Late Wednesday, the Senate finally passed its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (or CARES Act) -- and that's great news. The $2 trillion economic stimulus provided by the CARES Act will help small businesses cover their payrolls, make available $500 billion in loans to larger enterprises such as plane engine maker General Electric (NYSE:GE), motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG), and car engine specialist BorgWarner (NYSE:BWA), all of which are also hurting for sales in this present crisis, and put cash money in the pockets of consumers who are prevented from earning a paycheck during enforced "social distancing."
But then the other shoe dropped: the reason we need the largest economic stimulus package in American history.
According to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University, there are now more than 558,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide -- and the U.S. has more than any other country, over 86,000.
Shares of General Electric are down 6.5% on the news, with BorgWarner even worse (down 9%) and Harley worst of all -- its shares down 11.2% as of 12:10 p.m. EDT.
Why are these top stocks all suffering today, now that the CARES Act is finally gaining momentum? After the initial enthusiasm over passage of the bill in the Senate, and its prospects for quick approval in the House and signage by the president, investors are once again focusing on the scale of the crisis the CARES Act seeks to address -- and wondering if even $2 trillion will be enough to restore an economy that just lost 3.3 million jobs and is now the No. 1 victim of coronavirus worldwide.
There is, however, good news, too. Although the damage to the economy from necessary social distancing measures is real and significant, it's not necessarily fatal to the economy. Earlier today, researchers at the Federal Reserve published a report examining the impact of the 1918 Spanish flu on the economy.
Their findings: While quarantines and store closings hurt the economy in the short term, the sooner these measures were put in place, the stronger the economic bounceback once the pandemic passed. With measures now in place to shore up industrial companies like GE, Harley, and BorgWarner and help them survive the initial downturn, there's every hope that these companies -- and stocks -- will bounce back strongly once the lockdowns end.
With shares of both Harley and Borg trading at single-digit multiples to trailing earnings, and even GE technically "unprofitable" but with positive trailing free cash flow, now's a good time to start thinking about buying.