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(Simultaneously published at Money Daily)
March 5, 2020
With much of the news focus on the results from Super Tuesday's Democrat primaries and the Fed's 50 basis point cut to the federal funds rate, for a day, market participants had their heads turned toward something other than the evolving coronavirus crisis.
That little bit of relief allowed stocks to rise by roughly four percent across the major indices. The gains were not record-breaking, but they were close. The NASDAQ's 334-point rise was the third-best on record; the Dow's gain exceeded only by the 1,293.96 rip on Monday. The S&P's number was also the second-best day ever.
These kinds of wild swings, to both the upside and down, have become a trademark for not just US markets but many international stock indices since the outbreak of COVID-19 in China, but especially so since the virus has spread beyond the borders of the world's most populous nation. Most developed nations are currently flirting with 10 percent drops off recent highs, crossing the point of correction level at various times, above and below it.
Following Wednesday's romp, news on the coronavirus front just got worse and worse as the day turned to night and night to Thursday morning. A health screener at LA-X in Los Angeles tested positive for the virus; in New York, six more cases emerged. Seattle is quickly becoming an epicenter for an outbreak, and by morning, California had declared an emergency due to the treat from the spreading infection. 1000 people in New York are being screened for possible infection.
Schools are closing in various places across the country, Amazon and Microsoft employees are being advised to work from home, soccer games in Europe are being played in stadia devoid of fans, Italy has urged anyone over the age of 60 to stay home as much as possible to avoid contracting the virus. Despite the WHO's failure to officially declare a pandemic, COVID-19 has swept around the planet and is showing no signs of abating.
As for the World Health Organization failing to label the current condition a pandemic (it is, even according to their own standards), the reason may lie more in the ghastly world of finance rather than health. Unconfirmed reports say there are "pandemic bonds," which are bets against a pandemic outbreak declaration. If the WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic, it will trigger bets made on a pandemic, as credit default swaps (CDS), along the lines of those which paid off magnificently when the sub-prime crisis blew up, will explode, blowing up the underpinnings of global finance.
If true, it would prove not only that bankers and financiers on Wall Street and elsewhere learned nothing from prior default events, but that they continue to make sickening, revolting wagers on extreme events. When coronavirus destroys the economy, the usual suspects will be found in lower Manhattan, probably toasting their bonuses, as they have in previous episodes of moral bankruptcy.
That said, anybody who has not taken action to remove their investments from the stock market casino over the past few weeks (if not sooner) is likely to suffer in the most severe economic manner possible over the next six to 12 months. There is no evidence of containing the virus and only the hope that its viability will be reduced with the advent of warmer and more humid weather. Unfortunately, it's only March. Warm mid-Spring weather is still months away in much of the developed world.
According to the painfully-slow-to-react CDC, there are 13 states that have identified persons infected. Those are New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. Add Rhode Island, New Jersey and Utah as of today, making it 16 with more to come. Already an even 1/3 of mainland states, there are no physical barriers to where the virus can spread. Eventually, it's likely that there will be high incidence of the virus in every state, with the exception of Hawaii and Alaska, due to their unique locations, far from mainland populations.
News on COVID-19 is developing quickly and reported cases are mounting now nearly by the hour. According to John Hopkins, there are 159 cases in the United States. A week ago there were fewer than 25. The same pattern of doubling every two to three days - as was the case in China early on - is becoming evident in European countries, especially Italy, followed by France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, and Norway. South Korea and Iran have become epicenter outbreak areas with the number of cases exploding higher every day.
As the disease progresses, the news is likely to be substantially worse before it gets even slightly better. While it is possible that the health outcomes may not be as severe as predicted, the economic pain is almost certain to be severe.
It was more than a week ago that Money Daily advised to Sell. Everything. Now. Wednesday's upswing provided a late get-out-of-jail-free card for procrastinators or non-believers. After Thursday, it may be too late. A 2000-point decline Thursday is more than a passing possibility.
Late edit: With so much happening, let's not forget that gold is rising, silver also, but not to any great degree, oil demand has plunged and will slide further. WTI crude oil prices are at $46 and change per barrel. Treasury yields were stable on long-dated maturities with yields on the 2-year through 30-year issues all rising or falling four basis points or fewer. The 10-year note stabilized at 1.02%, but is again below 1.00% (0.95%) prior to the opening bell (1/2 hour). The short end of the curve, 1, 2, 3, 6-month and one-year bills cratered, the one-year sporting the lowest yield on the entire complex, dropping for 0.73 to 0.59 on Thursday.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 216,000 for the week ended Feb. 29, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was unrevised.
At the Close, Wednesday, March 4, 2020: