April 9, 2020 Coronavirus Update
First, and most importantly, we hope this finds you well and healthy and safe. The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in so many ways and presents so many challenges to our everyday lives that it can be easy to lose sight of the human side of things, physical and mental health. We also hope your quarantines are going as well as possible. We continue to work mostly remotely, practicing social distancing, with only a small group of key individuals in our office. So far, we are pleased to report that it’s been business as usual.
The past five weeks have seen dramatic declines and increases in global markets. Bull and bear markets are generally defined as a 20% change in value, up or down, respectively. By that definition, we’ve had a bear market and a bull market since March 11th! Daily stock price moves of more than 1%, either way, have happened on 24 of the last 25 trading days. Stocks, while still about 20% below their all-time highs on February 19th, are up 28% from their March 23rd lows.
There are so many mind-boggling statistics that illustrate the impact COVID-19 is having on our country. In the last three weeks, 16 million people (3.3 million, 6.6 million, and 6 million, respectively) have filed for unemployment. The previous high for a week was about 700,000 in 2009. Airline travel has decreased by 95%. 90% of companies are encouraging or requiring their employees to work from home. And, of course, toilet paper sales have spiked 116% compared to last March. The magnitude of the numbers, good and bad, have been truly breathtaking.
As it did in 2008-2009, the federal government has approved massive amounts of support to financial markets, small businesses, and individuals trying to cushion the economic damage the virus and shutdown of many parts of our economy will cause. It is impossible to predict the level of economic damage accurately. We’ve seen estimates of GDP declining between -5% to -30%+. It all depends on when conditions improve enough for people to resume reasonably normal lives. While we have no idea when that might be, one thing that is safe to say is the faster, the better.
Despite the rapid rally in stocks, we don’t know whether markets have found their ultimate low point or not. They found a bottom on March 23rd, the day before the Fed/Treasury announced their first response to the unfolding economic carnage. However, markets often hit a low point during a crisis/bear market that is followed by a strong rally, and then go down to “test the lows” later. During the 2008-2009 financial crisis, stocks hit a low in November, rallied into January, and then dropped to what proved to be the ultimate bottom on March 9th of 2009. One big difference is, in that crisis, it took the Fed and Treasury several months to cobble together the bailouts and stimulus packages that ultimately ended that recession. This time their response has been remarkably fast, just a few weeks. Whether these plans address the correct economic issues and whether they can be well-executed getting help where it’s most needed remains to be seen.
During crises, there are opportunities to add value to client portfolios even though stocks are going down. One way is by realizing losses on stocks in portfolios that allows investors to offset current or future capital gains. While no one likes to lose money on their investments, lowering future capital gains taxes essentially lessens the magnitude of the loss by about 20%. Importantly, we typically reinvest sale proceeds immediately into similar stocks or broad market ETF’s to avoid missing the big rallies that often follow the worst days.
Over the past several years, we have lowered our exposure to foreign stocks. While arguably inexpensive, structural problems in developed and developing economies that the current crisis will unquestionably magnify, changed our minds as to whether dedicated international exposure made sense. So other than in accounts where international exposure is mandated, we will be selling our international funds, and reinvesting the proceeds in U.S. based companies.
Please know all of us at Glenview Trust are 100% focused on helping you navigate these difficult times. We will continue to write and call to keep in touch with you. We will be updating our website (www.glenviewtrust.com) any time we have new information about the company, or COVID-19 and the markets. You will find our notes and other perspective pieces and company news, by clicking on the “Glenview News” tab at the top of our homepage. Meantime, please do not hesitate to call any one of us if you need something or just want to talk.
As always, thank you for your trust and confidence.
The Glenview Trust Company