Last week, the third quarter of 2020 came to an end – and the fourth quarter delivered a doozy of an October surprise.
President Trump has the coronavirus
On Friday Americans awoke to the news President Trump had contracted COVID-19. Financial markets responded with relative equanimity. After a brief sell-off on Friday, major U.S. indices finished the week, and the third quarter, higher.
Market enthusiasm cooled in September
U.S. stock markets moved higher in July and August. Then, in early September, investors became skittish and major U.S. indices recorded losses for several weeks. The surge of uncertainty may have resulted from changing vaccine expectations, concerns about earnings, fears of a disputed election, and lack of new stimulus, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
The Federal Reserve committed to low rates for a long time
The Federal Reserve’s changing policies may have had an influence on markets, as well. The Fed intends to keep interest rates near zero for the foreseeable future. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) statement provided a big picture explanation, “The path of the economy will depend significantly on the course of the virus. The ongoing public health crisis will continue to weigh on economic activity, employment, and inflation in the near term, and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term.”
Yields on 10-year U.S. Treasuries moved in a narrow range during the quarter, finishing near where they started.
Stimulus talks resumed last week
Treasury yields rose and stock markets perked last week when Congress resumed stimulus talks. Investors expect $1.3 to $1.5 trillion in new stimulus, according to BCA Research cited by Kiplinger’s.
Additional stimulus measures were expected early in the third quarter, after CARES Act provisions ran dry in July. However, better-than-expected economic data and a reluctance to increase the burgeoning budget deficit made some in Congress adopt a wait-and-see approach, reported Victor Reklaitis of MarketWatch.
By last Friday, stimulus negotiations appeared to have stalled again. However, there were new calls for action over the weekend, following Friday’s weaker-than-expected employment report, according to Jacob Pramuk of CNBC.
The pace of recovery may be slowing
Throughout the third quarter, employment improved steadily. In July it was 10.2 percent. By September, it had fallen to 7.9 percent. While continued improvement is important, the pace of jobs creation slowed last month. Consensus estimates for September suggested the economy would produce 850,000 new jobs. It came up short at 661,000. That could be a sign economic growth is slowing.
Economic growth improved during the third quarter
During the second quarter (April through June), the U.S. economy shrank by about a third (-31.7 percent). Data for third quarter economic growth is not yet available, but it is expected to show a significant improvement. The Atlanta Federal Reserve’s GDPNow estimates third quarter growth could be as high as 34.6 percent.
While a double-digit rebound would be welcome news, Aaron Weitzman of The Bond Buyer pointed out a 34.6 percent rebound does not offset a 31.7 percent contraction. The economy needs to grow by 46 percent to get back to even.
Volatility is likely to continue
Global markets may be volatile through the end of 2020.
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