What happened

Shares of Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) were trading lower on Thursday, amid a broad-based market sell-off as investors reacted to news of rising COVID-19 infection rates in some parts of the United States that have reopened. 

As of 11:30 p.m. EDT today, Ford's shares were down about 8.2% from Wednesday's closing price.

So what

Investors were reminded on Thursday that U.S coronavirus cases are still rising. There are now over 2 million confirmed cases, with increasing numbers of hospitalizations in several key states (including California, Florida, and Texas) that have been aggressive about reopening their economies in recent weeks.

For stocks generally, and for consumer-discretionary stocks in particular, the concern should be obvious. If economic activity has to be restricted again, or if consumers decide to self-restrict on concerns about the virus or about the economy, then that will be bad news.

A red Ford Super Duty pickup parked in front of the factory that built it, Ford's Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville.

Ford's pickup-truck factories are scrambling to resupply dealers amid surprisingly strong truck sales. Image source: Ford.

It would be especially bad news for Ford if it has to once again idle its factories in the United States. COO Jim Farley said on Wednesday that Ford expects to have its U.S. plants up to pre-pandemic production levels by early July. 

Given signs that demand for new vehicles has been recovering, and that demand for high-profit pickup trucks has remained resilient through the pandemic, that's bullish for Ford -- if the nation can avoid a relapse.

Now what

It's worth noting that I'm not the only one inclined to be bullish on Ford's prospects in the near term. In a note on Thursday morning, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas boosted his price target for the stock to $8 from $7, saying that Ford's pricing strength and rich product mix could drive a pleasant surprise for auto investors as the year goes on. 

Jonas maintained his rating on Ford's stock at overweight, equivalent to a buy rating. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.