How Will the Biden Administration’s China Policy Impact Markets?

The Obama and Trump administrations couldn’t have had a more different approach when it came to U.S. relations with China. As the Institute for China-America Studies (ICAS) explains, under the Obama administration, the United States favored a trade and investment approach when dealing with China, while the Trump administration had a national security focus. The ICAS believes the Biden administration will address trade and economic imbalances through a modified approach, including reducing tariffs on imported Chinese goods over time to decrease inflation for American consumers. Another example is maintaining pressure on China to cut government subsidies for competing industries, currency games, and exporting products to the United States at artificially low prices.

While the Obama administration engaged China through trade and investments, it didn’t emphasize engaging the country on the national security side. The Trump administration looked to make American industries independent of Chinese production, especially for rare earth metals, pharmaceutical precursors, etc. With the inauguration of President-elect Biden, the incoming administration is expected to maintain the Trump administration’s quest to give many American industries a fighting chance of survival, albeit how it will be accomplished will likely vary.

The Biden administration is projected to lower tariffs on Chinese imports gradually. This is expected to be done to reduce the tension of the existing trade war. It’s also expected to be done to lower the rate of inflation and help businesses that import input materials from China.

Based on statistics according to the American Action Forum, approximately $57 billion was paid by consumers on an annual basis per 2019 import numbers, due to tariffs instituted by President Trump. This action is likely to increase consumer spending and increase companies’ earnings. However, the Biden administration is still expected to keep other forms of trade pressure on what many believe are unfair trade practices by China.

Biden also is expected to raise the same concerns the Trump administration did regarding Chinese trade and commerce, including China subsidizing its industries, flooding the American market with goods to undercut American producers, and requiring so-called forced technology transfers from U.S. companies.  

However, the trade deficit the U.S. has with China isn’t expected to see much attention. This could negatively impact how much China is ultimately expected to import from the United States.

When it comes to colleges and universities, research-based collaboration, and artistic-based areas, relations are expected to be more friendly. However, when it comes to fighting China’s human rights violations, individuals or business entities might be targeted. Based on Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ proposed Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, there’s an expectation the Biden administration will keep the pressure on China.

Beginning in 2017, Biden began to discuss plans for America and how some of America’s crucial industries could be more self-sufficient and less reliant on China. Examples include pharmaceutical products, medical equipment, and rare earth minerals.

Potential actions the Biden administration could implement against China include sanctions; U.S. government-sponsored legal action against Chinese firms; and becoming more involved in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and similar organizations. This is seen by some as the U.S. becoming more in-step with Europe to better pressure China in WTO and related disputes. It might also include courting America’s allies in reducing or prohibiting Chinese investment of domestic industries to make it more difficult for Chinese firms to obtain cutting-edge technology.

While there is no way to accurately predict how the Biden administration will treat China, there will likely be continued pushback on China. How these actions will ultimately impact trade and the markets will be seen in the near future.

How Will the Biden Administration Influence the Federal Reserve?

With the nation on the precipice of a transition of administrations on Jan. 20, 2021, there will need to be many roles filled both in and out of the White House. With the potential for Janet Yellen to replace Steven Mnuchin as the next treasury secretary, there is much speculation about how the Federal Reserve will be shaped by the Biden administration.

Predicting Changes to the Federal Reserve

When 2022 arrives, Chair of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell’s term will expire. While presidents have historically given another term to first-term chairs who were appointed by the outgoing administration, there is no indication that Powell will stay on for another year. President Trump deviated from this norm when he appointed Powell to replace then-Chair Janet Yellen. Originally appointed by Obama to the Fed in 2012, Powell was first a Fed governor and a Republican politically.

First Vice Chair Richard Clarida’s term expires in January 2022. Vice-Chair of Banking Supervision Randal Quarles’ term expires in October 2021. Both vice-chairs are expected to be replaced when their terms are up.  

With two Fed board seats still unfilled, and if the Biden administration nominates Fed Governor Lael Brainard to become the next Treasury Secretary, it would create a third Fed board seat opening. Brainard is favored as a strong candidate because many economic experts see a need for the Fed and the U.S. Treasury to work together closely.    

While President Trump attempted to fill one of the empty Fed seats with Judy Shelton, on Nov. 17, the U.S. Senate declined her nomination to sit on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors; Christopher Waller still could be confirmed during the Senate’s post-election session. Assuming he doesn’t get confirmed before Congress adjourns and 2020 closes, the nomination will expire.

What’s Not Expected to Change

When it comes down to how the Fed handles monetary policy, chances are things won’t change much from the current status quo. Since the U.S. economy is still in a malaise due to the harmful effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fed has made a crystal-clear statement that interest rates will remain at “near zero” for the next 36 months, at a minimum.

In August 2020, the Fed announced that it’s recommitting itself to maintain existing rates as the economy emerges from the downturn for a longer period of time, compared to past Federal Reserve efforts to spur economic growth. Then on Nov. 5, the Federal Reserve’s FOMC Statement reinforced that the federal funds rates will stay at 0 percent to ¼ percent, as long as economic growth is threatened.

