Last week provided much-needed financial and psychic relief for investors pummeled by a stock market that lost almost a third of its value in a mere 22 trading days between February 19 and March 23. As if to demonstrate that volatility occurs on the upside as well as the downside, the S&P 500 rallied almost 17% from Tuesday morning, March 24, through Thursday’s close, before giving back some of those gains on Friday. The mid-week surge left the index up 5% for the week, the first positive week in March. Even before the week was out, market analysts were wondering out loud whether the market had found a bottom, and whether the worst of the financial carnage was behind us.
News flow last week offered plenty of fodder for optimism. The Federal Reserve added to its growing list of market support by establishing Primary and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facilities to backstop corporate bonds and bond ETFs, followed in short order by a Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility to boost liquidity for a long list of securities, including student, credit card and auto loans. The New York Fed offered $115 billion of repurchases last week. As large as this figure is, repo activity last week was down from close to $500 billion in each of the previous two weeks, evidence that panic in fixed income markets is subsiding.
In the glare of the public spotlight, Congress spent the week arguing about a comprehensive fiscal rescue package designed to support small businesses and the labor market until restrictions on movement can be lifted and economic activity can return to normal. President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, on Friday afternoon. We will have more analysis on the implications of this act for investors and business owners in the days and weeks to come, but markets welcomed government action even before digesting the details.
So, is this it? Have markets fully priced in what uncertainty remains? We are not in the business of predicting market bottoms (or tops, for that matter), but it seems premature to declare the end of market volatility. History shows that bear markets are often punctuated by sharp rallies and that these rallies occur in close proximity to steep declines. The nearby bar graph illustrates the 10 worst and 10 best trading days in the S&P 500’s history, stretching back to 1928. To put the current market into context, note that two of the 10 worst days in the history of the index happened in March 2020, along with one of the 10 best days. All three of those days occurred within a week-and-a-half stretch.