The economy is in free fall but Wall Street is thriving, and stocks of big private equity firms are soaring dramatically higher. That tells you who investors think is the real beneficiary of the federal government’s massive rescue efforts.
Ten weeks into the worst crisis in 90 years, the government’s effort to save the economy has been both a spectacular success and a catastrophic failure.
The clearest illustration of that came on Friday, when the government reported that 20.5 million people lost their jobs in April. It marked a period of unfathomable pain across the country not seen since the Great Depression. Also on Friday, the stock market rallied.
The S&P 500 is now up 30% from its lows in mid-March and back to where it was last October, when the outlook for 2020 corporate earnings looked sunshiny. Companies have sold record amounts of debt in recent weeks for investment-grade companies. Junk bonds, historically dodgy during an economic swoon, have roared back.
If you’re looking for investors’ verdict on who has won the bailout, consider these returns: Shares of Apollo Group, the giant private equity firm, have soared 80% from their lows. The stock of Blackstone, another private equity behemoth, has risen 50%.
The reason: Asset holders like Apollo and Blackstone — disproportionately the wealthiest and most influential — have been insured by the world’s most powerful central bank. This largess is boundless and without conditions. “Even if a second wave of outbreaks were to occur,” JPMorgan economists wrote in a celebratory note on Friday, “the Fed has explicitly indicated that there is no dollar limit and no danger of running out of ammunition.”
Many aspects of the coronavirus bailout that assist individuals or small businesses, meanwhile, are short-term or contingent. Aid to small businesses comes with conditions on what they can do with the money. The sums allocated by the CARES Act for stimulus and expanded unemployment insurance are vast by historical standards. But the relief they provide didn’t prevent tens of millions from losing their jobs. The assistance runs out in weeks, and the jobless live at the mercy of a divided Congress, which will decide whether that help gets extended and, if so, for how long.