Promoting Diversity

Part of the Democrats’ legislative agenda is for the Fed to take action to reduce racial inequality. The objective is for this to become part of the Fed’s existing mandate, which currently includes price stability and maximum employment. If President Biden endorses this legislation, it would likely have an even greater impact on the Fed.

Another thing to consider is that Biden is expected to appoint more minorities to the FOMC, which, with the exception of Janet Yellen serving a four-year term, has been all white men.

Many at the Fed already recognize the importance of including all Americans in opportunities to benefit from a robust economy. During August 2020, the Fed announced that it is taking its time boosting interest rates, in contrast to how it handled past economic challenges, in order to produce an economy that favors job seekers, especially minorities.

Chairman Jerome Powell explained to the media that the Fed is ready and able to implement its financial instruments to prop up the economy and ensure that the country’s emergence from COVID-19 will be assisted. Powell has called on Congress to pass more stimulus, especially to help those who lost jobs from the pandemic.

Depending on who is selected and confirmed as treasury secretary, there could be a renewed hope for recently discontinued stimulus programs, some in conjunction with the Fed. In a letter dated Nov. 19, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicated to Jerome Powell the following Federal Reserve programs that will cease functioning on Dec. 31, 2020:

  • Program 1: Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility (PMCCF)
  • Program 2: Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility (SMCCF)
  • Program 3: Municipal Liquidity Facility (MLF)
  • Program 4: Main Street Lending Program (MSLP)
  • Program 5: Term Asset-Back Securities Loan Facility (TALF)

Funded via Congress’ CARES Act, these programs give the Fed the power to loan as much as $4.5 trillion to markets.

Naturally, this move is currently opposed by the Fed because it takes away additional tools that can be deployed to support the economy and its underlying financial systems. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s actions will return $429 billion from the Fed to Congress to be re-appropriated.

One program that will be lost is the MSLP, which was recently modified to give loans as small as $100,000 per applicant. With no more access by year-end, this will likely impact smaller businesses.

It is noteworthy that the following programs were extended for an additional 90 days after Dec. 31, 2020. These include Commercial Paper Funding Facility (CPFF), Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility (MMLF), Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF), and Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility (PPPLF), used to shore-up money market liquidity. Though, depending on who is the treasury secretary in 2021, there might be a reconsideration of any or all of these programs. 

How Would a Second Stimulus Check Impact Markets?

The $1,200 stimulus check sent out to individuals had mixed impacts on our economy, based on academic research, including by the University of California-Davis. For recipients with $3,000 or more in their bank accounts, there was no positive impact on the economy. However, for recipients with bank account balances up to $500, they spent 44.5 percent of their check, on average, within 10 days of receiving the stimulus check.

The first stimulus check was part of the CARES Act, which guided how the checks were issued:

The IRS began with those who filed 2018 and/or 2019 taxes, and looked at their adjusted gross income (AGI) as a starting point.

  • For “eligible individuals,” they received a full $1,200 check if they earned up to $75,000. If they earned between $75,000 and $99,000, the payment would be reduced by $1 for every $20 earned beyond $75,000. If they earned $99,000 or more, they would not be eligible for a stimulus check.
  • For “head of household filers,” they would get a $1,200 check for earnings up to $112,500. For earnings up to $136,500, the payment would be reduced by $1 for every additional $20 earned. If they earned $136,500 or more, they would not be eligible for a stimulus check.
  • For “married couples filing joint returns,” they would get a $1,200 check for earnings up to $150,000. For earnings up to $198,000, the payment would be reduced by $1 for every additional $20 earned. If they earned $198,000 or more, they would not be eligible for a stimulus check.

Depending on the filer, if they had a qualifying child 16 years or younger who they claimed on their tax return, each child could qualify for $500 in additional stimulus funds.

While the language is still subject to change because there’s no legislation passed and signed into law, uncertainty still exists regarding proposals for a second stimulus check/plan.

One proposal includes increasing the payments for dependents to $1,000 from $500. Another proposal includes casting a wider net for dependents – college students and/or older parents who reside in the same household, giving $500 for this category.

A September report by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows how consumers across the income distribution levels handled their stimulus checks.  

The NBER study found that once a stimulus payment was received, the typical individual spent $250 per day, compared to $90 a day before stimulus checks were available to recipients. Within 10 days, more than 20 percent of each dollar was spent. However, the report found different activity depending on the respondent’s income level and job security.

The study found that for recipients with checking accounts with more than a $4,000 balance, only 11 cents of stimulus money was spent in the month following receipt of their check. Looking a month out from when a stimulus check was received, those who had more assets were far less likely to spend their check quickly. However, for respondents with bank account balances of less than $100, more than 40 percent of their stimulus check was spent within one month.

