The nation spent most of the week wondering who won the presidential elections. While lawsuits, protests, and dueling press conferences occupied the airwaves and internet, global stock markets spent the time discounting the results. Have markets already picked the winner?
A Joe Biden win, with a Democrat House, and a GOP-controlled Senate was the conclusion reached by the markets on Tuesday. The “blue wave” that investors had expected and believed would unleash trillions of dollars’ worth of stimulus, run up the national debt, and cause long-term interest rates to rise, was off the table. Instead, we would face at least two, if not four, years of political inertia. As I have written before, the financial markets thrive on the status quo and on deadlock. As such, the focus this week was on buying up equities that investors believe will benefit from a new political landscape.
“But wait a minute,” say the bears, the vote is just too close to count in several states to make such a prediction. The make-up of who controls the Senate may come down to two Senators in a Georgia run-off in January. And what about the avalanche of lawsuits that the Trump campaign has announced?
None of the above seems to matter to the bulls. Biden’s chances keep improving all week in most states, which adds fuel to the equity bonfire. Trump’s lawsuits were expected. The president telegraphed his intent to sue even before the elections. Investors do not see any proof that there was any wrongdoing outside of the usual snafus and mistakes that take place in every election. As for the Senate, right now the numbers are split evenly between the two parties. Until and when that changes, there is gridlock on the legislation front.
Under the present market scenario, any disappointment that investors won’t be getting a $2 trillion-plus new stimulus package (as presented by the Democrats before the election) has been somewhat alleviated by the belief that a smaller package could be passed before the end of the year. Senator Mitch McConnell said as much this week.
This is important, because the second wave of coronavirus is already underway, and is expected to worsen in November through January. We need a stimulus package passed now in order to help the economy (not to mention the nation) through this winter.
A blue wave stimulus package, most believe, would have had to wait until February when the Democrats took control of the House and the White House. By then, the damage would have already been done. Funny enough, with a divided Congress and new president, investors now believe the chances of compromise are higher than previously.
Bond markets have also breathed a sigh of relief. Without a humongous stimulus package, the government would not be racking up as much debt to an already-ballooning deficit.
On the tax front, equity investors have decided that a divided Congress would also put an end to all of Joe Biden’s talk about individual and corporate tax increases. It is doubtful, believes Wall Street, that a Republican-controlled Senate would be enthusiastic about passing any increase in taxes.
On the healthcare front, while both sides might agree to some necessary compromises to fix the holes in Obamacare, there likely would be little movement toward more government control of the nation’s health care system as threatened by Bernie Sanders and the left.
This belief that changes in taxes and healthcare policies would no longer be a threat to investors is one of the reasons the technology and healthcare sectors took the lead in this week’s rally. Globally, Emerging markets and China stocks also did well. The thinking here is that while Biden may still be tough on China, his actions will be more measured and diplomatic. The unsuccessful on-again, off-again tariff strategy of the previous administration would likely take a back seat to coordinating a policy with other nations that might also harbor China trade grievances.
That said, I expect some pullback in the markets after this week’s run up, but that doesn’t make me bearish on the stock markets. Instead, I still see gains throughout the remainder of the year and new highs for the S&P 500 Index and NASDAQ. The U.S. dollar may also continue to slide. In which case, foreign markets (especially emerging markets), resource plays, basic materials, industrials, and precious metals sectors should continue to gain as well.
However, I remain greatly concerned that in the weeks ahead the pandemic will get much worse across the nation. COVID-19 cases and deaths are expected to rise. Most of the macroeconomic numbers still indicate a rebound in the economy, but that is backward looking data.
Rural hospitals, especially in those parts of the country that have not followed medical protocols, look to be coming apart at the seams. I expect the government will continue to sit on its hands (except to pass a smaller stimulus bill) and hope for a breakthrough on the vaccine front. But hope is not a strategy. If the economy and employment gains slow and even reverse in the meantime, investors would probably be looking to the Fed once again to save the markets, and I expect they will.