Oil plunges again even as economies reopen for business

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Good morning. We just came off back-to-back weeks of gains in the equities market. Can we make it three straight?

Let’s see where investors are putting their money today.

Markets update


  • The region’s major indices are mixed. Shanghai was clinging to small gains while Hong Kong and Japan’s Nikkei were trading lower.
  • Alibaba is doubling down on its fast-growing cloud business, pledging to invest $28 billion over the next three years in the construction of data centers and other cloud infrastructure.
  • Meanwhile, Australia looks intent on forcing tech giants such as Google and Facebook into an ad-revenue-sharing agreement with cash-strapped media companies. Regulators the world over will be watching closely how this plays out.


  • European bourses are mixed this morning with Germany’s Dax up 0.1% in the first hour of trade, after strong gains on Friday.
  • All eyes are on Germany. Beginning today, Europe’s biggest economy will ease lockdown measures, in place for the past month. Reopening German businesses gave European markets a bump at the open, but it’s already fading.
  • Meanwhile, social-distancing measures continue to show positive results. The coronavirus death tolls in Italy, France, Spain and Germany sank again over the weekend.


  • The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq look to open lower today, as I type, putting this mini rally in jeopardy.
  • The Senate is close to a deal on topping up the Paycheck Protection Program by $310 billion and issuing a $60 billion lifeline to rural and minority groups. That should be a big help to small businesses, a vital engine of the U.S. economy.
  • Meanwhile, the Trump Administration is going soft on tariffs, postponing by 90 days select duties and taxes U.S. businesses would have had to pay under some of the tougher trade war measures enacted in recent months. The relief does not extend to American companies buying Chinese goods, however.


  • Gold is down, slightly.
  • The dollar is climbing.
  • Crude is tanking. The triple whammy of futures contracts expiring, collapsed demand and storage headaches have sunk WTI crude to below $15 a barrel, extending last week’s losses. This weekend, Americans were able to fill up their tank for less than a buck-a-gallon in 13 states. If only motorists had somewhere to go.

The Fab 5

In February, longtime Fortune contributor Ben Carlson noted that a mere five stocks were disproportionately driving the ups and downs of the S&P 500. I’m sure you can name them. Hint—they’re Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Alphabet and Microsoft.

“These 5 companies alone now make up more than 18% of the S&P 500,” he wrote in February. (They now account for close to 20%). “This massive growth also means these companies now have an outsized impact on the performance of the market itself.”

If investors decide this “Fab 5” are too pricey, and sell them off en masse, that would almost certainly take the whole index down a notch. On the flip side, if these five rally, it would drive up the S&P. And sure enough, this quintet has had one heck of a run since the S&P hit its 52-week-lows in late March, as today’s chart shows.

The S&P is up roughly 28% since its March 23 low. Apple and Microsoft are doing even better since that stretch. Amazon and Facebook are no slouches either. They actually started their rallies a week prior, on March 16, so this chart undervalues to some extent their contribution to the incredible bull run we’ve seen on the S&P over the past four weeks.

This chart may be particularly instructive as we enter what’s expected to be a brutal earnings season. If the Fab 5 muddle through, the markets as a whole may just do the same.


Today we start Week 7 in lockdown, and everyone here is looking north to Germany. The Germans are reopening parts of the economy. A successful reboot could put more pressure on the Giuseppe Conte government here in Italy to do the same.

The current lockdown measures here will remain in place until at least May 4. The closures are killing Italy’s economy. It’s down 5% in Q1, the Bank of Italy said on Friday. Q2 is expected to be even worse. Italy is highly reliant upon tourism and that’s not coming back any time soon.

There’s a lot of discussion—and, this being Italy, disagreement—about what Phase 2 could look like. Will it be an industry-by-industry reopening? Will the ravaged North of the country need to endure a longer lockout period than us down here in Rome?

There’s plenty of suspicion that the worst-hit regions mismanaged the outbreak, and even some fears there could be super-spreaders among the populations there. The firebrand president of the Campania region said he would even consider closing its border to Italians coming from the North.

So we have a kind of paradox emerging—those Italians hailing from the wealthiest part of the country are no longer welcomed everywhere. This tension continues to play out on the radio and TV talk shows.

Meanwhile, there are all kinds of signs here in Rome that locals intend to push the boundaries of the lockout rules. Every day, you see more people on the streets and fewer police patrols. I’ve seen businesses open their offices for a few hours in the mornings. And, a local restaurateur told me would-be diners came knocking on her door Saturday evening, asking if they could sit and eat a meal rather than do take-out.

“Three weeks ago, when we reopened for take-outs, the carabinieri stood outside to enforce social-distancing rules on each and every customer,” she told me. “I haven’t seen the carabinieri since.”

It was admirable the Romans held out this long, you could say. Besides, they point out, the number of infections here continues to go down day by day.

We may be entering the most fraught stretch yet.


Have a nice day, everyone. I’ll see you here tomorrow.

Bernhard Warner

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Today's reads

Risk-reward. Markets seem detached from reality right now. Stocks have been rallying even as the economy is effectively shut down. "If the stock market can be smoothed out by government spending and Fed actions during the worst economic contraction in 90 years, does this change investors' risk-return calculus in the stock market?" asks Ben Carlson, director of institutional asset management at Ritholtz Wealth Management. 

Incredible shrinking airlines. The coronavirus pandemic looks set to bring a screeching halt to the past decade’s air travel boom. Airlines’ ability to recover will most likely rest on two factors, both of which are completely beyond their control: How long it might take before people feel comfortable boarding planes and how much corporations will cut their travel budgets, says Vivienne Walt in Fortune.

Rise of the short sellers. Short sellers have revived their wagers against the stock market in recent weeks, taking their most aggressive positions in years. After the recent sharp swings in the market, many investors have decided that the ability to hedge their portfolios—or simply bet on a selloff—is wise, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Market candy

Quote of the day.

Everybody’s just frozen. And the phone is not ringing off the hook. Everybody’s just frozen in the position they’re in.

That’s Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner, who tells The Wall Street Journal that Berkshire Hathaway is not being bombarded with calls from corporate executives begging for capital.

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