These consumer expenditures offer a good indicator of how spending from another stimulus check would impact the economy. As the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show for 2019, there are different spending trends for each quintile or income strata (20 percent per quintile) for different income levels.

During 2019, each quintile increased, with the bottom quintile’s income growing by 6.6 percent, compared to the top quintile’s income growing by 6.7 percent. Quintiles two through four saw increases of income between 3.2 percent and 4.9 percent.

For reference, the 2019 “lower income bounds” are as follows:

  • Second quintile: $22,488
  • Third quintile: $43,432
  • Fourth quintile: $72,234
  • Fifth quintile: $120,729

“Average annual expenditures” for 2019 were $63,036 for “all consumer units,” or 3 percent more than 2018. A consumer unit is defined as either a family, an individual living on his or her own, and/or sharing costs with others or maintaining a residence with other individuals, but retaining the financial means to take care of themselves.

During 2019, while every quintile increased spending, the bottom quintile spent 8.6 percent more, versus the second quintile increasing their spending by 1.3 percent. All quintiles saw growth in spending for food at home, housing, transportation and cash contributions. Except for the second quintile, healthcare expenditures increased. For the food away from home category, the first, third and fifth quintiles increased spending. For apparel and services, the first, third and fourth quintiles saw increased spending.

Based on analysis conducted after stimulus checks were issued to individuals and families, sending out an additional stimulus check to those in the lower to mid-quintiles, along with promoting job growth and a strengthening job market, looks like the best way to help the economy recover. 

Examining Fed’s New Targeted Inflation Policy

Looking back to 2012, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) – a collaboration of the 12 regional Fed banks and the Federal Reserve Governors in Washington – came together and published a Statement on Longer-Run Goals and Monetary Policy Strategy.

This officially rang in the FOMC’s public commitment to maintain inflation at 2 percent. It is based on a yearly change in the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index, and is in accordance with The Federal Reserve’s “mandate for maximum employment and price stability.”

Guided by three events in the economy, according to the Brookings Institution, the FOMC was prompted to take a second look at 2012’s existing framework. The first factor, an approximation of the “neutral level” of interest rates, or interest rate levels correlated “with full employment” and inflation targets, kept dropping globally. The “lower neutral rate” is achieved when short-term interest rates, which are controlled by The Fed, stay at levels closer to zero versus higher levels. When this occurs, The Fed has little room to further lower interest rates, and therefore stimulate the economy. The next factor involves inflation rates and anticipation for future inflation rates to stay below The Fed’s 2 percent target. The last factor was unemployment falling to a five-decade low.

The FOMC’s Aug. 27 update reveals that the inflation rate has been lower than the 2 percent inflation target in recent years, despite housing, food, and energy increasing in price for consumers.

When there’s too little inflation, as The Fed explains, it can negatively impact the economy. If inflation remains below The Fed’s “longer-run inflation goal,” it can propel a self-fulfilling prophecy of further declining inflation levels.

As originally explained in 2012 and updated in August, the FOMC’s purpose is to “promote maximum employment,” keep prices stable, and “moderate long-term interest rates.” It also guides individuals and business owners with more information to make decisions, promotes greater “economic and financial certainty” and increases “transparency and accountability.”

The Fed, based on their FAQ section, has said that when inflation runs below 2 percent for an extended period of time, monetary policy will adjust to run above 2 percent for a period of time. Therefore, the FOMC is hoping to ensure that “longer-run inflation” will average at 2 percent.

The FOMC’s monetary policy is a big determinate in keeping the economy stable when the economy and financial systems are put out of balance due to factors such as inflation, long-term interest rates, and employment. The FOMC accomplishes its monetary policy via the “target range for the federal funds rate.”

Looking at the “level of the federal funds rate consistent with maximum employment and price stability over the longer run,” this rate has dropped compared to past average rates. With this in mind, the federal funds rate is generally expected to remain on the lower end of the rate spectrum more so now, versus years back. With interest rates closer to the bottom end, the FOMC believes that inflation and employment perils are more likely to stay depressed.

Based on comments from The Fed in August, the FOMC clarifies its Congressional Mandate regarding price stability and maximum employment, along with determinations on its short-term interest rate and other monetary policy considerations.

Following up on its Congressional mandate for The Fed to ensure maximum employment and price stability, the first thing to focus on is price stability or inflation.

Before, The Fed had a price stability target of 2 percent inflation, based upon the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index. The FOMC called this price stability “symmetric,” meaning that inflation above or below the target is equally concerning.

However, its new stance will now focus on attaining “inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time” after an ongoing time period of tame inflation. Based on comments from Fed Chair Jerome Powell, this is a flexible form of average inflation targeting.

This end goal of average inflation targeting suggests that when inflation is below the 2 percent target over an extended period of time, the FOMC will adjust its policy to encourage inflation above the 2 percent target to attain balance. However, The Fed didn’t give details regarding the time frame for its new averaged 2 percent inflation target, nor did it specify what actions it will implement to achieve it.

