Stocks staged perhaps the strongest rally in history—a more than 44% gain for the S&P 500 Index from March 23 through June 8—before pulling back about 6% late last week. With so much economic healing ahead of us and a still-uncertain path for COVID-19, the key question for investors is whether stocks are pricing in an overly optimistic scenario for the recovery in economic activity and corporate profits.
The rally continued as the S&P 500 Index closed out May on the positive side. The disconnect between stocks and the economy generated widespread concern among some investors. At the same time, reopening optimism and massive stimulus overshadowed some concerns about a second wave of COVID-19 infections and increasing US-China tensions.
The strongest 50-day rally in the S&P 500 Index in over 70 years has sent a signal that the economic recovery is gaining steam and may look more like a “V” than a “U,” a square root, checkmark, or swoosh. We assess the probabilities of these various scenarios for recovery and reiterate our 2020 economic growth forecasts.
First quarter earnings season offered something for everyone. On the positive side, corporate America produced solid results outside of the COVID-19 pandemic trouble spots, which included retailers, travel-related businesses, and banks. At the same time, 2020 earnings estimates have plunged, and a return to “normal” earnings could be two years or more away.