The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
—2 Corinthians 10:4
Note – As we comment on the current economic and market environment, it is always with the full understanding that the Coronavirus Crisis is first and foremost a humanitarian one. Therefore, our hearts groan as we “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), and we cling to the promise that “He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
With the abrupt end of the longest bull market in the history of the U.S. stock market, investors are now understandably worried about the probable depth and length of the current bear market in which we find ourselves. So, let’s take a look at this bear market in the context of the history of prior bear markets.
So far, the current stock market’s worst drawdown from its February 19 peak (S&P 500 close of 3386) was its March 23 nadir (S&P 500 close of 2237) for a loss of 33.9%. With the recent rebound, as of March 31 (S&P 500 close of 2585), the stock market is now down “only” 23.7%. While it is certainly possible that further downside awaits, our view is that the lows we have experienced are closer to the bottom than to the top. Here is our rationale:
Referring to history, the U.S. stock market has seen deeper bear markets than what we have seen so far with this downturn. The 2007 – 2009 Financial Crisis saw a decline of 56.8% in the S&P 500 and the 2000 – 2002 Technology Bust, exacerbated by the September 11 terrorist attack, recorded a 49.2% peak-to-trough loss. The 1973 – 1974 Oil Embargo Crash was 48.2% and the Great Crash of 1930 – 1932 saw a devastating loss of 82.8%. However, each of these more substantive stock market drops listed was preceded by periods of exuberant valuation bubbles in stocks themselves or in housing as seen in the Financial Crisis.
Though we had expressed concerns about the record length of the most recent bull market and economic expansions with valuations starting to show signs of excess (see Trouble), we were not of the view that equities had reached bubble territory. In our opinion, the cause for this current bear market was the exogenous event of the Coronavirus outbreak. Therefore, assuming that this shock will be addressed, it is probable that this stock slide will not be as dramatic as those listed above. As an example of the impact of an exogenous event, the heightened Cold War tensions preceding the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1961 – 1962 led to a drop in the S&P 500 of 28.0%. Moreover, even with the tragic loss of life and economic destruction of World War II, that exogenous event caused the S&P 500 to drop “only” by 42.3% during the 1939 – 1942 bear market.
The current crisis environment is increasingly being described as one of “wartime.” Given the potential fatalities, the disruptive impact to “normal” life, and the economic damage, this “battle” metaphor seems warranted. The Bible contains many stories of wars and battles and oftentimes employs combat imagery, including Ephesians 6’s reference to “putting on the full armor of God.”
Christians know from 2 Corinthians 10:4 that the weapons with which we are called to fight with are “not the weapons of the world.” Specifically, we are called to employ spiritual weapons which “have divine power to demolish strongholds.” During this time of anguish and loss, believers can be praying and fasting for the demolition of the Coronavirus stronghold.
Beyond those spiritual weapons, there are many other God-ordained “weapons” that are being brought to bear against the “invisible enemy” that humanity faces together. By themselves, none of these weapons are sufficient, but in combination they can prevail to the benefit of our collective physical and economic health.
Many of our family, friends, and neighbors are serving on the front lines of this war as doctors, nurses, etc. by delivering skilled and compassionate medical care to the sick and dying. These members of our communities are putting themselves in harm’s way for our safety. They should forever be remembered as heroes for their selfless service during this time.
Never underestimate the power of human ingenuity when brought to bear against what might appear to be insurmountable challenges. At this very moment, scientists, doctors, researchers, pharmaceutical firms, biotech companies, hospitals, medical device manufacturers, medical testing companies, and many others around the world are working around the clock to bring quickly to market the medical solutions needed to end this pandemic crisis.
By now, we are all too familiar with the concepts of “social distancing,” “shelter in place,” etc. While inconvenient and confining, these constraints are proving to be effective in curbing the transmission of the virus as well as “flattening the curve” to accommodate medical capacity constraints.
The Federal Reserve Bank of the United States has taken its own wartime efforts to mitigate the inevitable economic damage of the Coronavirus. By pushing the overnight Federal Funds target rate to below ¼% and reinstituting Quantitative Easing with $4 Trillion of bond purchases, the Fed has loosened its monetary policy spigots wide open.
With last week’s signing of the Phase 3 $2.1 Trillion stimulus package, there is little doubt that the nation’s checkbook is open in the fight to save the economy. While a recession for the country has become almost a foregone conclusion, the battle lines are now being drawn with payments to households, loans to small businesses, etc., in an effort to keep the economy from entering a depression. Also, many regulatory red-tape constraints are rapidly being cut to free up companies to conduct business as needed to meet the marketplace needs.
This list of weapons, when used in combination, can give us confidence that we will prevail against the Coronavirus enemy. Lives will be saved, the economy will recover, and our collective “pursuit of happiness” continued. We will get through this!
So, while there is likely more turbulence yet to come in this epic battle against the unseen enemy, investors can take comfort at the multitude and strength of the “weapons” being brought to bear against it. As stewards of God’s financial capital, we should recognize our responsibility–in fact our “calling” (Luke 19 Parable of the Talents)–not to cower in fear but rather to look for opportunities to deploy capital prudently in this time of need. Getting practical, in Bear Market “To Do” List – P.E.A.C.E., we suggested Dollar Cost Averaging (DCA) as a strategy to ease cash into this turbulent stock market. Finally, as followers of Christ, let us pray together earnestly for that “divine power to demolish strongholds.”
Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA, CTFA is the Chief Economic Advisor for Inspire Investing. Previously, Dr. Davidson served as the Chief Investment Officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank, overseeing more than $200B in assets. Dr. Davidson holds a doctorate degree from the DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business with his research focus in Behavioral Finance.