How to Read the Dashboard

Our crisis dashboard includes signals from three areas: 1) public health, 2) the consumer sector and 3) financial markets. By pulling big data from traditional sources (earnings growth and gross domestic product, for example) and nontraditional sources (like Google Trends and Glassdoor), we can create a better mosaic of the road back. Public health, of course, is the key: until there’s a vaccine, the cascading impact of the virus may continue.

The dashboard color codes (red, yellow or green) indicate the current state of each signal, while the arrows indicate the trend (improving, deteriorating or unchanged).

What’s Changed Since Our Last Update?

We’ve seen some improvement in the public health situation, which we’ve upgraded from red to yellow, as the R0 has declined from its recent peaks. School status has improved to stable, as districts begin to prepare diverse reopening plans. In the financial markets area, we’ve upgraded financial conditions, as high yield spreads have declined further. And commodity prices have been upgraded, as oil has remained stable and China’s coal consumption has recovered.

Public Health

  • Globally, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to rise—it’s currently approximately 19 million.
  • The R0, which tracks the average number of cases spread by one person, is currently around 1.0 globally and has declined from its recent peaks. The US rate is about 0.92, with a recent peak of 1.28 at the beginning of July.
  • Hospitalizations have been decreasing, particularly in US hotspots like Texas and Florida.
  • There’s hope of a vaccine, but it’s still in the testing phase and still a while from being ready for use.

Households/Consumers

School Status:

  • Around the US, school districts are preparing a variety of reopening plans including alternating attendance days for students, delayed starts, virtual classes, or in some cases all in-person instruction.
  • Higher education is suffering. Many schools are preparing for online classes to continue in the fall, which would likely slash the number of students willing to pay high prices for higher education.

Travel and Leisure:

  • US flights have recovered off their lows, but are still down 50% year-over-year. Global flights show a similar pattern to the US, but volumes in certain pockets are still very depressed, such as the UK and Germany (down about 70% year over year).
  • “OpenTable” bookings are still down by 63%, but excluding a spike on Father’s Day in the US, the level of bookings has been flat for the last two months.
  • Google search trends for “vacation idea” have recovered almost to normal levels in the US, but is starting to trend lower as summer travel nears an end.
  • Airbnb and VRBO searches remain about 10% above last year’s levels, as travelers have looked to plan socially distanced vacations.
  • Based on Google and Waze Mobility Data showing actual miles driven, mobility is increasing globally, particularly in areas like the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy. Brazil, the US and Australia have seen mobility trends flatten.
  • Subway traffic in China is only down 11% relative to last year, indicating that people could return to using public transit.

Home Buying/Refinancing:

  • Refinancing activity has stabilized, albeit at levels well above the five-year average.
  • Home-buying activity may start seeing improvement, given that pending home sales have recovered sharply following a steep March-April decline. The number of people searching for home loans is 75% higher than the 2019 peak.
  • Building permits in New York City and Los Angeles have been robust—but flat compared with trends over the last several years.

Employment & Household Finances:

  • US jobless claims have slowed, though 55 million people have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March.
  • Euro area unemployment remains around 7.4%, but nearly 60 million jobs across the European Union and UK are still at risk.
  • Credit card spending data shows a rebound to just 3% below 2019 levels, as the recovery has continued gradually
  • Unemployment benefits are likely to be continued, but Congress remains divided along party lines.
  • Search trends for topics around personal bankruptcy and unemployment benefits have increased dramatically: personal bankruptcy searches are double last year’s level, perhaps due to consumers worrying about their financial conditions.
  • US personal savings as a percentage of disposable income remained elevated in June at 19%, though down from 33.5% in April.

Financial Markets

Investment Flows:

  • Based on Simfund and ICI data, about $57 billion has moved into bond funds since the beginning of July, as investors shifted out of money-market accounts and into slightly riskier but higher-paying investments. Equities have seen modest net inflows of just over $1 billion over the same period.

Financial Conditions (Policies, Spreads and Curves):

  • High yield spreads continue to decline, as measured by the average option-adjusted yield spread of the BloombergBarclays US Corporate High Yield Index. They’ve fallen below 500 basis points for the first time since late February.

Commodity Prices:

  • Oil prices remain stable in the low-to-mid $40 per barrel range.
  • China’s coal consumption has recovered from its lows, with minor variations around the normal level.
  • Investors have begun to worry about inflation, given massive fiscal and monetary stimulus. As a result, gold has rallied to all-time highs (up over 35% year to date) and Bitcoin has returned to its mid-2019 levels (up over 50% year to date).

Corporate Health:

  • Glass Door data across industries is indicating that more companies are posting job openings, indicating potential improvements in corporate health.
  • Per Bloomberg consensus, 2020 earnings-per-share (EPS) estimates have improved slightly from their lows for both the US (S&P 500) and globally (MSCI World). But the market remains focused on 2021 earnings, with US stocks trading at about 20 times earnings and global stocks at about 19 times.
  • With just five stocks making up nearly one-quarter of the S&P 500’s market cap, and with some of the greatest risk concentration in the Russell 1000 Growth and the MSCI World centered on US growth stocks, reexamining passive investing has never been more important.

Scott Krauthamer is Global Head of Product Management and Strategy at AB. Jonathan Berkow is Senior Quantitative Research Analyst and Alternative Data Lead for Equities at AB.

The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams. Views are subject to change over time.

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