It is a reality that society is changing and nothing will ever be like before. It is also indisputable that the governments of each of the countries face a dilemma never seen before: the economy vs. health. It is clear that isolation is at the moment the only antidote to slow down the speed of contagion of the virus and prevent health systems from collapsing, but on the other hand, the cost of this “remedy” is high at an economic level. Some countries that have the resources can carry out preventive tests such as the case of South Korea, but few have this luck.
Right now doctors and politicians obviously don’t get along. While the former recommend isolation, politicians suffer as the economy slows down, especially if they are in an election year, as is the case in the United States. In all these twists and turns the markets move in a frenetic and irrational way.
Investors, faced with total uncertainty, buy a new story every day that may be successful, such as the spread of the virus falling in a certain region, or failure, when, for example, governments launch more stimulus packages.. All of this is reflected in asset prices and high volatility.
China has implemented the largest quarantine in history since the end of January and for approximately 6 weeks. It is difficult to know exactly the real results, but at least the official data indicates that his strategy was successful. It is an example of what a total quarantine was. Asian stocks are the best recoveries at the moment.
In Italy, the impact of the virus was initially minimized. When they saw the dire consequences it was too late. At the end of the second week of quarantine, the contagion rate would be starting to decrease but a regrowth is feared.
A similar story was lived in Spain and France. The case of England is even more extreme. Having a high contagion rate, they decided not to stop economic activity until young people also died, the rate of multiplication of cases was observed and Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared quarantine to prevent the health system from collapsing. This Monday it was already implemented.
The index that follows the main European companies had its worst fall, losing 40% from the peak at the beginning of this year and now it is losing 25 percent.
Many Latin American countries like El Salvador or Guatemala immediately closed their borders and implemented compulsory isolation in a hurry. Paraguay followed a similar path and Argentina, although it took longer to close the borders, total quarantine was declared at an earlier stage than the European countries mentioned.
In countries like ours, an outbreak of the virus could be devastating. President Alberto Fernández made it clear that, between health and the economy, he chooses health so for better or for worse we already know which way we are going. It is difficult to isolate the impact of the virus in these stock markets since they are small and also add to pre-existing financial difficulties specific to each country.
The great dilemma arises in the United States, in a controversial electoral year and in the midst of the confrontation between Republicans and Democrats. Donald Trump’s position is to prioritize the economyAlthough there are cases like the one in New York or California in which the quarantine decision was made by the governors, who are just Democrats. Such is the nonconformity of certain sectors of society that repudiate Trump’s priorities that the social hashtag “I’m not going to die for Wall Street” (#notdyingforwallstreet) circulated on social networks.
Until a few days ago the current president of the United States had all the wind in his favor and this unexpected turn is staggering his chances for reelection. The S&P 500, which is the index that includes the 500 largest American companies, fell 35% from its ceiling in February to its floor on March 23 and now slashed the loss to 23 percent.
For now and in these last days we saw that the panic and initial uncertainty about the virus stopped. Although there are still no vaccines or cures approved, at least we all know that this situation takes a long time and we accept it.
We are far from getting out of the problem but the human mind at least needs to have a clearer picture in order to cope with it. This fact added to the aid packages that governments have already approved and all the money they are willing to inject into the system caused a rebound in the markets this week.
Anyway it is strange that the Stock Exchange celebrates while the number of infections multiplies, there are not enough tests or capacity in hospitals and millions of jobs are being lost. In the last week in the US alone, 3.3 million people asked for unemployment benefits.
Will the stock market rise over time or is it just a passing bullish rally in a market that is already trending down? We will find out in the coming weeks. What we are sure of is that without health there is no economyto. But if we are healthy and patient, in the course of the storm the investment opportunities that bold investors so much await will appear and we must be prepared to take advantage of them.
The author is the director of DW Global Investment