As of today, November 3 at 12:30 p.m., I don’t know who will win the Presidential election. I don’t know if the rally in the stock market today, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 up 2.02% at 12:30 p.m. New York time, is a vote for some specific outcome, or (more likely in my opinion) optimism that we’ll get a stimulus package shortly after the voting. (The S&P 500 finished the day up 1.78%.)
But I do know that we’re looking at a volatile 9 months with big ups and downs in stocks.
And I do know that the best way to approach this period is the investing equivalent of chewing gum, walking, rubbing your belly, and patting your head at the same time.
In other words think about the financial markets in multiple time frames. When the short-term volatility gives you a dip, be ready to buy. When the short-term volatility gives you a rally, be ready to sell. And always keep your eye on the longer term. Because this–by which I mean political uncertainty, a coronavirus epidemic, and an economic squeeze–will be over sometime in 2021 and you’d like your portfolio to be ready.
Here are my thoughts for how this volatility will play out–when, in what direction, and what you should do with these market moves.
I don’t know how long the current two-day rally will run. Assuming that we do get a result and that the country doesn’t suffer through an outbreak of violence, stocks could move higher for 5 days to two weeks.
Which makes this a time to be putting on shorts and puts and selling any stocks that you consider overpriced and risky.
Because at some point markets are going to realize that the renewed coronavirus surge is not going to be controlled without more economic disruption from curfews and shutdowns. And that this lame duck session of Congress isn’t going to produce a new stimulus package.
That will be a disappointing dose of political (and economic) reality. And I expect, therefore that the short-term rally will be succeeded by a short-term pull back. The pull-back will be made steeper by selling to take profits from the prior rally and selling to take profits before the end of 2020. I’d expect this selling to dominate the last half of November and stretch into early December.
This selling period will be time to buy on the dip and to take profits in those shorts and puts.
And then, the stock market being an “anticipation machine” at some point in early December investors will look at the calendar and realize that a new Congress will take over in January. And that will mean an increased likelihood of action on a coronavirus stimulus package. If, as I think, the rally today and yesterday is an example of how excited investors and traders can get at the thought of a stimulus package, then this late December/January rally stands a good chance of being a strong one. That will be especially true if a second Trump administration or a new Biden administration starts talking up an infrastructure package and a Green jobs effort.
This rally could stretch into February. And it will go even longer if there is good news on the coronavirus vaccine front with Food & Drug Administration approval of one or more vaccines. And Wall Street will note that spring is on its way and that will mean a slowing of the virus–and a lessening of business disruptions–as people get outdoors again.
This rally will be a time to enjoy the smart buying you did in your portfolio back in the November/December selling.
And to look at taking some profits and adding shorts and puts again.
Because volatility isn’t done with us.
In my estimation the optimism that grew on news of vaccine approvals will turn into more pessimistic (and realistic) assessments of exactly how hard it will be to roll out a vaccine(s) and to administer it to the 330 million residents of the United States. The headline balance will shift from “Hooray, the vaccine is here” to “Vaccine effectiveness delayed by snafus, anti-vacccine movement.” Experts will point out that until a minimum of 60% of the population (more, many expects say) is vaccinated we will not have controlled the spread of the virus. (And, of course, the United States only accounts for 4.5% of the global population.)
Exactly how this next period of volatility will play out will depend on the balance between the anticipation of getting the pandemic under control and fears that we won’t.
I expect we will–get it under control, that is–or at least show clear signs that we are moving in that direction by mid-2021.
And that will let the financial markets leave this period of greater than normal volatility.
And go back to normal volatility and worries about interest rates, sluggish economic growth, the U.S. deficit, and other problems (the little thing called global warming, for example.)