The corona pandemic is ramping up globally. The number of dead and infected continues to rise daily. What’s next? What do we know for certain and where should we invest in the near term?
Really, there’s only one thing we know for certain: uncertainty. Uncertainty will dominate the conversations around financial markets and broader economies for the next few months, it appears. Even with talk of finding new vaccines or testing out older ones on coronavirus patients, it will take at least two months for conditions to return to anything near “normal.” Redemptions at mutual funds are forcing fund managers to liquidate all positions, whatever the price. Fear in currency markets is pushing normally stable currencies to multiyear lows against the U.S. dollar. The U.K.’s pound sterling and Australia's dollar are both at near 20-year lows as traders are dumping both. Emerging markets are also being hard hit with the South African rand trading at an all-time low and the Turkish lira trading at levels it hasn’t seen in two years.
Crude oil continues to fall as producers ramp up production while demand plummets. Many oil traders are actually buying up stocks at these prices, as contango, also known as forwardation, is in effect. Traders are making money buying spot crude now and selling futures for later deliveries. Uncertainty has gripped markets.
The good news is that acceleration has slowed in China and more people have recovered from the virus than are contracting it. Should this trend continue and these numbers actually be accurate, the end of the virus may be in sight. Of course this “end” will take at least two months to realize, it appears, as many nations have yet to make any meaningful sacrifices to slow the spread of the pandemic.
So where to invest? Is there money to be made for the courageous who will jump in front of the onslaught of sellers? Sure, but with volatility at these levels, this is more like gambling than anything else. Will the world economy return back to normal after the virus has passed? Of course. This isn’t the killer that’s going to wipe out the human race – no need to get apocalyptic – but this is far from predictable. It’s not the virus that’s going to have lasting effects on the economy, it’s the reaction to the virus. Firms with losses in the billions because of a few months of decreased consumer spending may never recover. Government stimuli will help, but they won't help everyone.
It’s this economic damage that will have long-lasting effects on global growth, unemployment and trade. Predicting when the virus will stop spreading might be far easier to predict than when the financial damage it caused will begin to abate. Buyer beware!