Daily Comment (May 20, 2020)

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

[Posted: 9:30 AM EDT]

Today’s U.S. market strength stems in part from earnings reports showing many companies have been able to adjust relatively well to the coronavirus challenges, albeit with higher costs.  Adding to the positive vibe is news that all 50 states have now relaxed their coronavirus lockdowns, although remaining restrictions vary widely.  Overseas, officials also continue to loosen their lockdowns, or contemplate doing so, including several large developing countries where infections are still rising.  As always, we review all the key pandemic and related news below.

Additionally, our latest podcast episode, “The Lessons of History,” is available, which examines the economic, market and social effects of earlier pandemics.

COVID-19:  Official data show confirmed cases have risen to 4,922,137 worldwide, with 323,855 deaths and 1,706,539 recoveries.  In the United States, confirmed cases rose to 1,528,661, with 91,938 deaths and 289,322 recoveries.  Here is the interactive chart from the Financial Times that allows you to compare cases and deaths among countries, scaled by population.


Real Economy

Financial Markets

Political Impact

China-Taiwan:  In her second inaugural address today, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen reiterated her rejection of China’s efforts to assimilate the island, but she also offered to work with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to stabilize relations in ways that respect Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty—conditions that China has previously rejected.  To bolster Taiwan’s ability to resist Chinese coercion, she also pledged to further revamp the economy, strengthen the military and deepen ties with friendly countries.  After U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo offered his congratulations to Tsai, the Chinese ministries of foreign affairs, defense, and Taiwan relations lashed out at him for interfering in China’s internal affairs, highlighting today’s increased friction in U.S.-China relations.

United States-China:  More broadly, the increased U.S.-China bickering over trade, the coronavirus and Taiwan are signs that the two countries continue to struggle with the “Thucydides Trap,” or the tension caused when an incumbent power seeking to preserve its position is challenged by a rising power seeking to gain what it perceives to be its rightful place in the world.  As we’ve discussed in the past, this type of situation can eventually lead to military conflict if not managed well.  Reflecting the current defense-oriented stance of the U.S., Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) will lambaste China on the Senate floor today, arguing that the international order must be ripped up to avoid America taking “second place to the imperialists in Beijing.”  Separately, the U.S. Air Force has ramped up flyovers of B-1B Lancer bombers over waters near China, complementing increased military operations by both the U.S. Navy and Air Force in the South China Sea, East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait and the Yellow Sea.

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