Sep 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Wall Street fears stimulus is doomed

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The fight over a new Supreme Court justice will take Washington's partisan bickering to a new level and undermine any chance for needed coronavirus relief measures before November's election, Wall Street analysts say.

What we're hearing: "With the passing of Justice Ginsburg, the level of rhetorical heat has increased, if that seemed even possible," Greg Staples, head of fixed income for the Americas at DWS Group, tells Axios in an email.

  • "What little time is left on the Congressional calendar ... will be focused on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee."
  • "We now view the chances of a new stimulus package prior to the election to be effectively zero."

Why it matters: In a speech released ahead of his appearance before a congressional committee today, Fed chair Jerome Powell notes consumer spending has recovered about 75% of its decline and only about half of the 22 million jobs lost earlier this year have returned.

  • "This reversal of economic fortune has upended many lives and created great uncertainty about the future," Powell writes.
  • To provide assistance to many Americans "direct fiscal support may be needed."

Be smart: Further spending from Congress has been baked into Wall Street expectations for months and fund managers now may have to reassess their outlooks.

  • "Markets had embedded substantial optimism in early September, with the valuation of the S&P 500 at the highest level in 20 years and sentiment at extreme highs, setting the stage for a natural period of consolidation," says Mark Hackett, chief of investment research at Nationwide.
  • "Investors are now struggling to find a positive catalyst, as the prospect for fiscal stimulus fades, economic data begin to reflect rising coronavirus cases and earnings season remains a month away."

What happened: The S&P 500 and a gauge of stock markets around the globe both fell to their lowest levels in about two months Monday.

  • Tech shares, seen as less impacted by the direction of the economy, held up much better than economically sensitive sectors, with the Nasdaq down 0.1% on the day and the Russell 2000 small cap index off by 3.4%.

Between the lines: The stimulus matters to the market, but is much more important to the real economy where in addition to reduced jobs and spending, bankruptcies are rising at the fastest pace since 2010 and many small businesses warn they could run out of cash before year end.

The bottom line: "The downturn has not fallen equally on all Americans; those least able to bear the burden have been the most affected," Powell says in the text of his speech.

Go deeper: The price of Washington's stimulus failure

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