Apr 21, 2020 - Economy

The stock market's demand disconnect

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

The contrast between moves in oil prices and U.S. stocks has been stark. Even before Monday's once-in-a-lifetime fire sale in oil, crude prices had priced in at least some of the massive demand drop in the market while stock prices had recovered to their April 2019 level.

Why it matters: Stock prices are not reflecting the value of companies and the S&P 500 could fall hard and fast, in a miniature version of Monday's oil rout (when WTI crude futures fell from $17.85 a barrel to -$37.63) after a 25% rally since March 23.

  • Even with what Morgan Stanley analysts estimate has been an $11 trillion response to the coronavirus outbreak by Congress and the Fed ($8 trillion from the Fed and $3 trillion from Congress), it's hard to imagine companies have a value almost equivalent to what they had in April 2019.

Driving the news: This week is likely to bring another round of horrific economic data and poor corporate earnings, Bank of America Global Research analysts note.

  • After last week's earnings bloodbath, when about 14% of S&P 500 companies unveiled their numbers, first quarter earnings per share estimates have fallen by an additional 5%, implying a 15% decline year over year. (Energy company earnings estimates are down 40% since the start of April.)
  • So far, 20 companies have suspended dividends and 60 have suspended buybacks, which were major sources of EPS growth in 2019.
  • Yet stock prices rose and credit spreads tightened last week.

The big picture: The market is responding to improved expectations about when the coronavirus pandemic will peak in the U.S. and worldwide.

  • “The question is, are markets underestimating this (virus) in terms of the long-term impact on the economy," Rabobank head of macro strategy Elwin de Groot told Reuters.
  • "There will be damage and there will be damage in terms of the consumer psyche."

Case in point: A survey from Bankrate.com shows 62% of U.S. adults have canceled plans or no longer plan to attend upcoming events because of COVID-19.

  • "This includes celebrations such as a wedding or graduation party (31%), hotel stays/lodging (27%), flights (23%), concerts (18%), sporting events (16%), live theater (14%) and something else (12%)," the survey found.
  • Of those who canceled plans, 37%, or around 59 million people, lost money and only 30% of them have or will receive a full refund.

Go deeper: A world locked down and drowning in oil

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