Team No Comments

Please see the below update from Legal and General posted yesterday (29/06/2020) regarding the current situation in the US.

Their Asset Allocation team discuss their thoughts on the presidential election, the market’s likely reaction to what could happen, and the ongoing spread of Covid-19 in some states.

The electoral collage

Momentum is clearly with Joe Biden at the moment. Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic and protests after the death of George Floyd have eroded his approval rating and have led to him losing ground in poll after poll.

Biden has always held a lead in national polls, but that advantage in poll averages has jumped from 4% in May to 10% now. Arguably even more worrying from Trump’s perspective are polls in swing states also shifting significantly towards Biden, and losses of support among both older voters and even his most reliable base of ‘white, no college’ voters.

Nevertheless, don’t count Trump out (again)! Our baseline remains that it will be a tight race to the end. The heat Trump is taking from the dual crises could calm down and the economy may well look stronger by November. Trump’s strategy again seems to be all about turning out his base. If he can get all of the 35-40% of voters that back him no matter what to turn out to vote, then it will take much more excitement about Biden from the rest of the electorate than is evident so far for him to beat Trump.

It should go without saying that it’s still early in the race and a lot can and will happen. To mention only a few wild cards: What will the economy look like in late October? What if there is a second wave of the virus in the autumn? What if a significant number of people get sick after Trump rallies? What if states need lockdowns on election day? What if targeted lockdowns inadvertently favour Democrats or Republicans? What if COVID-19 influences turnout differently among age cohorts? What if Trump or Biden themselves become ill?

Blue wave versus Trump 2.0

We would not expect a big equity market reaction to any type of divided government. If Trump wins, it would be roughly the status quo; under Biden, it would likely prevent many of the most market-moving policies in either direction.

Yet a Biden victory of any flavour could still bring a few market-related policy changes. America’s China policy would largely remain unchanged in substance, but could become less volatile in style. A multilateral approach to China should make an all-out trade war with the EU less likely. Tech regulation should continue to tighten gradually but, unless personnel choices say otherwise, this has not been a policy area Biden about which has shown particular passion. Generally, expect the policy direction to be more social, more green and more redistributive.

On the other hand, a ‘Blue Wave’ in which Democrats control Washington would be the most market-moving outcome, in our view; this has become the single most likely outcome in betting markets. In short, from a market perspective, this would imply higher corporate taxes and more fiscal spending. Even if these two ultimately balance each other out, the market’s gut reaction seems likely to be negative.

And what would Trump 2.0 look like? The desire to be re-elected has arguably been a moderating force on Trump’s policy choices around issues like the trade war. But in a second term this factor disappears. So what does Trump want to achieve with a second term? Money? Power? Policy? Legacy? Dynasty? We don’t have a clear answer for this question yet. Either way, it is unlikely that Trump 2.0 will be calmer than Trump 1.0.

The only two things we are certain of are that the campaign will get very ugly, and that if Trump loses he will not go quietly into that good night.

Houston, we have a problem

The virus continues to spread at an alarming pace in southern states, with the one-week change approaching Italian peak levels in California, Texas and Florida – a risk James highlighted over a month ago. We don’t think this is due to greater testing (which would dilute the share of positive test results). State governors are becoming concerned, with some Texan cities suspending elective (non-urgent) surgeries to free up hospital capacity.

By and large, the re-opening of the local economy is being ‘paused’ rather than ‘reversed’. But new research from the University of Chicago argues that lockdowns only account for 7% of the loss of economic activity. Instead, it is fear that prevents people going out. The study calculated this by examining economic activity in border towns located between different regulatory regimes.

Apple mobility data also suggest Texans are already cutting back on activity, and there appears to be an inflection point with activity levelling off in the median US state.

From a market perspective, there has been a tug-of-war between economic data continuing to paint a V-shaped recovery picture and deteriorating virus newsflow. We would argue that equities are pricing something at the optimistic end of our Scenario 1, implying there will be little market tolerance of signs the virus is significantly slowing down the economic recovery. But at the same time, the starting point for sentiment is already slightly bearish, so it would not take much of a correction to turn our sentiment signals much greener.

As you can see from this update (and from the news!), the situation in the US looks problematic, with no resolution in sight. The run up to a presidential election is always volatile and this one is likely to no different (if not worse due to the Covid-19 situation).

It will be an interesting few months for the US in the run up to November.

Keep an eye out for further updates here on the US and the impact of their Covid-19 and election struggles, and of course general market updates and other content which we continue to post regularly.

Andrew Lloyd