Mark Lister, 3 July 2020

The sharp declines of the first three months of this year were matched by a similarly swift recovery during the June quarter.

After the S&P 500 in the US fell 20.0 per cent during the March quarter, its worst performance since 2008, the index ironically posted a 20.0 per cent rise in June quarter. This was the strongest quarter since 1998, and it saw the S&P 500 finish June only 8.4 per cent below its peak.

The local market was similarly strong, with the NZX 50 rebounding 16.9 per cent during the three months to the end of June. That sees our headline index only marginally below where it began 2020, and just 5.2 per cent below the record high from February.

Looking ahead to the second half of the year, it’s shaping up to potentially be just as eventful as the first.

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For a start, investors will be keeping a close eye on the second wave of the virus that we are seeing in places and hoping it is stamped out relatively quickly.

Economic data will also take centre stage, and it won’t be pretty. April and May will likely prove the low point in terms of activity, and releases covering this period should give us a sense of just how bad the lockdowns have affected the economy.

It’s also possible we are in a ‘sweet spot’ at present, with pent up post-lockdown demand driving higher spending and the wage subsidy safety net keeping some businesses from laying off staff.

If there is another wave of job losses confidence will take a hit, which could also flow through to consumer spending and house prices.

In a similar vein, we are still waiting for a clear picture of just how badly the pandemic has impacted corporate earnings.

The US quarterly reporting season begins shortly, and forecasts suggest the S&P 500 will suffer an aggregate fall in earnings of 44 per cent, compared with the June quarter last year.

For the 2020 calendar year, earnings are expected to decline 22 per cent, before recovering 28 per cent next year.

That would essentially see 2021 earnings at the same level as they were in 2019, before the events of this year unfolded. Some would suggest that is optimistic.

Earnings are a key driver of share prices, so markets will be keeping a close eye on this, as well as the New Zealand reporting season that follows in August.

Last, but certainly not least, will be a very eventful end to the year on the political front.

Our election takes place in just eleven weeks, and while it looks unlikely we’ll see any remodelling of the Prime Minister’s office, that doesn’t mean it won’t be an interesting contest.

It could well be closer than some believe, and the fate of some smaller parties could have a significant impact on policy decisions over the coming three years.

Investors will finish the year with an even bigger political event, with the US Presidential election scheduled for early November.

After numerous missteps in recent months, President Trump has found himself on the wrong side of the polls as well as the betting odds, with Joe Biden now the clear favourite.

Regardless of how it plays out, it’ll create some uncertainty for financial markets. With Trump on the back foot, he could take an increasingly disruptive approach if he believes he has nothing to lose.

It won’t be all plain sailing with Biden either, given he wants to roll back at least some of the corporate tax cuts that President Trump enacted in late 2017.

We’ve just been through one of the most turbulent, volatile and surreal six-month periods that any of us can recall, and 2020 might not be done yet.

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