The Fed also made noteworthy changes to its “maximum employment” mandate. When it comes to this measurement, it originally compared the projections of “the long-run rate of unemployment” to the unemployment rate. According to the Brookings Institution, this also can be referred to as “the natural rate of unemployment or the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU).”

Since live estimates of the NAIRU can be unreliable, it’s no longer being considered. While the Summary of Economic Projections will still include estimates of unemployment statistics by FOMC members, it will unofficially take the place of the NAIRU readings. However, these FOMC members’ long-run estimates of unemployment will have less impact on monetary policy decisions.

How Do Interest Rates Looking Going Forward?

With these two changes to The Fed’s Congressional mandates, many expect monetary policy to be quite loose over the coming years, according to the Brookings Institution. By permitting hotter than normal inflation and low rates of unemployment, there’s a remote chance The Fed will increase interest rates prior to inflation running north of 2 percent for a measurable time period. 

How Will Monetary Policy Impact Markets Going Forward?

How Will Monetary Policy Impact The Stock Markets September 2020?With gold hitting $2,000 an ounce in recent days, coupled with the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy creating a lot of liquidity, how will markets perform for the rest of 2020 and beyond?

Based on a reading from the Federal Reserve’s minutes from its July 28 to July 29 meeting, the Fed remarked that the ongoing pandemic would continue to put a strain on the economy, slowing expansion and causing additional damage to the country’s monetary framework.

The Fed highlighted the nation’s GDP drop by 32.9 percent in the second quarter. While Q3 growth is expected to be positive, that was not quantified. Additionally, the Federal government’s debt has grown by $3 trillion since the onset of COVID-19, reaching $26.6 trillion. The release of these minutes sent stock prices downward and helped the U.S. dollar gain.

Forward guidance or communication to the general public and business owners of the Fed’s goals for inflation and unemployment target figures could be upgraded, but no time frame was given. More details on how the target range for the federal funds rate’s path would be appropriate at some point, per the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) minutes. How the target range of the federal funds rate evolves is outcome-based or based upon meeting certain economic goals before rates see further movement. For now, The Fed’s mandate is to ensure full employment and price stability.

The FOMC is expected to keep the current overnight borrowing rate between 0 percent and 0.25 percent until the U.S. economy has emerged from its current situation and on course to achieve the Committee’s maximum employment and price stability goals.

The July meeting kept short-term interest rates at near-zero because the economy is still not at its pre-pandemic economic activity levels. Given that COVID-19 has already impacted the jobs picture, the value of the U.S. dollar, and how well the economy is functioning already in the near term, the FOMC see the pandemic continuing to impact economic growth in the medium term.    

The Fed remarked that the U.S. Congress needs to pass another economic stimulus plan, especially when it comes to renewing unemployment insurance that recently expired. The FOMC meeting also noted that the Fed is not expected to purchase bonds to control yields on government bonds. However, it did speak to how it has played a role in buying bonds on the open market to support liquidity during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The meeting also determined that bond purchases by the Fed grew by more than $2.5 trillion, increasing to $7 trillion – up from $4.4 trillion over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. While skepticism by the Fed’s FOMC members regarding the use of purchasing bonds to manipulate the government bond yield curve wasn’t given much consideration, it’s still noteworthy to explain this versus what many refer to as quantitative easing or QE.

If the Fed’s efforts to bring down short-term interest rates, the rate that banks earn on overnight deposits, to zero with no positive economic effects, another tool the Fed has is Yield Curve Control (YCC). Whatever longer-term rate the Fed has in mind, YCC would involve an ongoing campaign of buying long-term bonds to maintain rates below its target rate by increasing the bond’s price and lowering the bond’s longer-term rates.

This is in contrast to QE, where the Fed purchases a fixed amount of bonds from the open market. It’s done by central banks to increase the money supply in hopes of spurring spending and investing by Main Street. It’s an important tool that central banks rely on when rates are at or near zero. This helps banks with their reserve requirements, giving them more liquidity to provide more loans to consumers and commercial borrowers.

Quantitative Easing Considerations

As central banks increase the money supply, it can create inflation. If it does create inflation, but there’s no measurable economic growth, this can lead to stagflation.

It is noteworthy that QE and the resulting lending attempt to stimulate the economy is effective only if individuals and commercial operations take loans and use them to spend and invest in the economy.

QE also can devalue the currency. It can help domestic manufacturers export goods (because the currency is cheaper), and anything that’s imported is more expensive. Consumers are hit with higher prices for imported goods, along with domestic producers using higher-priced imported raw materials for their final products.

With the economy still facing the headwinds of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fed has played a major role in stabilizing the economy. While the increase of liquidity has certainly provided a lifeline for the markets, the price of gold can be seen as a hedge against this liquidity – with inflation as one potential outcome. For the rest of 2020, The Fed will be ready and able to assist the markets but will leave lingering questions about the value of the U.S. and other global currencies. 

