The much vaunted “V” recovery is improbable. To simplify, a somewhat “w”-looking scenario is a higher probability. After such an abrupt and extraordinary collapse in economic activity, a decent bounce was virtually assured. Millions would be returning to work after temporary shutdowns to a substantial chunk of the U.S. services economy. There would be pent-up demand, especially for big ticket home and automobile purchases. A massive effort to develop vaccines would ensure promising headlines.
With incredible amounts of liquidity sloshing around, constructive data supporting the “V” premise were all the markets needed. The enormous scope of hedging and shorting activity back in the March and April timeframe ensured the availability of more than ample firepower to fuel a rally. An equities revival would then spur a general restoration of confidence and spending – in a self-reinforcing “V” dynamic.
Inevitably, highly speculative Bubble Markets inflated way beyond anything even remotely justified by the fundamental backdrop – actually coming to believe the “V” hype. The rapid recovery phase, however, will prove dreadfully short-lived. Scores of companies won’t survive, and millions of job losses will prove permanent. Fearful consumers have made lasting changes in spending patterns, with many retrenching. Tons of fiscal stimulus will be burned through with astonishing rapidity. And a raving Credit market luxuriating in Fed monetary inflation will confront Credit losses at a breadth and scale much beyond the last crisis.
My concern has been that the COVID dislocation would be with us for a while. It’s surprising we haven’t seen at least some relief as summer unfolds. I was not expecting major outbreaks in Arizona, Florida, Texas and Southern California this time of year.
At this point, it’s clear that as a nation we haven’t approached pandemic risks with sufficient urgency and resolve. We all watched the crisis play out in New York and the northeast. We witnessed their “curves” brought down dramatically. We convinced ourselves it was more of a major city issue. We watched the European “curves” drop precipitously as well. We extrapolated to the entire U.S. Human nature took over. Too many of us became impatient and dismissive. (more…)