Omicron Rattles Investors, But Economy Keeps Humming
Back in 1963, when asked by a reporter what sort of factor was most likely to derail governments, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan replied, in his dry Edwardian way: “Events, dear boy, events.” I thought of that famous line, when the COVID Omicron variant came out of the blue to throw the Biden administration and financial markets off course.
After wreaking havoc overseas, Omicron was detected this week on American soil, further spooking Wall Street. But the long-term economic picture still looks bright. Let’s sift through the good news/bad news scenario and determine the appropriate investment stance amid this latest crisis.
ADP reported Wednesday that private payrolls increased by 534,000 for November, exceeding the consensus estimate of 506,000. Leisure and hospitality witnessed a gain of 136,000, part of the 424,000 jobs added in the services sector (see chart).
Companies employing 500 or more added 277,000 for the month, with growth particularly strong in those with 1,000 or more workers, which contributed 234,000. Construction racked up jobs growth of 52,000, while manufacturing added 50,000 positions.
In further good news, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) reported Wednesday that its manufacturing index rose to a reading of 61.1% in November, an increase of 0.3 percentage point from the October reading of 60.8%.
The ISM’s latest reading of manufacturing activity is in line with consensus expectations and a sign of robust economic growth. This figure marks expansion in the overall economy for the 18th month in a row, after the severe slump during the worst of the pandemic in April 2020.
The report stated: “All of the six biggest manufacturing industries — Computer & Electronic Products; Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products; Chemical Products; Petroleum & Coal Products; Fabricated Metal Products; and Transportation Equipment, in that order — registered moderate to strong growth in November.”
Events, dear boy…
Investors were initially cheered by the jobs and manufacturing data. The main U.S. stock market indices jumped sharply higher in early trading Wednesday. However, in the middle of the trading session, terrible news suddenly hit the cable news chyrons: the Centers for Disease Control confirmed the first Omicron case in the United States. Equities quickly reversed direction and plunged.
The U.S. indices declined Wednesday as follows: the Dow Jones Industrial Average -461.68 (-1.34%); the S&P 500 -53.96 (-1.18%); the NASDAQ -283.64 (-1.83%); and the Russell 2000 -51.49 (-2.34%).
In pre-market futures contracts Thursday, U.S. stocks were trading sharply higher as investors returned their attention to the economic recovery. Indeed, throughout the ups and downs of this pandemic-haunted bull market, the mantra has been: Buy on the dips. Barring a protracted COVID catastrophe or geopolitical black swan, that’s likely to remain the case into next year.
If scientists and pharmaceutical firms get a handle on the COVID Omicron variant, it’ll serve as a milestone for the stock market’s next leg up.
Investors often get spooked by temporary setbacks. Even the best growth company will stumble due to demand shifts, product introduction delays, or higher expenses. But a stumble is often just an opportunity to buy at a bargain price before growth resumes.
The combination of low interest rates, fiscal stimulus, and aggressive vaccination campaigns should boost jobs growth for the rest of the year and into 2022. According to data firm IHS Markit, U.S. nonfarm payrolls are projected to increase by 6.7 million by the end of December 2021 (from December 2020). That would represent the highest rate of annual jobs growth since such records began in 1939.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, employers and businesses put aside a lot of cash as a precaution. Across the economy, pent-up demand right now is like a coiled spring ready to pop. The high rate of household savings is manifest in strong retail sales, with expectations for a prosperous holiday shopping season.
Don’t get spooked by alarmist headlines. Stick to your long-range plan. In the meantime, do you seek a standout growth opportunity for Q4 and beyond? We’ve just pinpointed an investment play that’s on the cusp of explosive gains. For the full report, click here.