Stocks Retreat as Coronavirus Cases Surge

November 20, 2020

After setting a record high earlier this week on the release of additional, positive Covid-19 vaccine news, the Dow Jones Industrial Average retreated slightly to end the week lower by -0.73%. This week’s positive vaccine news came from Massachusetts-based Moderna which reported its vaccine candidate showed 94.50% efficacy in preventing Covid-19 in trial participants. Although additional data is still needed in order to apply for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, it is expected to apply for authorization in the coming weeks. Moderna would be the second drug maker, after Pfizer, to seek emergency use authorization. In the meantime, case counts in the U.S. continued to surge with 187,833 Covid-19 cases reported on Thursday, the highest one-day total since the pandemic began. With cases surging throughout the U.S., several states and local governments have moved to tighten restrictions, which has started to dent economic activity such as retail sales and jobless claims – both of which came in lower than analysts had expected. 

Retail Sales Gains Ease

Retail sales increased 0.30% in October, below economist estimates of a 0.50% gain. Data for September was also revised down to 1.60% from a previously reported 1.90%. October’s slower growth was driven by a drop in sporting goods and hobbies, clothing, furniture, drinking, and dining out. Even motor vehicle sales slowed during the month, which had seen steady demand during the pandemic as consumers sought private transportation options. Retail sales could be in for a tough quarter as more states and local governments impose tighter restrictions to battle the second wave of Covid-19 and as stimulus aid remains stalled in Congress. Tighter restrictions and slimmer wallets come at one of the worst times for retailers which traditionally see heavy foot traffic during the busy holiday season. Lower demand could lead businesses to resort to layoffs in order to remain afloat just as they did in the spring. The latest jobless claims data suggests that this is already beginning to take place as initial claims rose to 742,000, an increase from the previous week’s 709,000.

Industrial Production Climbs

Industrial production, a measure of output at factories, mines and utilities rose a seasonally adjusted 1.10% in October. That was an improvement from the revised -0.40% decline in September. Manufacturing, the biggest component of production, rose 1%, up from September’s 0.10% increase. Utility production also rose 3.90% while mining output fell -0.60% and remains -14.40% below its year ago level. Overall, output still remains -5.60% below pre-Covid levels, but could get a temporary bump in the short term as consumers hunker down and stock up amid a second wave of Covid-19 and the Thanksgiving holiday.

Housing Market En Fuego

Homebuyers continued to snap up houses in October. Sales surged a stunning 26.60% annualized. The surge came despite short supply and rising prices. At month’s end, housing stock stood at 1.42 million homes, a -19.80% drop from October 2019. The current sales pace represents a mere 2.50-month supply of homes, the lowest on record. Homebuyers have continued to buy despite the median price of homes increasing 15.50% year-over-year to $313,000. That’s the highest median price on record and reflects strong sales at the high end of the market. Sales of homes above $1 million nearly doubled while sales fell in the lowest price range. October’s surge constituted not only homebuyers escaping to the ‘burbs to avoid Covid-19, but also those wanting to lock in low rates and make a move before winter sets in.    
The market followed an arc of emotion this week as positive vaccine news clashed with rising case counts, predominantly weaker data, and a minor turf war between the Treasury and the Fed over the control of unused emergency funds. Despite the positive vaccine news, investors are reawakening to the fact that we are still in the midst of a serious pandemic. Congress remains gridlocked on a second, targeted relief package, which managed to make markets all the more sensitive to the Treasury department’s request that the Fed return nearly $70 billion in emergency funds that had been previously allocated to back the credit and municipal bond markets. The reality is that the funds are presently unused, and it was the request’s symbolism that spooked investors by suggesting that perhaps the government is less apt to back credit markets than it had been. That is simply not the case, but it was the proximate cause that put investors on edge. We’re likely to see more handwringing in the weeks ahead. The vaccine developments over the past several weeks have removed a great deal of uncertainty over whether things will get better, but the calculation for investors has now shifted to just how bad things will get before they improve.

The Week Ahead

It’s hard to believe it’s here, but Thanksgiving 2020 arrives next week. In observance of the holiday, our Week in Review will not be published next week. We’ll be back on December 4th with the latest jobs and manufacturing numbers. In overseas news, China will release manufacturing figures.

Pardon Me, Sir

Lots of Thanksgiving traditions may be canceled this year due to the pandemic, but one long-standing holiday custom is expected to continue: the annual turkey pardon. Each year, the president of the United States chooses a turkey to be “saved” from becoming someone’s Thanksgiving dinner. 
The poultry industry began a tradition of delivering a turkey to the White House every November in the 1870s. The official presentation of a turkey by the National Turkey Federation (NTF) to the president with some pomp and circumstance began in 1947 with President Harry Truman. The pardoning of the turkey was sporadic over the ensuing years. President Kennedy spared one in 1963. First Lady Patricia Nixon accepted a turkey on behalf of President Nixon in 1973 and sent the bird to live out its remaining days on a farm. In 1978, a turkey presented to First Lady Rosalynn Carter was sent to live in a mini zoo. On Thanksgiving Day in 1989, President George H. W. Bush was the first to formally grant the bird a presidential pardon when delivering remarks to reporters at the presentation ceremony. 
The birds are raised by the NTF, the lobby for the turkey industry. The NTF’s chairman or a turkey farmer from the chairman’s home state raises the presidential flock with the birds becoming acclimated to the sounds of a crowd and bright camera lights in preparation for their big day. The presidential turkey pardon includes two birds chosen from the flock. Both turkeys are spared, but only one is named the National Thanksgiving Turkey. This year’s turkeys will ride the gravy train from Iowa where they were raised by NTF Chairman Ron Kardel and his wife, Susie, to our nation’s capital. The birds — and presumably their human handlers — will stay at the Willard InterContinental hotel before visiting the White House for the 73rd annual presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey on Tuesday, November 24th, 2020.
Last year, President Trump pardoned turkeys Bread and Butter, and Butter was named the National Thanksgiving Turkey. The year before that, the turkeys were named Peas and Carrots, and before that, Wishbone and Drumstick. You can see a list of past names of presidential turkeys and their home states here.
Pardoned turkeys are sent to live out the remainder of their lives in various greener pastures. Last year’s birds retired to their new roost at Virginia Tech’s “Gobblers Rest” exhibit in Blacksburg, Virginia. This year’s turkeys will be cared for by animal science and veterinary medicine students and faculty at Iowa State University.
You can follow the journey of this year’s birds at the NTF’s Facebook page here.
During the season of gratitude and all year long, we are thankful for the trust our clients have placed in us. All of us at Probity Advisors, Inc. wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.

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