How Will the Market Price in Q2 Earnings?

The New York Fed Staff Nowcast predicts a negative 14.3 percent (-14.3 percent) growth of real GDP for Q2 of 2020 and a positive 13.2 percent growth of real GDP for Q3 of 2020. Clearly, the Fed is expecting a rebound in the second half of 2020.

This forecast, presented in the July 17, 2020: New York Fed Staff Nowcast, attributes better than expected results for industrial production, capacity utilization and retail sales data categories, resulting in the upward revision.

For June 2020, the forecast for the Industrial Production Index was 2.48, but the actual figure was 5.41. As the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System defines it, this index gauges the real output in the U.S. economy’s industrial sector on a month-over-month basis as a percentage change.

For June 2020, its Capacity Utilization measure was 3.54, versus the original forecast of 1.84. Coming from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, this measures the percentage of resources consumed by businesses to create goods for all domestic production.

Also for June 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau reported a figure of 7.50, compared to the forecast of 2.17, for the month’s retail sales data, on a month-over-month basis as a percentage change. It looks at the sales from more than 12,000 retailers with paid workers, including food.

While there’s no definitive way to determine how each community, state or region will be affected, the Brookings Institution did an analysis that provided interesting insight into how and why certain areas may be more impacted economically than others. It looked at sectors more prone to interruption by COVID-19, resulting in less business, more closures and layoffs. It found that areas reliant on energy and in the southern part of the country were more likely to be negatively impacted.

Brookings found that by looking at 2019 employment figures for these industries, there are approximately 24.2 million jobs that are ripe to be disrupted. Looking to Moody’s, Mark Zandi found that the following five industries are most vulnerable: mining/oil and gas, transportation, employment services, travel arrangements, and leisure and hospitality.

Conversely, Brookings found that more mature manufacturing locales, agricultural centers and already economically challenged areas are less prone to negative impacts. However, it’s noteworthy that because of the proliferation of technology, which has seen in an uptick in computer sales and IT/cybersecurity due to increased remote working and learning, the potential for a rebound will be easier.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has the world in its grip, it’s noteworthy to discuss how past pandemics and infectious disease outbreaks have impacted markets. Over the past 40 years of global epidemics, according to FactSet and Charles Schwab, there have been mixed results when it comes to the impact of disease outbreaks on market performance, using the MSCI World Index as a reference.

In June of 1981 during the HIV/AIDS outbreak, the index fell 0.46 percent during the first month; falling 4.64 percent over the three months after the start of the outbreak; and down 3.25 percent six months after the initial outbreak.

As for the 2006 avian flu outbreak, the index dropped 0.18 percent one month after the start; then the index was up 2.77 percent three months after the outbreak; and up 10.05 percent six months after the outbreak. 

Looking at these figures, it shows that more often than not, these types of events are short to medium term pullbacks, presenting investors with buying opportunities.  

According to Zacks & Nasdaq, Q2 earnings’ projections for the S&P 500 is a negative 43.7 percent, with a drop of 11 percent in revenue. While Q2 is expected to be the worse, Q3 and Q4 are expected to experience smaller, but still noticeable drops in earnings due to the coronavirus. The transportation sector is expected to decline by 152.4 percent; autos is expected to decline by 224.2 percent; and energy is projected to drop by 138.4 percent, on a year-over-year basis.

While these were some serious declines for Q2, the one bright spot was technology. The technology sector declined by only 13.2 percent year-over-year, with a drop of 1.2 percent in revenues. However, it’s noteworthy that, much like technology has seen shallow losses along with the medical sector, it’s projected that in 2021 the technology sector will earn 8.8 percent more while the medical sector is expected to grow its earnings by 12.8 percent in 2021.

The coronavirus is unique in that there’s been mass stay-at-home orders and closures. However, based on past disease outbreaks, the economy and markets generally seem to find a way to balance themselves out.

How Likely Would a Second Coronavirus Wave Negatively Impact the Stock Market?

As Johns Hopkins University of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center revealed a recent increase of coronavirus cases in the Southern and Southwestern United States, the VIX ticked up. With fears of the outbreak curve not flattening, how will this impact markets?

The Volatility Index (VIX) was established by the Chicago Board Options Exchange in 1993 to gauge volatility in the financial markets. Referred to colloquially as the “fear index”, it measures the next 30 days of anticipated volatility for the U.S. Stock Market via S&P 500 options. For reference, during the peak of the 2008 financial crisis, it topped out at 89.53. During periods of relative calm, it’s not unheard of to trade below 10. On March 16 of this year, the VIX reached 82, thus demonstrating how volatile investors expected markets to be due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus.

On February 12, 2020, the Dow reached 29,551.42 and the S&P 500 rose to 3,379.45. But by the end of February, these major indices experienced their greatest fall since 2008, ushering in a market correction.

