by John Mauldin
I don’t think anyone believes we will go to back to anything like January 2020 normalcy anytime soon. We have no idea, even if restaurants and everything open, what shopping patterns will look like.
Are we learning to live on less in our isolation? Seeing your 401(k) become a 201(k) may postpone a car-buying decision or two.
My daughter (see below) works for a cheerleading gymnastics company. Nationwide this is a multi-hundred-million-dollar industry. Will they just open back up and expect all the girls go back on day one? Will their parents be able to afford it? We’re talking many tens of thousands of jobs. Personal trainers? Many jobs will be under pressure.
There are 47,000 retail stores just in the U.S. We already knew there were too many as closings were becoming more frequent. My friend Professor Michael Pettis in Beijing (who has lived there for 20+ years) has been documenting the return of life in Beijing. He sees people on the streets but not many in the shops, except where the young go to hang out rather than buy. Will that be the case in America and Europe?
Speaking of stores, many have already stopped paying their rent. Cheesecake Factory for one. Ryanair, EasyJet and British Airways have stopped paying most rents and vendors. Group 1 Automotive reports a 50% to 70% decline in March sales across its 428 dealerships in the U.S. and the UK. The company has laid off 3,000 U.S. employees and 2,800 UK employees.
How fast do we start traveling and vacationing again? That matters to hotels, airlines and their employees. I believe this experience will emotionally scar a generation. It is going to make the political divide even worse, especially along wealth and income lines.
The U.S. and other governments can artificially prop up GDP, but for how long? At some point, it really does start affecting the currency’s buying power. We just don’t know what that point is in the developed world.
The Federal Reserve has properly opened swap lines with many emerging markets, as they need dollars in order to pay bills and buy necessary supplies. But many of their citizens are going to want a “safer” fiat currency.
I think many emerging markets will enact capital controls sooner rather than later. That will really screw with their markets. But what else can they do?
Next month’s earnings season will be truly abysmal. Close to half of S&P 500 profits come from outside the U.S. Every business is going to have a new valuation.
It is just my guess, but I doubt we have seen the stock market bottom yet.
Let me close with some good news.
Even though the number of deaths is rising in the U.S. and the developed markets every day, the rate of increase is slowing in many places. I think we will see a giant collective sigh of relief when the infection and death rates are not only dropping but the drop is accelerating.
That will be the time to think about gradually getting back into the markets. Meanwhile, maintain your watchlist of things you want to buy at cheaper prices.
Let me leave you with this link to a letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald during his quarantine during the Spanish flu virus. It is a short read but poignant, except for these humorous few sentences:
“The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.”
This quarantine is so very real, and some are rightfully very worried for their future. Will their jobs even exist? Others are seeing their work hours rise due to the “essential” nature of their jobs, but how long will that last?
I do know that we will adjust and that we will all Muddle Through. I will be with here with you.
We are all being forced to adjust to a New Normal. And one day — although it seems far away — it will become a Post-Virus New Normal. It will be one where friends and family will still be as important as ever.