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TODAY ON WALL STREET: Some good news in troubled times

10/29/2020 | 08:57am EST

U.S. indices are up today, in a complicated environment. On the one hand, jobless claims dropped and third-quarter GDP bounced back in the U.S. On the other hand, Covid contaminations are rocketing and new lockdowns have been announced in Europe.

New data showed that 751,000 Americans applied for unemployment benefits for the first time through the week ended Oct. 24, down from 791,000 in the previous week. Meanwhile, U.S. gross domestic product for the third quarter rose at an annual pace of 33.1%, which is a record.

This brings some good news in a week that started badly for the world’s stock markets, and took a frankly worrying turn yesterday with a generalized drop in indices against the backdrop of a second wave of Covid-19.

There weren't many places to hide yesterday on the stock markets, where the average punishment was around -3.5%. Somewhat impervious to the disturbing signals that had been emerging everywhere over the previous two weeks, the indices fell three steps at a time yesterday. The big technology companies did not play their role as shock absorbers in the United States, on the contrary, and the most fragile stocks collapsed again. Hotels, restaurants, air transport, cruise lines, automobiles and events were hit by the announcement of the partial German and French lockdowns.

While the US GDP showed strong growth, there is no need to get carried away: its expected rebound is only a mirror image of the 31.4% drop recorded in Q2. Finally, it's still good for morale, even though we know that business has been more buoyant since then.

The ECB may have hoped to celebrate Halloween quietly, but the rapid recovery of the coronavirus decided otherwise. European countries are facing spread rates worthy of a disaster movie. As a result, investors and governments are looking to the region's lender of last resort. That's a good thing, since its members have been saying over and over again lately that the central bank will do anything and more to support the economy.

Today, the ECB left its monetary policy unchanged but opened the door to additional support measures in December to counter the economic damage of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The situation is leading to an increase in volatility, visible in the leading indicators this morning. The VIX (CBOE volatility index) has only exceeded a threshold above 40 in very rare events since its creation and each time during major crises: the subprime crisis in 2008 (79); the attacks of September 11, 2001 (52) or more recently during the first wave, when it had reached a peak of 82, the highest since the 1987 crisis. The deterioration of health parameters in Europe and the confinements put in place are particularly reflected in this index. Indeed, it has increased by more than 25% since the beginning of the week to reach the fateful threshold of 40 points.

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