Daily Comment (May 19, 2020)

by Bill O’Grady, Thomas Wash, and Patrick Fearon-Hernandez, CFA

[Posted: 9:30 AM EDT]

The generally positive trend in risk markets today comes as coronavirus restrictions continue to be lifted around the world and scientists continue to make progress in understanding the virus, coming up with treatments and developing vaccines.  We review all the key news below.

Additionally, our next podcast episode, “The Lessons of History,” is now available. This episode examines the economic, market and social effects of earlier pandemics.  Although the Black Death is mentioned, we focus on relatively recent events, including the Spanish influenza.  One of our themes has been an impending reversal in the equality/efficiency cycle; in this podcast we discuss the potential that the pandemic could accelerate the shift to an equality phase.

COVID-19: Official data show confirmed cases have risen to 4,829,232 worldwide, with 319,031 deaths and 1,801,461 recoveries.  In the United States, confirmed cases rose to 1,508,957, with 90,369 deaths and 283,178 recoveries.  Here is the interactive chart from the Financial Times that allows you to compare cases and deaths among countries, scaled by population.


  • As the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt prepares to depart Guam following a two-week layover because of a COVID-19 outbreak, reports indicate some crew members have come down with the disease for a second time.  Defense officials didn’t know whether some of the tests had produced false negative readings, or whether the sailors had contracted the virus after spending two weeks in quarantine in Guam.  Either way, the news serves as a reminder that scientists still don’t know for sure whether being infected by the virus leads to future immunity.
  • On the other hand, South Korean health officials found that a group of patients who tested positive a second time for the coronavirus hadn’t passed the disease on to others, lending credence to the possibility that the suspected relapses were a fluke of testing rather than the re-emergence of an active infection.

Real Economy

U.S. Policy Response

Foreign Policy Response

  • German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron proposed a new, €500-billion coronavirus recovery fund for the EU, boosting hopes for a coordinated European fiscal response to the pandemic.  The funds would be raised by the European Commission borrowing on capital markets — which to date has only been done on a relatively modest scale — and would be used to provide grants funneled through the EU budget rather than loans to national governments.  To be implemented, the plan would need to be approved by all 27 member states at an upcoming EU summit.
    • The plan would move the EU farther toward common debt obligations than it has ever gone before, but it still falls short of the massive grant program funded by joint “coronabonds” that some hard-hit countries in the south have demanded.
    • At the same time, the plan has already met resistance by some creditor nations north of the EU – including the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden – who oppose any mutualization of debt and any reliance on grants instead of loans.
    • Despite the plan’s uncertain future, it should be a positive for European stocks and bonds.  Indeed, bonds issued by hard-hit, highly indebted countries such as Italy and Spain are rallying on the news so far today.

Political Impact

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