The S&P 500 Index was down 1% in January based on investors’ revised expectations of corporate revenue growth and earnings. First, the COVID-19 vaccine distribution and inoculation process is proceeding slowly while the virus is mutating. The new strains appear to be slightly more virulent and the vaccination timeline will take longer and delay economic normalization. Second, the peaceful installation of the Biden Administration with impactful policy changes have added uncertainty. New executive orders are being launched daily with an emphasis so far on changing carbon emissions, raising the minimum wage and bringing about social justice. Third, the expectation for further fiscal stimulus in the next 100 days is losing its enthusiasm. The passage of another $1.9 trillion relief package so soon after the recently passed $900-million package seems excessive even for the new Congress.
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The S&P 500 and Nasdaq index had wonderful performance during the third quarter, with returns of 8.5% and 11%, respectively. However, pre-election politics obstructing a new federal stimulus package and an escalation in COVID cases caused both indexes to decline in September. The political stalemate over aid to bailout states and cities is dampening confidence. A multi-trillion-dollar stimulus package will eventually be implemented that should focus support for small businesses and unemployed individuals. The interminable wait for a COVID vaccine is also weighing on the markets and suppressing economic activity. The year-end target for a vaccine is unlikely, although a “cocktail” of antibiotics and steroids has shown to help patients recover, so the management of the virus is becoming more tenable. With the health crisis reduced, we should expect a gradual return to a stable growth economy.