The market is clearly in panic. Americans and other global citizens in quarantine will clearly not help most businesses (and therefore it doesn’t help stocks). So should we buy stocks now?
One piece of data I came across this weekend was Open Table’s data on restaurant reservations, found here. As shown below, the US saw a ~42% decline in reservations Y/Y and globally they are down 40%.
Not to mention, we have many public school closures, work travel has been postponed, cruises are putting up ships, and restaurants and bars are limited to take-out meals only. Heck, I can’t even go to the gym anymore. This will clearly crimp many businesses and could pressure liquidity.
This feels like SARS and 9/11 rolled into one. After 9/11, business confidence was hammered and many consumers were fearful and did not want to travel or go out to eat as much. United’s CEO said that this experience has been worse than 9/11 –
“After 9/11, revenue was down 40% for two months and then began a gradual recovery… Our gross bookings in the Pacific are down about 70%, so there are still some bookings occurring even in the Pacific region. In Europe, our gross bookings are now down about 50%. Domestically, we’re currently seeing net bookings down about 70% and gross bookings down about 25%. While those numbers are encouraging compared to international, we’re planning for the public concern about the virus to get worse before it gets better.”
After 9/11, we had a tremendous shock to the system and it took some time to recover. Peak to trough, the S&P declined ~30% but within time, we recovered relatively quickly. Recall at this time, we entered a recession and also had a lot of air coming out of the tech bubble as well.
So on one hand, we have an extreme scenario. Short-term funding for a wide array of industries will need to be provided and I personally think we will need to see the US government step in meaningfully.
On the other hand, let’s look at the positives.
- Short-term pain, long-term gain. It appears the US is now taking the virus more seriously. While there will be short-term pain from a quasi-quarantine, this will help damped the rapid spread of the virus. This will also prevent a overrun of our hospitals and healthcare system
- Authorities acting relatively quickly. The fed has now cut rates 2x and initiated bond buying (QE5). Although this won’t cure the virus, it could help calm financial markets which will then allow for liquidity to flow through to businesses who need it now. While not established yet, I bet we will see a cut to banks’ reserve requirements to also help the system
- Not a financial crisis. While there are financial aspects to this (i.e. liquidity, companies drawing on revolvers) this is not like the 2008 mortgage crisis. Although banks are now cutting GDP estimates for Q2 and Q3 2020, many expect that demand will rebound meaningfully.
- The US is behind the curve, and that is a good thing. Although the outbreak is hitting US shores later than Europe and China, it also means we can look at their data to when cases tend to peak and level out. The US now is essentially in quarantine and that will help fight the spread. (Note, I thoroughly enjoyed the charts posted in this WaPo article for how social distancing actually does work). I think the market will move up even if cases in the US are rising once we see Italy, South Korea and China under control.
- The biggest companies in the world are flush with cash. Add up the cash held by Apple, Microsoft, Google, Berkshire Hathaway, and Facebook. These businesses fortunately will not be facing liquidity needs, represent large proportions of the S&P, and have longer time horizons than most investors today.
With many stocks I look at down 50-60%, this could be an opportunity of a lifetime given they are pricing in a long-term pronounced downturn. As discussed previously, a one-year impact to earnings that everyone largely expects will be temporary has little impact on the intrinsic value of businesses.
In sum, do I think stocks can continue to go down? Yes. They have historically over shot in both directions. But we can’t time it. I personally am looking at a collection of businesses that will continue to compound earnings at extremely attractive rates.
In this case, I think the situation will be written about extensively. There will be things we don’t even know about yet that books will be published on. But as you think about the past and uncertainty, realize that those times are actually the best in terms of investing. Buying when everything looks amazing and nothing can go wrong typically turn out to be poor outcomes (e.g. peak of tech bubble, the calm before the 2008 storm). Everyone knows in hindsight to buy when others are fearful. I’d also add the richest people in the US are typically perma-optimists, not perma-bears.