As we approach the summer months, there are a lot of reasons for investors to be worried: inflation, taxes, the deficit, and on and on. I am hearing quite a bit about reasons not to be cheerful, some of which we’ve talked about in other posts. But because of where we are in the calendar, there is one more making the rounds—the old market chestnut “sell in May and go away”—that I want to talk about today. The short response to this adage, for readers in a hurry, is “don’t.”
Today, I’d like to provide an update on the coronavirus, including the economic and market implications. We’ve had good news on the medical front, as the fourth wave of the virus doesn’t seem to be gaining traction. Case counts and positive test rates are back to the lows we saw as the third wave subsided, and hospitalizations and death rates have improved. One potential problem is that vaccination rates have slowed, which we will need to keep an eye on.
April was a good month for the markets. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq gained more than 5 percent, while the Dow was up almost 3 percent. These returns were driven, in part, by the medical news, with new case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths all down. While the medical risks declined, reopening accelerated. Job growth rose, and weekly layoffs dropped. Consumer confidence and spending also improved.
If the month of March was a turning point (and it was), the month of April demonstrated that March was not a fluke. The data showed we have really turned the corner in many ways. In April, the fourth wave of the pandemic started—and then fizzled out, resulting in much lower infection rates to end the month. Layoffs tumbled and consumer confidence rose to pre-pandemic levels. Markets rallied to all-time highs once again. In April, things got better across the board.
April was a good month. While it started with what looked like another wave of infections, by month-end, we were back at recent lows for both case growth and positive test rates. Vaccinations have now hit a substantial part of the population, and that looks to have controlled the virus. The medical risks are still real, but they are now about whether and when we hit herd immunity, rather than whether we have a fourth wave. This is significant progress and means the medical risks are low and likely to decline further over the next month.