It is difficult to characterize 2020 other than to use the oft-repeated term‘unprecedented’. The past year does not fit into any historical ‘box’. The economy has been recovering and adjusting, with a lot of help from monetary and fiscal stimulus. But many millions are still out of work and many industries are struggling to get through to the other side.
At the start of the new decade, markets were fraught with uncertainty: global economic growth looked poised to slow, forecast
corporate earnings expectations were mixed, valuations were at all-time highs, and central bank accommodation had pushed credit
spreads to cycle lows. Add the uncertainty of an upcoming U.S. presidential election, correction risk was elevated with the big
question being what would trigger it. As it turned out, investors wouldn’t have to wait long to find out: the COVID-19 pandemic
served as the tail risk that changed everything!
Investing in gold, either gold producers or bullion, has never been easy. Of course we are not counting the “gold bugs” who believe anytime is a good time to buy gold. Gold investing isn’t easy because it changes so much from one period to the next. There are periods that gold is a hedge against inflation, other times a hedge against turmoil, sometimes it takes on a more speculative
ethos, sometimes a hedge against the U.S. dollar or fiat currency devaluation. Perhaps the yellow metal is more chameleon than an indestructible element.
COVID-19 has caused a global recession, reducing government receipts while triggering a policy response that is unprecedented in size and scope. There is no question this has blown a huge hole through most countries’ budget and finances. According to the IMF, the fiscal policy response to COVID-19 has been $5.9 trillion so far (as of October 2020). There has also been $5.8 trillion of liquidity support.
This year has seen an historic divergence between the economy and the stock market, and also within equity markets themselves. There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic and the response in fighting it has unfairly impacted many industries while
many others remain unscathed or have even benefitted. This divergence has manifested in the equity markets as well, accelerating some preexisting trends and abruptly changing others. This can be seen in the contrasting performance this year of Growth versus Value stocks. To be frank, Growth has outperformed Value by more so far this year than any year in the past (indices were created in the mid 1970s).
At this point it would appear, based on the odds and the views of political “experts”, that Joe Biden will be the winner. The Senate will remain under Republican control and the House will be under Democratic control, albeit less so than before. So here are our thoughts
on the market/economic implications with the HUGE caveat that the outcomes are not final and there are likely a few curve balls ahead.
The relationship between politics and finance is closely intertwined. Every four years, we have a major convergence
when Americans head to the polls and investors try to figure out what it means for their portfolios. Canadians have a
vested interest as Canada’s economy and a large portion of diversified portfolio’s are directly exposed to the U.S.
The 2020 earnings season, much like so many aspects of 2020, is like no other. Q1 results, released in April, were partially impacted by the pandemic but it was guidance that took the real hit. The majority of companies simply stopped providing forward guidance with the legitimate excuse being “nobody knows how this progresses”.
Clearly those that can spend are spending, on durables and not services given that services spending often requires more interaction with people. The problem is that while a large portion of the economy is doing OK, a big portion is not, leading to what is being deemed a K-shaped recovery. For now, government stimulus is attempting to hold up the lower part of the “K” until a vaccine is developed, or people feel safe to become more “economically” active again. The longer this persists, the greater the risk that the lower part of the “K” drags down the upper part. If this occurs, the pandemic was just the exogenous shock that pushes us into a more traditional recession.
Canada’s energy sector has gone through a rather painful evolution over the past few years. High oil prices, oh so many years ago, unleashed a long-term global supply response during the past decade including large long-term projects and the acceleration of the U.S. shale revolution.
It was hard not to notice the excitement surrounding initial public offerings (IPOs) last week as we saw SNOW in September. In fact, IPOs are having a banner year with businesses rushing to raise capital and provide liquidity for early-stage investors given the ample appetite for speculation and new stocks. The pandemic has changed the world, and investors are looking for the leaders of tomorrow.
For those paying attention to markets this year, most would agree that 2020 has not just been an eventful year but one of record speeds. The February correction that grew into a bear market set all-time record speeds for a correction (-10% decline) and bear market (-20% decline). It took eight days from the market high on February 20 to breach correction territory and only 21 days to reach bear market territory. The market then bottomed on March 23 and started its record speed ascent. All the while it managed to avoid, surprisingly, getting the bends by rising 55% over 142 days. Within that rise, there has been a 6% one-day decline and a 7% decline over 3 days. There have also been many pretty big up days.
All things come to an end – bull markets, bear markets, economic cycles, even pandemics. And we believe that in the coming months investors should begin to increasingly position themselves for the other side of the current environment. We are not implying things will be back to normal, but they will likely be a lot more normal in six months than they are today. That means there are both opportunities and risks in today’s market, as what has worked well in the past six months may not do so in the next six.
One would think that with unemployment around 10%, you would be hard pressed to find positive economic data. This economic cycle – if we can call it a cycle – is so unique that trying to follow a regular road map for recessions is certainly challenged.
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