quickly. There will be a huge amount of liquidity injected into the system that will allow for a strong economic rebound once there is some clarity as to the coronavirus.
Some market players are disappointed that the monetary action by the Fed is not boosting stocks this morning, but this was not the primary goal at this time. The Fed is trying to ensure that credit markets do not freeze up, as that would cause a domino effect. The credit market is many magnitudes larger than the equity market and its functioning has more to do with overall economic health than equities.
The biggest problem for equity investors now is that there simply is no way to discount the uncertainty out there. Stocks are going to struggle to find a bottom until we can forecast how long the coronavirus will impact the economy. No one knows -- and to put it mildly, the market hates uncertainty.
At this point, this market is all about emotions. Technical conditions and valuation calculations are meaningless. Stocks are moving together and there is little interest in individual stock picking. This will shift as the volatility slows and certainty starts to build but it is likely to persist for a while.
My game plan is to look for some short term trades of the indices and to work on a shopping list, but I have no interest in building longer-term positions at this time.
Keep in mind that this crisis will end and the opportunities will be tremendous. Don't let emotions drive you to make poor decisions.