Coronavirus and its Impact on the Markets

Starting in early March, the COVID-19 pandemic began taking a negative toll on stock markets worldwide, the worst since 2008. On March 9, the Dow fell 2,158 points, or 8.2 percent, during the day’s lows. Other major U.S. markets were not spared – the S&P 500 fell 7.6 percent and the Nasdaq dropped 7.3 percent.

On March 12, the U.S. stock indices dropped more. The S&P 500 fell another 9.5 percent, along with the Dow falling 2,353 points, almost 10 percent lower. For the Dow, it was the worse one-day performance since Oct. 19, 1987’s drop, bringing it back to 2017 levels. While there was hope of a sustained rally beginning on March 13, it was dashed when the Dow Jones fell nearly 13 percent or 2,997.10 points, and the S&P 500 dropped nearly 12 percent on March 16.

Factors Contributing to the Crash

While the stock market crash in 2020 was directly attributable to the coronavirus outbreak worldwide, many experts, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), view the coronavirus as speeding up a global slowdown that was already in the works.

Despite the St. Louis Fed’s data that showed the United States had an unemployment rate of 3.6 percent in late 2019, the nation’s industrial output peaked in 2017, and experts noticed a declining trend at the start of 2018. The IMF also believed the United States-China trade war made global growth more challenging going forward.

There were other concerning factors about economic growth domestically and internationally, causing fear a worldwide recession was beginning. March 2019 saw the U.S. yield curve inverting – which means longer-term debts yield less than shorter-term debts. The ISM Manufacturing Index fell below 50 percent in August 2019, dropping to 48.3 percent in October 2019, and remaining below 50 percent through 2019.

When it comes to rising COVID-19 cases, the state of California saw 4,515 new cases over 24 hours, as reported on June 21. Florida’s reports on June 20 and 21 saw the number of cases increase by 4,049 and 3,494, respectively. Other Southern and Western states, such as Nevada, Missouri, and Utah, reported one-day records in increases of coronavirus cases as well.

With Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and California, among others, showing concerning trends for increased coronavirus infection rates, analysts at Deutsche Bank expressed concern about how the virus may keep spreading. According to the same research, there’s some trepidation on how it may negatively impact economic growth. Depending on the overall hospital capacity to handle a resurgence in severe COVID-19 cases, how well the medical infrastructure responds will influence how the economy functions going forward.

With the number of increasing cases shifting from the Northeast to Southern and Western states, it’s feared that there will be another panic on Wall Street as reopening the economy is postponed, further stunting economic activity.

Research from Jefferies Financial Group found that even though coronavirus cases are increasing, it’s not the only or the biggest worry. Jefferies’ research found that for investors, the biggest concern is how well and how fast the economy bounces back.

Analysts believe that there needs to be more than just action by The Federal Reserve to inspire market confidence. The research found four main concerns, which included the effects of COVID-19:

  • 6.6 percent of respondents said the upcoming election is the most important factor
  • 12.1 percent of respondents said a second wave of COVID-19 is the most important factor
  • 31.1 percent of respondents said The Federal Reserve’s decision is the most important factor
  • 50.2 percent of respondents said the shape of the recovery is the most important factor

As the economy reopens and medical experts become more knowledgeable and better prepared to deal with COVID-19 through therapies and equipment for hospitalizations, it seems that investors will be taking a more holistic investing approach.

Are Dividends Becoming a Luxury During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

According to the futures market, Chicago Mercantile Exchange contracts are forecasting a drop of 27 percent in dividends over 24 months for the S&P 500 index. Dividends are projected to fall to $42.05 in 2021, a drop from 2020’s dividend of $47.55 and 2019’s high of $58.24. Looking forward to 2026, according to CME’s futures contract, the dividend is expected to recover to $56.65. While the latter years are not as likely as what’s up next, it’s worth taking note.

Although these dividend levels have already been announced, the future doesn’t look much brighter. According to Goldman Sachs, Q2 economic growth is expected to drop by 34 percent. Even though the COVID-19 economic crisis is expected to be worse, we can get an idea of how bad by comparing it to the financial crisis of 2008. From 2007 to 2009, the S&P 500 dividend dropped by 25 percent; it took 48 months to recover from this drop. Based on this historical look-back, chances are it’ll take longer to get back to par this time around.

It’s noteworthy to highlight companies that suspended their dividends in April 2020, and when they last suspended their dividends, historically speaking. Dine Brands Global (DIN) initially paused its stock-buyback program. This was followed up with a suspension of its quarterly dividend of 76 cents. Royal Dutch Shell lowered its dividend by two-thirds to 16 cents per share, the first time since 1945. These examples illustrate just how dire the economic situation is for companies around the world.    

Cash Dividends Explained

A cash dividend is money distributed to stockholders according to a corporation’s present earnings or amassed profits. Dividends are declared and issued by a board of directors that determines whether they’ll remain the same, increase or decrease. 

