Bad news: The November jobs report was weaker than expected. The U.S. economy added only 245,000 jobs during the month, far less than the 440,000 economists expected. Meanwhile, positive COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to hit all-time highs in the U.S. and abroad. Although Berkshire County may have been spared from the worst during the summer, COVID cases continue to spike heading into the winter.
The financial media has jumped on the jobs report and COVID data to point out the economic recovery may be stalling out. The Washington Post ran an article titled “Raging virus triggers new shutdown orders and economy braces for fresh wave of pain.” Slate magazine wrote “The economic recovery is hitting a wall.”
Our economy, both locally and nationally, faces some serious hurdles in the short term. Restaurants and other businesses reliant on person-to-person transactions are likely to either close or see significantly diminished business in the winter months. This filters through to the rest of the economy. If waiters and hotel managers are laid off, they spend less at other businesses, and it creates a negative spiral throughout the economy.
On the other hand, some good news. Pfizer has begun inoculating people in Great Britain against COVID. An estimated 50 million vaccinations are going to be available to Americans before the end of the year. Although we face an uphill battle as the virus rages on, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel.
Some economists suggest that pent-up demand for goods and services may be looming. Aggregate savings have been rising during the pandemic. Fortunate workers who have kept their jobs with fewer opportunities to spend money have been socking it away more than usual. Once those people can move and spend freely again, there may be a boost in discretionary spending on things like vacations and restaurants. It is easy to be optimistic in the long term.
Furthermore, Congress may be working toward a deal to provide some economic relief to people affected by the negative economic effects of the virus. Although details remain to be seen, this could help stabilize the economy.
As investors, we must often keep contradictory thoughts in our heads. In this case, we recognize that the economy may be in for pain in the short term but may also be in for a nice boost in the long term.
Economists are notorious for beginning every statement with “on the one hand … on the other hand.” They are not saying anything definitive, because the future cannot be predicted with any accuracy. Investors should also look at both sides of the coin in making investment decisions.
Might there be short-term pain that materializes into higher unemployment and potentially lower stock prices? Of course, but on the other hand, there is also an optimistic story that may drive stock market prices higher despite short-term pain. On the one hand … on the other hand. There is no neat and tidy story that can tell you precisely where and when to invest.
A well-diversified investment portfolio is a sensible way to maintain these contradictory thoughts. A portfolio balanced with U.S. stocks, international stocks, bonds, real estate, cash and gold will have some relative winners and some relative losers in the short term and the long term. We cannot say anything definitive about what will happen, especially in the short term, but a broadly diversified, structured portfolio allows investors to make progress toward long-term financial goals and sleep well at night.
The right balance will differ depending on investor circumstances and objectives, but the general idea is the same for all investors: adopt and maintain a plan. This is not as exciting as guessing where the stock market is going to bounce from one day to the next, but it is effective in reaching long-term financial goals.