The coronavirus originated in the city of Wuhan, China, in December, and as of our writing this communication it has infected over 82,000 people resulting in 2,800 deaths. Up until the last week, global stock markets shrugged off concerns about a wider spread of the virus. However, an increase in reported cases outside of China in recent days has raised concerns about the potential for a global pandemic. This has resulted in a stock market correction around the world with the S&P 500 correcting over 10% in the last week.
There are a few main issues that are occupying our minds and that of global markets:
How contagious and dangerous is the virus?
- While the absolute number of cases outside of China still remains small, the increased pace of reported cases is concerning. Korea, Iran, Italy and Japan are currently hot spots of particular concern. As we write this, the first coronavirus case in the United States that could not be linked to foreign travel was confirmed as well.
- However, it appears that the growth of reported cases in China has slowed in recent days. If this data can be relied upon and the trend in China continues, this may demonstrate that human behavior (e.g., quarantines) can control transmission of the virus and perhaps the virus is not as contagious as was originally believed.
- Early estimates of the death rate upon contraction of the virus are roughly 2%. As a point of comparison, the SARS outbreak in 2003 had a fatality rate of 9.6%.
- To date, there have been no reported deaths in those aged nine years and younger, implying that very young children are not as susceptible to this virus.
How much can the virus hurt global economic growth?
- Efforts to contain the virus have resulted in numerous factories, public sites and workplaces being closed both in China and now abroad.
- This has caused and will continue to cause substantial business disruption across the globe. One example is Apple’s recent warning that they expect lower revenue growth due to the outbreak’s impact on iPhone manufacturing (they have numerous factories near the heart of the outbreak).
- At around 20% of the global gross domestic product (GDP), China is the second-largest economy in the world. Estimates are that growth in China in 2020 will slow from pre-virus forecasts of 5% down to 3%. This should reduce global GDP growth by roughly 0.4% from forecasts of 2.9% to 2.5%. These estimates may be somewhat rosy depending upon how far the virus ultimately spreads.
Historically, financial markets have been somewhat resilient in the face of past epidemics. Short-term corrections in global stock markets have typically been followed by renewed uptrends within a few months. The concern, of course, is that the spread of this virus will be more aggressive than the spread of other viruses in recent decades. The most important question for investors is whether your portfolio is prepared for the potentially challenging environment ahead. While our portfolios are not immune to stock market corrections, our concerned view of the world and heightened exposure to alternatives should provide some insulation against market shocks. We prefer to be prepared in advance of unexpected market events such as this as opposed to reacting after the fact. In the face of short-term volatility, it is important to keep in mind the goals and financial plan that helped build your portfolio for the long term.