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Investors worry that the U.S. coronavirus plan will be too little, too late

March 11, 2020, 10:39 AM UTC

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Good morning, Bull Sheeters. A wave of stimulus promises, rate cuts and primary victories is doing little to goose the global markets this morning.

Here’s where investors are putting their money.

Markets update

This W-shaped, whipsaw recovery—if we can call it a recovery—continues again today. We climbed to the top of the “W” yesterday, and now we’re sliding right back down.

The U.S. futures are solidly pointing south as I write. The Trump no-show at yesterday’s coronavirus briefing is seriously disappointing the markets. That hoped-for shock-and-awe response from the White House? Looks more like shock-then-guffaw this morning.

Last Wednesday, we saw a “Biden bounce” in the markets. That looks highly unlikely today despite another strong showing last night in a string of primary states. Usually the markets like it when a clear front-runner emerges.

Europe too was looking weak just before the open, but then the Bank of England announced a surprise whopper of a 50-basis point rate cut. That pushed European bourses into the green. Now all eyes are on the ECB tomorrow (spoiler alert: it’s just about out of bullets). But Brussels appears set to give the green-light to national parliaments to roll out spending plans to help their virus-ravaged economies weather the worst of COVID-19.

Elsewhere today, the crude rally has stalled. The dollar is down and gold is climbing.

If you’re wondering if anybody’s been bold enough to call a floor to the equities downturn, the answer is yes. Goldman Sachs delivered a good-news-bad-news note yesterday. I’ll give you the good first. They see a swift and strong recovery in global equities. But not—here comes the bad—before global stocks fall solidly into bear territory, down 20-25% from February’s peak. As Bloomberg points out, global stocks were down about 18% yesterday from that high. So a bit more to fall, if the Goldman analysis is correct.

Until then, companies continue to come clean about the coronavirus impact on sales. Up today was Adidas. The sportswear giant estimates it will see a 1-billion-euro top-line hit in Q1 as China sales tanked. Now it’s bracing for a similar slowdown in Europe.

Work from home

As a result of strict new lockdown rules here in Italy, my Rome apartment has been transformed into a newsroom, a classroom for my kids and the global headquarters for my wife’s NGO. So far, the wifi, as well as our nerves, are holding up.

What we’ve created, it turns out, is highly unusual in Italy. The work-from-home wave—what Italians calls “smart working”—never really arrived here. Italians prefer to do business face-to-face. They want to pop down to the bar for an espresso to chat about life and work and whatever. Sitting on a couch in pajamas is not part of their daily routine.

And so this lockdown is something of a jolt for the economy, as it is for much of Europe. That brings me to today’s chart.

***

According to Eurostat, the European workforce is one that overwhelmingly schleps to the office Monday-Friday. Just over 5% of European workers do their job from home. The Dutch are the outliers. The Italians are the laggards. The Brits, Swiss and Germans too prefer to dress up and get out of the house and go to work. Coronavirus could be one of those shocks that tests the future of work here in Europe should Italian-like lockdown measures be rolled out elsewhere to contain the virus outbreak.

Postscript

After I pressed “send” on yesterday’s newsletter, I popped out to do some chores and check on my Roman neighbors. This is a city that’s seen it all over the millennia, which feeds the locals’ sense of pride for their crumbling-in-places gem of a city, and also their dark humor and penchant for teasing the stranieri—outsiders.

A decade of little-to-no economic growth has been a soul-crusher for many young Italians. They’re losing patience with the EU, globalization and of course their elected officials. Add in coronavirus—and the shutdown of their shops and businesses, the bars they frequent, their beloved calcio (soccer matches)—and the future suddenly looks even bleaker.

So I was bracing for the worst yesterday. But what did I see?

First, a note in the lobby of our apartment building. A young person, the note read, was offering to go shopping for my elderly neighbors, of which there are many. I then walked down the street to my neighborhood butcher and found polite queues and a greater-than-usual number of smiles. My butcher was particularly happy to see me. (I’d been away; we talked skiing and the canceled alpine ski World Cup.) He apologized there were no chicken cutlets left. The bulk-buying caught him by surprise.

I then went to the local public health center to sort out routine paperwork. It’s a quarterly trip, one I usually dread. The thought of queuing with a bunch of strangers made me even more anxious. I was the only one in the queue without a mask, but nobody seemed to mind. During the wait, amiable talk broke out among us strangers, and even jokes about how Italian bureaucracy can survive the greatest of pandemics.

It’s early. We’re just a few days into this lockdown, and the situation at Italian hospitals is worrying. But I’ve seen a sense of purpose and civic duty—a real rally-to-the-cause response—in my Roman neighbors these past few days that makes me confident they’ll get through this. It’s going to be a blow to the economy. That’s unavoidable. But their priorities are now fixed on the well-being of others. And that’s what Italy needs right now.

Let’s hope that compassionate spirit gets contagious.

Bernhard Warner
@BernhardWarner
Bernhard.Warner@Fortune.com

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Today's reads

Robo sell-off. Tearing your hair out over the heart-stopping rises and plunges in the stock market? Automated trading based on algorithms, complex mathematical formulae that tell computers when to snap up or dump shares, may be magnifying the market swings. Adrian Croft in Fortune looks at the pros and cons of high-tech trading in times of market turbulence.

Liquidity crunch. Investors have had to cope with another problem amid the market turmoil: finding people to trade with. While trading volumes in U.S. Treasurys and stocks have been running at or near record levels, investors have still found it difficult to trade at the prices they want. Liquidity tends to dry up in a crisis, and in recent days it has disappeared as quickly as many can remember, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Tax break. The April 15 tax deadline is likely to be extended as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to help businesses and households hit by the coronavirus outbreak, though no final decision has been taken, The Wall Street Journal reports. Treasury officials are still considering how far the filing deadline may be pushed back and who would be eligible for the extension, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Market candy

Today’s quiz. It’s not all doom and gloom out there. Which of the five U.S. tech companies known as the FAANGs (Facebook, Amazon.com, Apple, Netflix, Google/Alphabet) is showing double-digit gains year-to-date?

  • A – Facebook
  • B - Amazon
  • C – Apple
  • D – Netflix
  • E – Google/Alphabet?

Answer: D - Netflix. After Tuesday’s late surge, Netflix shares are up 12.5% year-to-date. That’s because the streaming video service is high on some analysts’ lists of companies that could see a surge in use by people forced to stay at home due to the coronavirus outbreak. Amazon is up slightly year-to-date while the other FAANGs are all down.