Saturday, March 14, 2020

Demand Shock


The United States of America has entered a period of severe negative demand shock. Negative demand shock occurs when demand collapses across multiple economic sectors simultaneously. As the Wuhan coronavirus has spread in this country it has triggered a panic not seen in the stock market since 1987...and it presumably will last significantly longer. Much longer. Think 1929ish.

Entire industries have been laid low, namely: airlines, cruise lines, hotels, casinos, restaurants, sporting events, and education to name a few. There undoubtedly will be secondary and tertiary impacts such as the hundreds of thousands of small business that cater to these industries as well as the millions of employees whose livelihoods are intricately woven into supply/demand chain of our economy.

From an economic standpoint, Wuhan coronavirus has most likely triggered a recession. It is hard to conceive of our economy, which is 70% consumer-dependent, bouncing back from the Wuhan coronavirus quickly, especially since there will be many lingering concerns in regards to travel, safety, and trust.

The path forward is an arduous one. First, large segments of the American population will be exposed to the Wuhan coronavirus. Second, many Americans will undoubtedly be infected with this disease, with victims typically being the elderly and/or those with underlying medical conditions. Our most vulnerable. Third, it's not going away quickly.

Self-quarantine time alone is running at a minimum of 2 weeks, but there are staggered results popping up all over the country. What I mean by this is that another cluster might easily pop up in a month, or 2 months, or even next year. Wuhan coronavirus is the proverbial "whack-a-mole" scenario.

What does this all mean? Based on the existing infection rate it is probable that many millions of Americans will be infected with the Wuhan coronavirus and thousands will die. As America is a country that values life highly, this will have severe economic and social ripple effects; demand shock is the most obvious initial wave. Another rational wave is going to be societal push-back against viral originators responsible for deaths and economic destruction. Human nature is what it is. As previously stated, it is highly likely we entered a recession last week. We definitely entered a bear market. 

What's an investor to do? Price discovery has significantly altered the trading prices of many stocks, especially in the most affected sectors such as airlines, cruise lines, oil, etc. to name a few. Given that nobody really knows when the Wuhan coronavirus will be contained, it is important to focus on sustainability and that usually translates to quality of balance sheet and earnings.

There are many industries that do not seem sustainable if all of their demand collapses. I would avoid them. Survivors? There will be many survivors, namely in the food and beverage industries, many of which are actually experiencing tremendous demand. I like those sectors. Finally, there are some sectors (like tech) that have extremely large installed userbases which don't disappear overnight and given quarantine conditions might add to their installed userbases. I like those as well.

In times of uncertainty, having cash is a good thing; you might miss out on a quick turn of events and maybe not capture all of the upside, but when survival is on the line it is better to survive. Ultimately the Wuhan coronavirus will be contained at some level. The jury is still out on what level. Until that time it makes a lot of sense to focus on quality cash flow and survivability.