Understanding the Need to Reduce or Cut Dividends

A dividend cut often results in a drop in a company’s stock price since it indicates a weakened financial position. Oftentimes, dividends are cut because earnings are dropping or there’s less money available to pay the dividend, which can be due to increasing debt levels.

The point here is that dividend cuts are a poor sign for a company that is facing financial difficulties due to reduced revenue, with the same overhead still needed to be paid (rent, wages, insurance, debt servicing). While dividends can be cut for short- or long-term reasons, such as buying their own stock back or buying out another company, with the ongoing coronavirus situation the majority of businesses aren’t doing it for positive reasons.

While reducing or removing a dividend from a company’s stock can divert cash for ongoing operations or debt servicing, it also can tell the markets things aren’t going well financially. This is illustrated by looking at AT&T. In December 2000, the company reduced its dividends by 83 percent, lowering it to 3.75 cents, versus the expected 22 cents by shareholders.

One of the first signals that a company can’t pay dividends, or won’t be able to in the near future, is to look at the company’s earnings trend and its payout ratio.

Looking at a Historical Example

During the second half of the 1990s, AT&T’s stock faced more and more competitors as deregulation went into effect. According to the company’s income statements from 1998 to 2000, annual earnings per share dropped by 50 percent.  

This data is according to AT&T’s 10-K, which shows that its yearly earnings dropped from $1.96 in 1998; to $1.74 in 1999; and finally to $0.88 in 2000. With this precipitous decline in earnings and the financial pressure it put on AT&T, a reduction in dividends came next. Based on this data and some analysis, we can explain how the Dividend Payout Ratio works.

Understanding the Dividend Payout Ratio

Using this ratio can help investors gauge how likely a company’s dividend will be cut or removed altogether.

Dividend Payout Ratio = Dividend Payment per Share / Earnings per Share

Looking at AT&T’s 10-Q report for Q3 of 2000, AT&T earned 35 cents per share and gave shareholders a dividend of 22 cents a share. Based on the dividend payout ratio formula, the resulting ratio was 0.63. This ratio means that 63 percent of AT&T’s earnings were given to shareholders via dividends. When companies have challenging earnings seasons, the payout ratio gets closer to 1 because whatever the company earns is eaten up by the dividend. Therefore, the closer the ratio gets to 1, the more likely the dividend will be lowered or suspended.

While there’s no predicting what the economy will do in the future, looking at past trends can give investors insight into what companies will do with their dividends when the economy faces new headwinds.

How Will U.S. Employment Figures, Coronavirus Impact Job Markets?

How Will U.S. Employment Figures, Coronavirus Impact Job Markets?With the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) signed into law by President Trump on March 27, this set into motion major initiatives by the U.S. government in response to the coronavirus’ economic impact. This Act provides $2 trillion in financial aid to the nation, in big part to soften the impact of the coronavirus’ hit to the country’s unemployment numbers.

For the week ending April 11, seasonally adjusted jobless claims came in at 5,245,000, a drop of 1,370,000 from the April 9 revised level of 6,615,000, according to an April 16 news release from the U.S. Department of Labor.

For the week ending April 18, seasonally adjusted initial claims were reported at 4,427,000, or 810,000 fewer than the prior week’s revised level, according to an April 23 news release from the U.S. Department of Labor. April 11’s adjusted level was lowered by 8,000 to 5,237,000, down from the original 5,245,000 figure.

Taking into account the cumulative unemployment claims over the past five weeks, there have been approximately 26 million workers in the United States put out of work due to the coronavirus and the resulting economic downturn. With the employment picture facing a grim reality, the CARES Act provides many relief programs.

One part of the law provides financial relief for individuals, families, and businesses. Highlights include direct payments of $1,200 for individuals making up to $75,000, $112,000 for heads of households, and $150,000 for joint filers. Enhanced unemployment benefits also are included in the law to help those who are laid off, including contract workers.

Another way the CARES Act helps stimulate the economy is through the Paycheck Protection Program. Funded at $349 billion, this SBA-backed loan is designed to offer financial help to struggling businesses impacted by the coronavirus. A key aspect of this program is to give businesses enough money to pay at least eight weeks of payroll and related expenses to increase their chances of staying in business.

Factors for eligibility to apply for PPP loans include companies that are able to demonstrate their business has been reduced by Covid-19 and have less than 500 workers on their PPP application. Examples of eligible businesses/individuals include independently-owned franchises, contractors/self-employed individuals, tribal businesses, hotels, and restaurants. Eligible companies are able to have their loans forgiven, up to $10 million if they are borrowed from an SBA-approved 7(a) lender.  

According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, loans may be forgivable if the following criteria are met. No less than 75 percent of the loan is to be used for payroll costs, at which payroll costs on a 12-month basis are maxed out at $100k. Other allowable loan funds, up to 25 percent of the loan proceeds, can be used to pay for rent, utilities or mortgage interest. However, if full-time staffing is reduced or if the salary is reduced by more than 25 percent for full-time employees making less than $100k per 2019’s salary, PPP borrowers may owe money back. However, if any disqualifying changes that occurred between Feb. 15 and April 16 are made whole by June 30, the loans can become re-eligible to be forgiven.

