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“Risk Off” Trading Roils Markets

For months investors have been pricing in optimistic scenarios: another big stimulus package, COVID treatments and/or vaccines on the horizon. This week has seen massive stock market selling and treasury yields dropping (risk-off).

Stimulus: Congress has recessed until after next Tuesday’s election with no deal. As analysts had “priced in” some pre-election stimulus, the market sell off was inevitable. So now the hopes for more stimulus are for the “lame duck” period. Trying to predict the likelihood of an agreement based on all the election variables is extremely murky (which party-parties will control the House, Senate, Presidency)? If the election results spur no action during lame duck, relief will not come until February 2021 at the earliest. We may see a “relief rally” next week if there is a good level of certainty surrounding the results. The need for stimulus is increasingly urgent as recent COVID developments are alarming. Another election variable is a disputed result scenario.  Spikes have occurred in Europe and the US as the weather turns colder. Even with promising late stage vaccine trials and approval possibly by year end, the path to “normal” is now predicted to last well into 2021. Dr. Fauci today put it in perspective as he opined that it will take several months to achieve anything close to acceptable herd immunity. This puts the onus back on Washington to provide fiscal policy. The 10 year treasury dropped 13 bps to about 0.75% over the past few days. It’s a good bet that treasuries and other indices will remain low as central banks crank up the purchases. The question for commercial real estate investors is what direction will risk spreads and loan underwriting criteria take going into 2021? By David R. Pascale, Jr. , Senior Vice President at George Smith Partners