Market Brief May 18 2020

Fed Chair Powell reiterated the committee’s outlook for the economy was highly uncertain and that unemployment may peak in the coming month. Another 2.9 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, bringing the 8-week total to nearly 37 million. The bright side, continuing claims ‘only’ rose to 22.8 million from 22.4 million. This is another week of increasing claims at a decreasing rate. The markets all finished down for the week. It was the Dow and Nasdaq’s worst week since week ended April 3, and the S&P 500’s worst week since March 20.

Last Week

Volatility rose last week as confidence in the recovery and re-openings went back and forth. With some parts of the country slowly opening, there are glimmers of hope. Consumer confidence, measured by the University of Michigan, rose slightly in the May preliminary reading. Mortgage applications rose for the fourth straight week. Refinancing slowed, but it is still up 200% compared to the previous year, spurred by low interest rates.

At the same time, U.S and China are back at each other. The Trump administration ordered the federal employee retirement fund not to invest in Chinese companies. Specifically, companies that could be sanctioned for actions supporting the spread of the coronavirus. The unemployment total for the last two months has now reached 36.5 million Americans. For the week, the Dow fell 2.7%, the S&P 500 fell 2.3%, and the Nasdaq fell 1.2%.

This Week

As the economy goes through an unsynchronized reopening process, it seems apparent that any decline in unemployment is unlikely to match the pace of its ascent higher. Economists are projecting the U.S. economy to contract at 6.6% this year. The previous estimate was a contraction of 4.9%. The high unemployment, coupled with declining consumption and a fresh spat between U.S./China keeps everything on the rocks.

Politically, lawmakers are weighing a fresh stimulus. The House passed the $3 trillion spending plan. On the data watch, U.S. building permits will be released on Tuesday. This gauge indicates housing activity as some states edge back to “normal”. Thursday, weekly unemployment claims will be released, and Fed Chair Powell speaks. Wall Street investors will be very tuned into what he has to say.

Year-to-date index performance; Dow down 17.0%, S&P down 11.4%, and Nasdaq up 0.5%.

Have a fun and safe Halloween week!

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