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How to Think About the Coronavirus Pandemic: The Big Picture Thumbnail

How to Think About the Coronavirus Pandemic: The Big Picture

Here's the latest commentary from Commonwealth's Chief Investment Officer, Brad McMillan. We continue to monitor the markets and will keep you posted. As always, please call us if you have any questions. 


Brad's Commentary

With everything that is happening in the world, now is a good time to step back and think about where we are and where we might be going. There is a tremendous amount of information available. But what’s missing is a framework for that information that would help clarify the big picture.

What I want to do today is outline how I see that big picture, which will hopefully provide a framework to understand where we are headed. In the next couple of days, I plan to go into more detail on the individual components.

Breaking down the news

First, we have to break down the news. There are three different issues that we need to consider, and the news often conflates them. The issues are (1) the virus itself and the pandemic, (2) the economic impact of the pandemic, and (3) the financial market implications of that impact. By considering them individually, we can gain some clarity.

The virus itself. The base question is whether the virus is controllable or not. And the answer is yes. In the absence of restraints, the virus will spread—as we saw in China, in Italy, and in the U.S. But when proper restrictions are put into place, it can be brought under control. This idea has been proven in China and South Korea, and Italy is now reportedly stabilizing. Here in the U.S., we understand what has to be done, and we are now doing it. This is the end of the beginning.

Unfortunately, we are not out of the woods just yet. Everyone now knows what to do and why, as well as what the stakes are. If we just stay home, things will eventually get better. But there is usually a lag of about two weeks between the time that restrictions are put into place and when new cases stabilize. So, we can expect the news here to get worse for a while. We are likely past the point of maximum danger, but we are not past the point of maximum impact. Even as the rate of spread slows, expanded testing will make it look like things are getting worse. Expect to see that story in the headlines.

The economic impact. The economic damage is certainly real. But going forward, the question is whether the next year will look like it did after 9/11—or like 2008.

Right now, the resemblance to 9/11 is much greater. The pandemic is an outside shock to the economy, which has generated fear and will slow consumer and business spending, much like 9/11. As such, like 9/11, the economic impact could pass once the fear does. That is the base case: real damage, but then a recovery as confidence returns. The economic impact will, however, likely be worse than after 9/11. The slowdown in spending is very likely to be worse and longer lasting this time, which could (over time) turn the 9/11 into another 2008.

This scenario is something we must keep in mind, but whether it happens will depend on whether government policy is sufficiently supportive to both workers and businesses affected by the drop in demand. Here, the news is good. The Fed acted fast and hard to provide monetary stimulus. Unlike 2008, the Fed has clearly stated it will do what it needs to do in order to avoid a crisis. The federal government is also in the process of responding with economic support. While that process is not yet complete, signs are that any necessary support will be available, minimizing the chances of another 2008. There will be economic damage, but with proper policy support, it is likely to be limited.

Financial market implications. Finally, when we look at the markets, we see a clear expectation that the pandemic will continue and that the economic damage will be substantial. While that still may end up being the case, policy actions both here and around the world have made that substantially less likely in the past week. Signs are that the pandemic will be brought under control and that the economy will get enough support to weather the storm. Make no mistake, there will be damage. But from a market perspective, the question will be whether the damage is greater than markets now expect, or less. Signs are that the damage will be less, which should support markets going forward and eventually enable a recovery.

What happens next?

The crisis is not over. We can certainly expect the headlines to keep screaming and even get worse over the next couple of weeks, which could keep markets turbulent. We know, however, what is needed to solve the problem and that those measures are largely in place. By keeping the framework discussed here in mind, we will be prepared for those headlines and able to see the gradual improvement underneath them.

This is a difficult time for everyone, and worries are surging. Although those worries have allowed for the necessary policy changes to solve the problem, worry is always difficult. As we move forward, keep in mind that while the concerns are real, so is the policy progress. In the not-too-distant future, we are likely to see the virus brought under control here just as we have seen in other countries. Keep calm and carry on.


Presented by: Robert J. Comeaux, Jr., Walter A. Bond, Raymond A. Daigle, Jr., Edward Ian Blanchard, Doug Tillman & Mollie Taylor
Authored by Brad McMillan, senior vice president, chief investment officer. © 2019 Commonwealth Financial Network® 
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All information according to Bloomberg, unless stated otherwise. Certain sections of this commentary contain forward-looking statements that are based on our reasonable expectations, estimates, projections, and assumptions. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve certain risks and uncertainties, which are difficult to predict. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets. All indices are unmanaged and investors cannot invest directly into an index. The S&P 500 Index is a broad-based measurement of changes in stock market conditions based on the average performance of 500 widely held common stocks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted average of 30 actively traded blue-chip stocks. The Nasdaq Composite Index measures the performance of all issues listed in the Nasdaq Stock Market, except for rights, warrants, units, and convertible debentures. The MSCI EAFE Index is a float-adjusted market capitalization index designed to measure developed market equity performance, excluding the U.S. and Canada. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a market capitalization-weighted index composed of companies representative of the market structure of 26 emerging market countries in Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific Basin. It excludes closed markets and those shares in otherwise free markets that are not purchasable by foreigners. The Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index is an unmanaged market value-weighted index representing securities that are SEC-registered, taxable, and dollar-denominated. It covers the U.S. investment-grade fixed-rate bond market, with index components for a combination of the Barclays Capital government and corporate securities, mortgage-backed pass-through securities, and asset-backed securities. The Barclays Capital U.S. Corporate High Yield Index covers the USD-denominated, non-investment-grade, fixed-rate, taxable corporate bond market. Securities are classified as high-yield if the middle rating of Moody’s, Fitch, and S&P is Ba1/BB+/BB+ or below.
Raymond A. Daigle, Jr., Robert J. Comeaux, Jr., Walter A. Bond, Edward Ian Blanchard, Doug Tillman & Mollie Taylor are financial consultants located at CBD Wealth Management 3000 21st Street Metairie, LA 70002. They offer securities as a Registered Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC. They can be reached at (504) 309-6911