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Disease, recession, war games—why none of it seems to count as bad news for today’s investors

June 18, 2020, 9:04 AM UTC

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Good morning. Stocks and futures are climbing ahead of today’s jobless claims report.

Yesterday’s rally fizzled in afternoon trade. But for a while there, nothing could dent traders’ exuberance. Deadly border tensions between China and India? A mere trifle. A blowup on the Korean peninsula? Nothing to see here. A COVID-19 outbreak in a city of 22 million, and cases piling up in America’s Sun Belt? Yawn. War games, a pandemic, a global recession and millions out of work used to rank as markets-sinking events. But these days, there’s always something to buy—even shares in a bankrupt car rental firm that can’t seem to raise emergency funds.

Let’s go ahead and see what’s moving markets.

Markets update


  • Asia is mixed in afternoon trade. The Hang Seng and Japan’s Nikkei are down (-0.4%); Shanghai is up, barely (+0.2%).
  • Beijing (pop. 22 million) isn’t in lockdown—yet—but officials are growing increasingly concerned about the rising number of COVID cases, now at 158.
  • Japan was banking on an Olympics-sized surge of tourism this year, hoping for 40 million visitors. It’ll be lucky to get 5 million.


  • The European bourses erased early declines with the benchmark Euro Stoxx 600 up 0.2% two hour into the trading session.
  • Bond traders are calling today Super Thursday as the ECB starts pushing out cheap loans to banks. Earlier this week, European debt issuance topped €1 trillion for the year, a speed record.
  • So long, and thanks for all the fish. The EU appears set to compromise on a major sticking point with the Brits—sovereignty over the UK’s fishing waters—as post-Brexit trade talks seem to be on the right track.


  • The Dow and S&P 500 fell for the first time in four days yesterday; only the Nasdaq managed to hold on to its gains, helped by Microsoft and Apple. Futures are off their lows, pointing to a positive open.
  • Hertz‘s plan to sell $500 million in new shares stalled out yesterday. Not because of timid investor demand, but because of scrutiny by the SEC. Trading in the bankrupt car rental firm was halted Wednesday, but it still managed to gain 2.6%.
  • Fed Chairman Jerome Powell warned lawmakers not to prematurely pull unemployment aid. The $600 weekly payments are due to expire in July with extension talks stuck.
  • The latest jobless claims numbers are scheduled to hit before the bell. Economists expect nearly 1.3 million more Americans have filed for unemployment.


  • Gold is up.
  • The dollar is down a tick.
  • OPEC left its full-year forecast intact despite an upsurge in demand as the global economy gets back to business. Brent is up 1%.

What’s in the piggy bank?

Yesterday, we looked at the retail sales figures as a gauge of improving consumer sentiment. Those rosy numbers followed a surprisingly upbeat jobs report from earlier in the month. Investors have taken both data points as a sign the economic recovery is well under way, pushing the equities rally higher. For good measure, Fed Chair Jerome Powell cited the jobs and retail numbers too, yesterday, in his House testimony.

I have a third data point that shows yet more consumer optimism. Gallup’s latest survey shows an upswing in Americans’ positive feeling about their personal finances. This month, 53% of survey respondents said their personal finances were “good” or “excellent.” That compares to 49% saying the same in April. “Americans are still not as positive about their finances as they were in 2019 (56%) but remain much more upbeat than during the 2007-2009 Great Recession and ensuing years of high unemployment,” Gallup wrote in its report.

So, this is no replay of the global financial crisis. At least that’s what Americans are telling Gallup pollsters.

What I found most encouraging is that the more bullish sentiment is evenly spread across income brackets and age demographics. In fact, the most optimistic are households with annual income levels of less than $40,000, as the top line in the Gallup table shows here:

It’s possible the stimulus checks are a source of this optimism, which, after all, is precisely what the measure was designed to do—stabilize finances and keep Americans upbeat about their financial future.

But there are dark clouds on the horizon. The lifeline of unemployment benefits, for example, expires in about a month. Unless Congress extends it, financially strapped Americans will be back in the same hole as they were in April, and that could impact the severity and duration of the recession.

Powell said as much yesterday. “It would be wise to look at ways to continue to support people who are out of work and also smaller businesses that may not have vast resources for a period of time…so that we can get through this critical phase,” the central bank chief told lawmakers yesterday. “That support would be well placed at this time.”

I’ll come back to this—and similar—data point to see in which direction consumer sentiment is trending. A strong consumer is vital to an economic recovery.


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

Bernhard Warner

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Today's reads

The biggest week for IPOs. In Asia, that is. went public today in Hong Kong, but it's not exactly an initial offering. The Chinese e-commerce giant listed on Nasdaq in 2014, a few months ahead of rival Alibaba. This is the quintessential stay-at-home stock, notching big sales gains during the pandemic lockdown, Fortune's Naomi Xu Elegant reports.

Direct to investors. The Hertz share deal may be dead on the side of the road, but that kind of offering is alive and wellSince the market's momentous turnaround in late March, a number of companies have begun raising funds by selling shares via an arrangement known as at-the-market—meaning: selling at the current share price, not at a reduced price brokered by a Wall Street heavyweight. Hertz was aiming to join Shake Shack and Robin Gourmet Burgers in the ranks of firms that have taken advantage of such a financing scheme. It's good for a company in a soaring market. It's not such a great deal for investors, however, the Wall Street Journal explains

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Market candy

Quiz time

This one's for you, baseball fans. Which Major League Baseball team would actually eke out a profit if it were to play its home games in an empty stadium?

  • a) The New York Mets
  • b) San Francisco Giants
  • c) Minnesota Twins
  • d) Miami Marlins

Answer: D, the Marlins. That's according to an analysis by Bloomberg's Brandon Kochkodin. The real question: would anybody notice the difference if the Marlins imposed a no-fans-allowed rule at home games?