One of the main problems with markets right now is the massive uncertainty. Market participants and business leaders loathe uncertainty. They would rather hear the bad news any day over uncertainty. At least they can plan when they know how bad it is.
We should start getting meaningful news – good or bad – in the next 2-3 weeks. And that news is going to be three-fold: first, we will begin to know the extent of this virus by the number of emergency room visits and, with expanded testing, the number of Coronavirus cases in the country. The news might be bad – very bad. But at least it will be news. Second, we will start getting a sense of the economic devastation that these shutdowns and social distancing measures are causing based on unemployment filings and other data. Lastly, we should have more clarity on the government response. As market participants and management teams begin to digest this news and rework their plans, my hope is that markets can then begin to stabilize.
Berkshire Hathaway released its annual report last week. In his letter to investors, Warren Buffett wrote: “Anything can happen to stock prices tomorrow. Occasionally, there will be major drops in the market, perhaps of 50% magnitude or even greater. But…The American Tailwind, about which I wrote last year…will make equities the much better long-term choice for the individual…who can control his or her emotions. Others? Beware!” (emphasis firmly added).
Trying to time markets when your emotions are in play is foolish. It’s not investing – it’s speculating. Markets are forward looking, and I have found that they tend to bottom 3-6 months before a recession ends. We are now undoubtedly in recession. We got here in record time, so it’s possible that we’re already close to when markets will begin looking past the destruction. And don’t forget that it’s quite possible we could get some great news any day. Imagine something announcing a new vaccine has been developed – or that the cases in the U.S. have peaked. I would envision a market relief rally like no other.
A word on our media. Regardless of whether you have confidence in our business, health care and government leaders, we don’t have a choice, people – it’s who we’ve got. They’re not perfect – leaders never have been. Unfortunately, both mainstream and social media seem to magnify every real and perceived flaw in our leaders. Would Eisenhower have succeeded on D-Day if he had to concern himself with Twitter mobs or endless analysis of whether he’s xenophobic? He was, after all, killing foreigners. But here’s one thing I know – a crisis can bring out the best in people. I remain hopeful that our leaders will rise to the occasion. Please be careful what media you consume.
Lastly, whenever you get lost in the fearful details of this story, it’s worth remembering that the fundamentals of private property rights, freedom to contract, and the rule of law will survive this virus. Be of good cheer. We will get through this mess. Stay well.