Aggregate and Firm-Level Stock Returns During Pandemics, in Real Time
33 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2020 Last revised: 22 Aug 2021
Date Written: April 2020
We show that unexpected changes in the trajectory of COVID-19 infections predict US stock returns, in real time. Parameter estimates indicate that an unanticipated doubling (halving) of projected infections forecasts next-day decreases (increases) in aggregate US market value of 4 to 11 percent, indicating that equity markets may begin to rebound even as infections continue to rise, if the trajectory of the disease becomes less severe than initially anticipated. Using the same variation in unanticipated projected cases, we find that COVID-19-related losses in market value at the firm level rise with capital intensity and leverage, and are deeper in industries more conducive to disease transmission. These relationships provide important insight into current record job losses. Measuring US states' drops in market value as the employment weighted average declines of the industries they produce, we find that states with milder drops in market value exhibit larger initial jobless claims per worker. This initially counter-intuitive result suggests that investors value the relative ease with which labor versus capital costs can be shed as revenues decline.
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