When discussing the first half of 2020, the description I hear most is Unbelievable! There are few still living who have any recollection of the 1918 influenza pandemic. The other pandemics in the past 70 years were not met with the same hysteria. These included those of 1957 and 1968. The CDC reports the latter killed about 1 million worldwide and about 100,000 in the U.S.
Perhaps even more amazing has been the performance of our stock market, especially since the bottom on March 23. When everyone is still so frightened by the pestilence, why should investors be putting money back to work? First, examine the first-half results.
Although the S&P 500 lost 30 percent of its value by the low point, it rebounded over 38 percent by June 30. This left the index at minus 3.08 percent for the six months. But the tech-rich NASDAQ 100 rose far more, gaining over 16 percent in the first half. With its transportation and financial components being horribly battered, the Dow Jones 30 lost about 9 percent.
Now, back to the question at hand: Why so bullish now? First, I speculate that people are realizing that we are not all going to die from Covid-19. Yes, cases are up substantially, especially among younger people who will achieve herd immunity but testing positive is not the same as being dreadfully ill, in most cases.
In Eastern Jackson County, we mourn 40 deaths through four months ending Monday but note that no one under age 50 has succumbed. Even those age 80 and above have a mortality rate of 111 per 100,000. The highest number of the 40 deaths, 13, have been those in their 70s. But there are many more thousands of them (www.jacohd.org.).
Second, we are coping with new ways to stay productive as a workforce. Time and expense are both saved by Zooming or Skyping our meetings. Most necessary activities continued. Now that I finally am resupplied with toilet paper, my life is great!
Third, despite the cataclysm of initial unemployment, May and June numbers have rebounded. Even manufacturing regained 606,000 jobs last month. Overall, 4.8 million jobs were restored in June and unemployment fell to 11.1 percent. Gasoline usage is only 10 percent lower than normal. According to the TSA, on July 6, 755,555 airline passengers braved a flight, compared with 87,534 on April 14.
I know a lot of investors. The vast majority are caring individuals. It is not that they do not care about their family, friends and neighbors becoming ill or dying. But like the national economic recoveries following wars and other pandemics, Americans adapt, get back to work and create even greater products and services. I am betting on progress.
(Statistics from Worden Bros., TC2000, 2020 and www.IBD.com.)
(Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Advice is general in nature and not intended for specific situations)
Ron Finke is president of Stewardship Capital in Independence. He is a registered investment adviser. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.