More Investor Caution This Week As Stimulus And Trump Dominate Sentiment

Investors large and small are likely to be more cautious about putting money to work this week following a host of Covid-19 cases in President Trump’s inner circle, including himself.

Trump’s bout with the SARS-2 coronavirus could be trumped by stimulus package news, or better news about his recovery, and that of others who have contracted the virus in the last 72 hours after traveling with the president.

“I look for a continued bounce in equities early next week as the likely fiscal package is digested. Beyond that, markets will grapple with extreme uncertainty surrounding the President’s evolving health condition and its ramifications for the election,” says Brian McCarthy, chief strategist at Macrolens, a boutique investment research firm.

He told clients in a note on Friday that the news of Trump’s hospitalization — something that also happened immediately after Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro tested positive for the virus —made him “considerably less comfortable” holding equities over the next few weeks.

“This is a greater economic risk than it might appear,” says Cailin Birch, global economist at The Economist Intelligence Unit.

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Stock market growth has been disconnected from the performance of the real economy, which continues to struggle. U.S. corporate debt remains at historically high levels, and a more prolonged downturn in the economy would put additional strain on the private sector and delay the economic recovery.

UBS thinks that all of this noise on the coronavirus and Trump is a near-term issue. Odds are that he will recover within two weeks, as did Bolsonaro, and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who struggled on ventilators for a few days. Trump will be out of pocket, and that could change election outcomes. How it changes them is anybody’s guess at this point.

Challenger Joe Biden is still in the pole position and looking set to win the White House.

Investors are still holding out hope for stimulus, even if Trump had to get it down in an Executive Order over the next two weeks.

“Over the medium term, we expect sustained improvements in mobility based on the development of a vaccine, and the passing of additional U.S. fiscal stimulus to shift the economy toward ‘more normal’,” says Mark Haefele, chief investment strategist for UBS.

A clearer play on the gradual return to normalcy might be a short position in long-maturity Treasuries, which will do well if the odds of a Biden Presidency — replete with near-infinites pending and an MMT-like monetary approach — starts to rise in the coming weeks.

All of this can change, of course, if Trump pulls through faster than expected.

Elections tend to matter less for stock returns than expected, anyway.  Any downward moves in the indexes will be seen as buying opportunities — emerging markets and China if you’re convinced its Biden, U.S. small and mid-cap stocks if you’re convinced it’s Trump.

Large cap stocks are the big global names. They’re as diverse as it comes and tend to do well, regardless of Election Day outcomes.

Since 1872, no matter which party has won the White House or Congress, there has been no meaningful difference in the performance of U.S. large-cap stocks, on average, Glenmede investment strategists led by Jason Pride wrote in a note to clients.

“This is perhaps due to the general propensity of candidates to over-promise on the campaign trail and under-deliver when in office,” he says.

Gallup polling conducted over the two weeks leading up to the first presidential debate, President Trump’s job approval rating held relatively steady at 46%, though it was his highest rating since May.

Despite not crossing the 50% threshold needed to feel confident of a victory this year, Americans responding to the Gallup survey said they expect he will win.

Regardless of whom they personally support, 56% of Americans told Gallup they expect Trump to beat Biden, while only 40% think Biden will win.