written by Gianlorenzo Zeccolella
In the current environment of protracted uncertainty, the global economic growth outlook has significantly changed due to the COVID-19 effects. The whole economy is facing a series of fundamental macroeconomic and structural challenges which are leading to an impressive slowdown: the health crisis has quickly become an economic crisis and it is gradually turning into a financial crisis.
The recent stock market crash is probably just the beginning of a series of unfortunate events. The partial recovery experienced by the markets in the last weeks is only a small detour from the negative path undertaken since the beginning of the crisis. Intraday volatility, up-and-down price oscillation within the trading session, can be a proxy for the uncertainty of the investors about the future financial performances of an asset or the whole financial market. Recently this indicator has reached extreme levels. An additional proof of the investors’ concerns is given by the volatility index (VIX), typical measure for the market sentiment. The VIX touched the incredible bound of 82 on the 16th of March. In the last 5 years the highest value of VIX has been 30, with an average of 15. Observing its time series, we notice that the value was even higher than the severe crisis in 2008.
Undeniably, the first quarter in 2020 was one of the worst in the history and, for severity, can be only compared with the one of the financial crisis in 1929. Nonetheless, we do have elements to believe that the coronavirus effects are still not fully embedded in the stock prices. There are two crucial factors to consider.
Firstly, before the coronavirus, analysts were expecting a market correction. It was estimated that financial markets were deeply overvalued (market value was extremely higher than the fundamental value). For example, the S&P500 intrinsic value was evaluated to be around 20% lower than its market price and, as of the 7th of April, the American index has left around 18% on the floor from the beginning of the crisis.
The second factor concerns the oil price war between the UAE and Russia which has dramatically contributed to a further decrease in the stock market. To face the drastic reduction in oil consumption (demand) due to the global lockdown, oil producers should have cut their production (offer) to support the price. Unfortunately, because of political issues, the two countries did the opposite, started to produce more barrels per day, generating turbulence while uncertainty mounted. The inevitable consequence was a critical drop in the oil price, which has more than halved in just a few weeks. Last Thursday (2nd of April), Trump’s tweet concerning the agreement between the UAE and Russia drove the oil price rally and future prices gained around 30% in just a few days. In any case, the crucial meeting was the OPEC+ where, exceptionally, were invited Texas and Canada and it was signed an agreement to cut the oil production of 10 million barrel per day. Despite that, according to Rystad Energy (a valuable independent energy research company), the global Capital Expenditures (CapEx) – measure of the amount invested by a firm in renovating or maintaining its properties, buildings, industrial plants, technologies or equipment – for exploration and production firms is expected to drop by up to $100 billion this year, around 17% versus 2019 levels. In 2021 the drop could be subjected to a further intensification since many companies (i.e. Eni) have already announced that the CapEx reduction will increase to 30-35%. The oil crisis has already characterized some troubles: McDermott, one of the main firms in the industry, announced that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, canceling all shares of common stock.After these considerations, we should wonder whether the market value is currently offering a discounted price. Nowadays the answer is very uncertain, but as we have explained, it is very likely that the coronavirus effects have not been discounted in the stock prices. In addition, the results of the first quarter of 2020 have not been released yet. Together with the probable negative outcomes, the outlook for most of the companies and the recent downgrades given by the rating agencies, make reasonable to believe that the market is still expensive, probably more than before the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The equity market is not the only one that is suffering the crisis. The shock provoked by the coronavirus generated what the Financial Times has defined as “the seeds of the next debt crisis”. According to the Institute of International Finance, the ratio of total debt over Global Domestic Product reached 322% in the third quarter of 2019. During the last ten years, companies have gorged on cheap borrowings, but rating agencies’ estimations demonstrate how a global health crisis may push to an immediate reassessment of the credit risk, arising doubts about companies’ quality: stability and ability to generate cash flow in the short and medium-term. Also, in the debt market, the oil price war has led most of the oil and energy companies’ bonds to the distressed area.
Notwithstanding, financially speaking, every cloud has a silver lining. Indeed, this period will open the window to many M&A – Mergers and Acquisitions – opportunities. Discounted equity prices and a worsened debt structure may create occasions for companies with strong fundamentals. Solid companies with strong cash generation capacity may exploit the favorable environment to target businesses with a long-term positive outlook but with current solvency and liquidity problems.
Finally, the comprehension of gold price movements during the tumultuous period is of great importance. Gold is defined as a safe haven asset or defensive asset since it should outperform during recession periods and limit the downward pressure. Despite that, at the first glance, it seems that the metal has disappointed expectations. The recent sell-off has negatively characterized the gold performance which has undergone a contradictory result. However, the gold price changes are coherent with the history in periods of extreme volatility. It is very common that fund managers look for liquidity when markets are very volatile in order to fulfill margin calls of the riskiest assets. During the financial crisis in 2008, the gold price has decreased by almost 20% before climbing back to a value of 170% higher in 2011. The gold price declined at the beginning because of liquidity restrictions, but, after the liquidity injection from central banks in the financial systems, it moved up in the traditional way. We can expect similar behavior in the forthcoming months.
Beyond any doubts, the coronavirus has highlighted how our lives are interconnected. The pandemic has caused a global lockdown and half of the world population is in quarantine. People are changing their lifestyle, changing how they work, socialize, play, talk and learn. The health crisis will inevitably influence economically and financially entire industries, affecting the world permanently. Some sectors, such as tourism, automotive, airlines, will suffer the most from the global instability, facing the hardest challenge. Despite that, nowadays, we are still not fully aware of the effects that the coronavirus will bring to the market but a substantial effect on both demand and supply are expected in the upcoming months. Thus, it is reasonable to forecast an additional discount on the market in the future.
written by Gianlorenzo Zeccolella
 Futures are contracts which allow two counterparties to agree on exchanging a certain stock – or other financial asset – on a certain future date for a price fixed at the agreement date. The value of a future can be determined from the comparison between the strike price, fixed at the agreement, and the actual value on the market of the underlying asset at the settlement date. Future contracts are the main instruments traded for the oil
 Financial distress is a situation in which a firm is not able to meet its financial obligations. In these conditions, it might unable to payback its debt or just a portion of it.