The stock market has had a remarkable run after undergoing the fastest 30%-plus crash in history during the month of March. Since the March 23 low, the S&P 500 is now up a whopping 40%, bringing the market nearly all the way back to where it was when it started the year.
However, investors shouldn't be sanguine that the "all-clear" signal is in. After all, COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in the wake of nationwide protests and the reopening of many state economies. The recent spike even prompted New York to enforce a 14-day quarantine for travelers from nine southern and western states.
Yet aside from higher-priced stocks and a rise in COVID-19 cases, there are two big looming dates in the immediate future that could lead to even more market turbulence.
Big spenders rebalance at the end of June
First, the market has recovered so much of the year's losses that there's a good possibility that large asset allocators such as pension funds, mutual funds, and financial advisors to large, wealthy families might sell stocks at the end of June and rotate into bonds as part of their quarterly asset-rebalancing programs.
Many allocators check in with their asset weightings at the end of each quarter, and since stocks are up so much since the start of the quarter in April, it's not unthinkable that these large owners of stocks may book some profits and "rebalance" by putting more money into different asset classes.
In fact, Wall Street analysts estimate that a range between $35 billion to $76 billion could be taken out of the stock market and put into fixed income by month's end. Analysts from JP Morgan say that the move globally out of stocks and into fixed income could amount to an even larger $170 billion.
With that much money potentially shifting out of equities and into bonds, there's always the possibility of things getting dicey to close out the month. However, investors should note this would only be some regular market noise and profit-taking, not a signal for some big market downturn.
Still, another upcoming date at the end of July could be much more perilous.
Extra CARES Act unemployment benefits set to end July 31
The more precarious date to be aware of is the upcoming end of the CARES Act expanded unemployment benefits, which gave unemployed workers an extra $600 per week. While those on unemployment will still receive benefits from August onwards, that extra $600 will go away July 31 unless Congress renews the provision by passing an additional bill.
Officially, there were 21 million Americans out of work as of the end of May, but the actual figure is likely higher when counting those "employed but absent from work" who have been collecting unemployment while their business is shut down, as well as those who may not be actively looking for work but still filing claims. The June unemployment report said that there are about 30 million Americans claiming continuing unemployment benefits, or 9 million more than the official unemployment figures.
While no one expected those generous benefits to last forever -- after all, the extra $600 enabled many unemployed workers to earn more than they were making while working -- those extra stimulus dollars have likely helped many public companies receive more sales than they otherwise would have. In 2019, the national average weekly unemployment check was only $371.88. Therefore, taking away that extra $600 would cause the weekly income for the average unemployed worker to fall by over 60%.
Should that benefit go away, consumer spending will likely take a hit, given that 1 in 7 Americans are still officially out of work. Consumer spending has been one of the lone bright spots in the economy, and if that spending goes down, economic activity and the stock market are likely to follow.
July could be tense
There could be two ways out of the looming end to CARES Act stimulus. One, another bill could be passed, boosting benefits for the unemployed for a longer period of time beyond July. Second, the economy could continue to recover more as states reopen and the recent COVID-19 spikes are kept in check. If the unemployment rate falls again in the June employment report as it did in May, it may be enough for the market to be optimistic, even if the extra stimulus expires.
However, that could also be a double-edged sword. The unemployment rate is still extremely high by historical standards, even higher than the recession of 2008. Thus, even if the unemployment rate falls in the upcoming June report, to be released on July 2, it probably won't be enough to get all the way back to "normal." As such, stepping off the gas with regards to help for the unemployed could be premature.
In the best of all worlds, the government would extend unemployment stimulus measures until a vaccine or treatment is developed that allows the economy to fully reopen. If it doesn't extend those benefits, markets could be in for a difficult July. And given the potential for asset rebalancing, the end of June doesn't look like a picnic either.
In any case, none of these are reasons to diverge from you monthly or quarterly investing plan. However, unless new stimulus measures are passed or progress is made on a COVID-19 vaccine, it may be best to gravitate toward more defensive investments to start the summer after this spring's epic market run.