It’s been a good year for U.S. markets so far, but is investor hubris outweighing the long-term impacts of the coronavirus?
As of Wednesday morning, there were 75,000-plus confirmed cases of the virus globally with more than 2,000 total deaths, according to an interactive dashboard created by Johns Hopkins University.
The spread is worse than the SARS epidemic of 2003. More than 8,000 were infected with that virus, resulting in 774 deaths.
But for some reason, markets have paid little attention to the virus — even hitting all-time highs in the midst of the spread. Precedent suggests what markets are doing now is about right.
During the SARS epidemic, the S&P 500 actually gained 14.5% over six months and more than 20% in a 12-month period.
There are some underlying reasons why investors should be more concerned about the impacts of the coronavirus.
Shots Across the Bow
While U.S. markets have enjoyed a good run in 2020 — the S&P 500 is already up nearly 5% — individual companies are warning of the potential for headwinds.
The biggest of which is Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL).
Earlier this week, the tech giant said it would not meet its next quarterly revenue forecast because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Sluggish supply for products in China — the world’s largest consumer market — coupled with a low supply of its iPhone forced the company to revise its guidance lower.
Companies that supply microchips also suffered setbacks following Apple’s announcement. Skyworks Solutions Inc. (Nasdaq: SWKS), Lam Research Corp. (Nasdaq: LRCX) and Micron Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: MU) the day Apple announced its revision.
“The market is taking it in (its) stride, meaning they know this virus is going to have an impact on the supply chain but the severity of the impact is still unclear,” U.S. Bank Wealth Management investment strategist Jeff Kravetz said. “But investors are not overly concerned and we’re higher this year just because we’ve got an accommodative Fed, higher earnings and — when you exclude the impact of the virus — an incredibly resilient consumer.”
But according to Axios, FactSet reported that of the more than 360 companies who have reported earnings thus far, 138 of them have mentioned the coronavirus during investor calls. Nearly 25% of those companies, like Apple, have revised guidance lower.
While some analysts don’t see the impacts of the coronavirus on markets as being severe, several others suggest otherwise.
Allianz’s chief economic adviser and former Pimco CEO Mohamed El-Erian said the virus has the potential to have huge negative effects on China, specifically.
“For a long time I thought the market sentiment was so strong that we could overcome a mounting list of economic uncertainty,” El-Erian said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” program. “But the coronavirus is different. It is big. It’s going to paralyze China. It’s going to cascade throughout the global economy.”
Economist Ben Steil went so far as to suggest the Federal Reserve may be forced to cut rates because of the coronavirus.
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (NYSE: BABA) CEO Daniel Zhang called the outbreak a “black swan event” with the potential to wreak havoc on the global economy and stock markets everywhere.
Perhaps a more compelling argument for a market downturn comes from Guggenheim CIO Scott Minard:
“This will eventually end badly. I have never in my career seen anything as crazy as what’s going on right now. It was crazy in 2006 when I was pounding the table saying we were going to have a financial crisis of biblical proportions,” he wrote in a note.
It’s not likely we will see any huge negative turns in the market in the immediate future.
However, investors should be cautious heading into the next quarter as businesses continue to revise guidance for revenue and earnings.
The bottom line: It may not hit this month, but the impacts of the coronavirus will be felt at some point and it could be as early as next month.