Investors shrug off coronavirus bailout tab, sending markets higher

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Good morning, Bull Sheeters. Equities and oil continue their rebound on Tuesday despite continued turmoil in the retail and travel sectors, and the U.S. Treasury’s eye-watering $3 trillion bailout bill.

Let’s see where investors are putting their money.

Markets update

Asia

  • The major indices were mixed in afternoon trade. Japan’s Nikkei was down while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng clung to gains.
  • The markets are showing signs of strength even as China-U.S. relations continue to unravel.
  • Today, China called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo an “evil” liar as President Trump’s top diplomat tries to press the case that coronavirus outbreak sprung from a Wuhan virology lab.
  • We hit a grisly milestone a few hours ago: 251,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths around the world.
  • But Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley economists think the worst for the global economy is now behind us. Recovery, though, won’t be swift.

Europe

  • European bourses jumped at the open, clawing back some of yesterday’s losses. The benchmarked Stoxx Europe 600 began the day up 1.1%.
  • Coronavirus infection data again showed progress yesterday, an important indicator as European countries continue to gradually reopen their economies this week.
  • 40 million European workers now have been placed on furlough, Bloomberg calculates. A reminder: furlough in Europe is an entirely different thing. For starters, workers stay on the payroll.
  • Ferrari shares jumped on Monday after the luxury carmarker reported shipments took off last quarter. It’s now worth more than General Motors and Ford.
  • A German court this morning ruled the ECB’s QE program is an overreach of its powers; stocks and bond spreads barely moved on the news.

U.S.

  • The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all look to add to yesterday’s gains.
  • The indices rallied yesterday afternoon, led by the Nasdaq.
  • That’s despite more brutal news from retail and a shocking price tag on the bailout. The U.S. Treasury said it will need to borrow a record $3 trillion this quarter. That’s trillion with a T.
  • Neimen Marcus, meanwhile, looks set to dodge bankruptcy, but J. Crew Group wasn’t so lucky. Hertz is staring at a similar fate. It’s stock crashed in after-hours trading.

Elsewhere

  • Gold is down, as is the dollar.
  • Crude is rallying again today. WTI futures, the U.S. benchmark, are up 10% to finally climb above $20/barrel.

Buffett shares your concerns

Warren Buffett this week informed investors he’s sitting things out for now. One of his concerns is whether the workday will ever be the same again. Another red flag, as Andrew Ross Sorkin noted in his DealBook column, was how many times Buffett said “I don’t know” in response to a question about the state of the American economy.

In that regard, Buffett once again is very much in sync with the American consumer. “Americans are concerned about the present state of the economy and believe conditions are worsening,” Gallup’s Lydia Saad wrote in a research note published yesterday. Being Gallup, there’s plenty of survey data to back up that observation.

Americans overwhelmingly feel as if the U.S. economy is on the wrong track. No surprise there. But, still, it’s interesting to see how far consumer sentiment has fallen since the start of the year, as today’s chart (courtesy of Gallup) shows.

Elsewhere in the report, Gallup notes Americans are more optimistic about the future, six months out. More than half (51%) believe the stock market will go up in the future. They’re less bullish on the future upward trajectory of economic growth. And, there’s real concern (56%) that inflation, after years in the doldrums, will take off, eating into their collective purchasing power.

That’s probably where Buffett and the American consumer diverge. Berkshire Hathaway is sitting on a cash pile of $137 billion that they don’t plan to put to use.

***

Postscript

Yesterday, official data came out showing the Italian death rate has been off the charts this year, underscoring that public health officials are grossly undercounting the number of Italians who’ve died of COVID-19. Italy is not alone. Similar data has revealed gaps in the United Kingdom and U.S. in recent weeks.

But what startled a lot of us is the giant disparity between the country’s North and South. In short, it’s like two different countries. The industrialized North, home to the financial capital, Milan, has been hammered. The South, including us here in Rome, have been largely spared the worst of the outbreak. (Some consider Rome to be Central Italy, but that’s another conversation.)

As Ferdinando Giugliano of Bloomberg noted in a tweet, the March death toll in hard-hit Bergamo region (near Milan) was more than five-fold above its trailing five-year norm.

In Rome, it’s the opposite story. The death toll is DOWN over the same period.

Reading the data yesterday evening, I turned to my wife:

Me: Have you seen these iStat death toll numbers? It’s an extraordinary disparity.

My wife: You’re surprised?

Me: You’re not?

My wife: Not at all.

Me: [confused look]

My wife: You lock down the Romans indoors, keeping them off the street, and they can’t do nearly as much harm to themselves or others. So, no, I’m not surprised that Romans’ life expectancy is soaring under lockdown.

(Did I mention my wife is not Roman?)

Bernhard Warner
@BernhardWarner
[email protected]

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