It’s official: The stock market had its worst quarter since 1987—and its worst Q1 ever
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There’s one positive thing to say about Q1 and the stock market: It’s finally over.
Markets closed down nearly 2% on Tuesday, the final day of the tumultuous first quarter of 2020. That makes this the worst first quarter ever for the Dow and S&P 500. The Dow fell roughly 23% over the past three months (making it the worst overall quarter for the Dow since 1987), and the S&P 500 dropped about 20%, its worst quarterly decline since 2008.
Volatility this quarter was unprecedented, with the VIX (the common fear gauge on the Street) jumping upwards of 80 points at times—readings not seen since 2008. Markets were ravaged in the first quarter as the spread of the coronavirus paralyzed the global and U.S. economy. Now some firms like Goldman Sachs are even estimating that first-quarter real GDP will come in at –9% (the second quarter is looking drastically more ominous, at –34% GDP growth), the firm wrote in a note Tuesday.
The state of the market coming out of the first quarter is “dismal,” Peter Essele, head of portfolio management for Commonwealth Financial Network, tells Fortune. Still, “as painful as that was, you now have an S&P  that’s trading at some of the lowest valuations we’ve seen in years,” he notes.
Yet investors are growing even more bearish. According to a recent survey by Boston Consulting Group, 60% of investors are bearish on the markets for the remainder of 2020, with 55% expecting the “severe” economic impact of the crisis to have ended by the end of the third quarter. What’s more? Unlike some strategists, a whopping 87% of investors don’t foresee “a rapid ‘V’-shaped bounce back to pre-crisis economic level and growth rate (i.e., [they] foresee either ‘U,’ ‘W,’ or ‘L’ shapes),” according to the survey. To wit, BCG also found that investors estimated an average market bottom for the S&P 500 of 2,062 by the end of May—not far off from Goldman Sachs’ bottom estimate of 2,000.
Alongside the rocky finish to the first quarter in the markets, some strategists predict markets will go lower in the near term. CFRA’s Sam Stovall wrote in a note on Monday, “History advises investors to expect a ‘retest’ of the recent low,” he notes. “Even if the low for this bear market is already in place, the elevated volatility is expected to persist.”
While Commonwealth Financial’s Essele doesn’t think markets will retest recent lows, he does think “there will be volatility with some additional downside, especially with this Friday’s payrolls numbers and subsequent trends throughout the month of April.”
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