We're in a weird spot. The economy is coming out of one of the biggest hits to growth in history, but the stock market has already rebounded to record highs. In a rather tumultuous time, it's a tough call on whether it's worth investing more money in the market. Here are a few ways to look at both sides of the equation.
Why to invest
The prospect of a coronavirus vaccine
With so many coronavirus vaccine candidates in trials, there is potential for a big boost in the market. Whether it be Novartis, Pfizer -- which just saw phase 3 of trials begin at Yale for its vaccine candidate -- or a smaller player like Valneva, good news on the vaccine front will be a giant speculative relief for the market as well as for the economy.
Companies like DraftKings, for instance, would have the threat to sports betting greatly reduced, as players could be vaccinated and play. Virtually any business reliant on socializing would immediately have better prospects.
This spring, we watched the government pump more liquidity into the economy than it did back in the 2008 financial crisis. The full-scale economic implications of the shutdown and pandemic are still difficult to gauge, but the CARES Act and its $2.2 trillion allocated to prop up the economy and the labor force created a massive counterlever. We've never seen stimulus like this. Coupled with absurdly low interest rates, the availability of liquidity has likely never been stronger. This should help companies in various industries procure the financing needed to overcome this year.
Political views on such Keynesian economics aside, this could create quite an economic impetus if COVID-19 can be dealt with. The fact that the government is debating a further stimulus package would only sweeten the deal. Walmart (WMT -0.52%), for instance, has already noted the impact of stimulus on its bottom line. The retail giant reported a 9.3% increase in comparable-store sales compared to expectations of 5.4%.
It's worth noting that Walmart also said there was a clear decline in sales as many benefits expired. That means that the strength displayed in the first half of the year might be tempered moving forward. Investors probably shouldn't be as bullish looking into the third quarter unless further stimulus is implemented.
This leads us to reasons to wait.
Reasons to wait
The rally happened too quickly
The S&P 500 has recovered the damage done by the pandemic much faster than the actual economy has. Sitting at record highs, the disconnect creates a tough spot for investors as the underlying economy has not recovered at the same pace.
Warren Buffett has said multiple times that it's hard to find a deal. He's not wrong. If you want to invest right now, it's tough not to pay a premium to do it. Tech has been the main sector delivering good returns this year, and the stocks are not cheap. Amazon is trading at more than 120 times trailing earnings, while Netflix shares are commanding a premium of 85 times earnings.
Stocks offering better valuations face a tough road ahead. Low interest rates are going to cut into bank margins. The airlines and cruise lines are precarious at best. It's tough to tell what car sales are going to do. Retail outside of Amazon or Target or Walmart is tough, as the sharp increase in online shopping has only escalated the brick-and-mortar apocalypse.
Pretty much all there is to work with is tech, and it's hard to chase those kinds of multiples, even with tech companies' advantages in a socially distanced economy.
This fall is going to be rather crazy
While it's been made fairly clear that a full-scale shutdown seems highly unlikely, without a COVID-19 vaccine, there is still the potential for the pandemic to cause more disruption. New York has rising concerns about whether case counts will take off again. The regular flu season is fast approaching, and schools are torn between delaying and reopening. Some classes can be moved online, and sports can be postponed, but there is still disruption that can roil the stock market.
Airlines are still dealing with a difficult market environment. Jobs have rebounded somewhat, but the unemployment rate was still 10.2% at the end of July. If case loads and deaths speed up again without the presence of a vaccine, it's going to be a hard environment for companies to make money in.
To add to the fires, we have a polarizing presidential election coming up. A Biden win ups the odds for clean energy, a push for tax reforms, etc. A Trump win will mark a continuation (if not escalation) of the trade pressures that we've seen through the last few years. These are impactful issues that the market will take into account.
Whether you choose to invest now or wait is largely dependent on which camp you fall into. If you believe the virus has done its damage and that the economy can come back, perhaps the very high market levels aren't a dissuasion. On the flip side, if you take into account the great many changes that could happen this fall, as well as the ongoing pains for certain industries, buying in at record highs doesn't make a ton of sense.