We’re now a month past the “bottom” that the market hit on March 23 in the heat of the panic, and although the world is thinking about opening up now and throwing ever more “rescue” money from helicopters, we’re still not all that close to predicting when “back to normal” might hit… and just now “normal” that will be.
Is “normal” a reopening Disney World and movie theaters packed with fans for summer blockbusters, or is it a gradual opening for business with lots of masks and plexiglass cubicles and testing and social distancing… and, since this is a critical election year, huge amounts of blame-mongering? (Yes, there’s plenty of blame to go around thanks to the rudderless and slow government response and disjointed communications… but obsessing over that doesn’t do us any good as investors.)
I don’t know how the “reopening” will proceed, of course, or whether that low point a month ago was really the “bottom” for stock prices in this crisis… but I think the odds are at least 50/50 that the economy will see worse before it sees better, as reality sets in for companies who are in many cases so far really just stuck like deer in the viral headlights, waiting to see if that big COVID-19 truck is going to stop… and my guess is that the stock market will see more moments of panic at some point in the next six months.
That’s not a reason to sell everything and hide, though, just to be a little conservative — keep some cash on hand, think about the fragility of any companies we hold (this is not the time to load up on firms that need to raise a lot of money to keep going, or those who can’t meet their interest obligations if their revenue crashes for a quarter or two), and buy slowly instead of greedily. I don’t think long-term investors need to panic and sell… but if, as I did this week, you can take some taxable losses and use the opportunity to maybe upgrade the quality of your portfolio a little bit, well, that’s probably worthwhile.
If you missed that Trade Note earlier in the week you can see it here, or this is the “Quick Take” from Tuesday:
I took some tax losses in the Real Money Portfolio and replaced those positions with exposure that should be broadly similar ...