Economic Injury Disaster Loan

Another significant relief program the CARES Act provides in the way of economic relief is through the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program (EIDL). The EIDL program is generally for businesses with 500 or fewer employees, whereby the company can apply to borrow as much as $200k. Loans up to $25,000 require no collateral, and requests above $25,000 require only business assets to serve as collateral.

One significant provision of the EIDL is what’s referred to as the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance. This enables applicants of the EIDL to receive as much as $10,000 in relief that’s not required to be paid back, creating a de facto grant, per the U.S. Small Business Administration. Businesses can receive as much as $1,000 per employee, up to $10,000, based on the number of workers a business employs. Depending on how extensive a business has suffered economically, a maximum of $2 million can be borrowed by a business through EIDLs and/or physical disaster loans, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

With these and other domestic government stimulus programs, coupled with other countries implementing their own stimulus programs, it’s worth noting different potential outcomes depending on the pandemic’s severity and health mitigation factors. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the following are some forecasts on how Covid-19 is likely to impact the global economy:

  • While the coronavirus data from China has been questioned, the OECD says that assuming the infections from the coronavirus peak during Q1 in China, the world’s economy is expected to grow less than projected for 2020, dropping to 2.4 percent from 2.9 percent. And while China’s economy is expected to drop below 5 percent in 2020, the country is expected to exceed 6 percent growth in 2021.
  • The OECD also noted that with a pandemic lingering longer and with greater intensity throughout the Asia-Pacific region, North America and Europe, it projects worldwide growth to drop to 1.5 percent in 2020.

Only time will determine how much of an impact the coronavirus will have on global markets. Governments around the world will continue to do their part to mitigate negative impacts.

How Will Oil Prices Fare in 2020 With Global Events?

When it comes to 2020 and energy prices, the world’s energy market will face many known and unknown variables. How and what types of events that will ultimately play out are unknown but, according to industry and government experts, there are some variables that are projected to lead to lower global prices overall.

Based on a Dec. 10 short-term energy outlook publication from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), there will be a mix of pushes and pulls on the price of crude oil and associated refining products. Market prices in 2020 for Brent crude oil is expected to average around $61, compared to 2019’s $64 average price per barrel. Looking at West Texas Intermediate (WTI) quotes, the EIA sees this type of crude settling, on average, at about $5.50 per barrel lower than Brent crude oil in 2020. The EIA bases its lowered price forecast on greater supplies of oil globally, especially in the first half of 2020. 

The agency’s data shows that in September 2019, America exported more than 90,000 net barrels per day of products from and crude oil itself. This is coupled with domestic export projections of 570,000 net barrels per day in 2020, in contrast to average net imports of 490,000 barrels per day in 2019.

According to EIA’s projections, U.S. crude oil production will grow by 900,000 barrels per day in 2020, compared to 2019’s production, resulting in 13.2 million barrels of daily production in 2020. This growth is compared to 2019’s production gains of 1.3 million barrels per day, and 2018’s 1.6 million barrel per day growth. The decrease in production, attributed by the EIA, is due to increased rig efficiency and well level productivity, despite the number of rigs dropping.

The EIA believes that OPEC and its “+” oil producing states will go beyond announced oil production cuts on Dec. 6, further cutting production through March 2020. The original cuts of 1.2 million barrels per day, announced in December 2018, have been modified to reducing production to 1.7 million barrels per day. The EIA expects the major global producers to keep production curtailed through all of 2020, due to increasing global oil inventories.

Fuel Standard’s Impact on Oil Prices

Through implementation of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Jan. 1, 2020, is ushering in new standards for allowable levels of sulfur in bunker fuel. This fuel will be required to contain no more than 0.5 percent sulfur content, compared to current allowable levels of 3.5 percent of the bunker oil’s weight. In reaction to the new standards, the EIA expects American refineries to increase operations by 3 percent in 2020 versus 2019’s production. It’s expected to increase wholesale margins in 2020 to 57 cents per gallon, on average, with it spiking to 61 cents per gallon. This is compared to 45 cents a gallon in 2019.

The Federal Reserve and Oil Prices

According to the Dec. 11, 2019, FOMC statement from The Federal Reserve, there was no modification to the federal funds rate. They based their decision on a yearly measure for inflation, excluding food and energy, along with signs of continued economic expansion, including healthy job creation and continued high rates of employment. However, the Fed indicated that if its goals of fostering a growing economy, maintaining a healthy job market and a 2 percent inflation target fall short, it will take appropriate action to keep supporting economic expansion. Depending on the Fed’s action to lower, increase or maintain its rates, the price of oil would feel the impacts.

While there’s no telling how fiscal policy and geopolitical events will play out in 2020, it looks like the price of oil will head south.