New Concerns Over Coronavirus, as Deflation Drag on U.S. Stock ETFs

U.S. markets and stock exchange traded funds began to slip mid-Tuesday as investors weighed the risks of reopening businesses too soon and risk another coronavirus outbreak against hopes of restarting the economy.

On Tuesday, the Invesco QQQ Trust (NASDAQ: QQQ) was down 0.1%, SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF (NYSEArca: DIA) was 0.4% lower, and SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEArca: SPY) fell 0.5%.

Leading U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci warned Congress that a premature reopening could lead to additional outbreaks of COVID-19, Reuters reports.

“There’s an assumption that the worst is behind us, (but) it feels a bit premature, to be frank,” Keith Buchanan, a portfolio manager at GLOBALT, told Reuters. “We do see accelerating infection in some places, but how that story is written into the far is yet to be seen.”

Further adding to the negative sentiment, the Labor Department said Tuesday that its consumer-price index – a measure of prices for goods and services including airfare, clothing, and food – dropped by 0.8% last month, the largest falloff in consumer prices since the Great Recession, Reuters reports.

The record pullback in underlying prices last month added to fears of deflation as the economy continues to dip deeper into a recession due to broad lockdown measures to contain the novel coronavirus. Deflation is particularly worrisome since the decline in general price levels could cause consumers and businesses to hold out even longer on new purchases in anticipation of lower prices.

“The economic collapse has taken a dangerous turn where now it is consumer prices that are being pulled down into the abyss as consumers sitting at home have postponed their purchases,” Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG, told Reuters. “Part of the reason the Great Depression lingered so long was because consumers knew they could wait till next year to buy cars and refrigerators and homes at a cheaper discount.”

However, some remained hopeful that the aggressive stimulus measures and government support could turn the economy around more quickly. For example, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York began purchasing corporate bond exchange traded funds Tuesday for the first time ever, expanding its toolset in support of the economy and financial system.

“There’s a general feeling that we know there is a recovery at play, demonstrated by the recovery in oil prices, and Fed statements about a second-half recovery,” Seema Shah, chief strategist, Principal Global Investors, told the Wall Street Journal. “Sentiment is very tentative, so it will stop consistent risk-taking, but certainly the situation is better than it was two months ago, even two weeks ago.”

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