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2020 Year End Market Review

January 23, 2021

Over the past 12 months, we have endured a global pandemic resulting in numerous deaths and hospitalizations, mass layoffs, a volatile economy, social unrest, and a contentious presidential election.

Our lives and lifestyles changed, where working and learning from home became the “new normal,” and in-person communication was replaced by virtual meetings.

The year began with news of a SARS-like virus spreading in China. Little did we know the impact this contagion would impart on our health, politics, and economy. Late in January, the very first known case of COVID-19 in the United States involved a Washington state victim who had traveled from the city of Wuhan, China. By February, the growing number of reported cases of the virus prompted travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders, and shutting down of businesses both domestically and around the world. Aside from concern caused by the virus, we were consumed by the impeachment in February of President Trump, who was eventually acquitted by the Senate.

In March, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic as the spread of the virus reached more than 100 countries, with more than 100,000 reported cases. World economies and stock markets were rocked by the spread of the COVID-19 virus leading to major market sell-offs, plunging stocks well below their 2019 values. The U.S. first-quarter gross domestic product decelerated at a rate of -5%, only to be outdone by a second-quarter deceleration of -31.4%. Fear became the motivating factor in our lives—fear of contracting the virus, fear of losing a loved one to the virus, fear of job loss, fear of economic failure, and fear of losing our money.

Several pieces of legislation were passed, including massive COVID-19 rescue package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which included the Paycheck Protection Program and distribution of stimulus checks to qualifying individuals. In May, focus shifted to the death of George Floyd, which sparked protests and confrontations across the country.

The summer months saw a slight lull in the number of reported virus cases. Economies began to marginally recover, some businesses began to reopen, and travel restrictions were relaxed. However, as the availability of testing for the virus increased, so did the number of reported cases.

The November presidential election resulted in the defeat of President Donald Trump by former Vice President Joe Biden, with the post-election period dominated by attempts to overturn the results through federal courts and state legislatures. Nevertheless, some positive news came at the end of the year with the development and initial dissemination of COVID-19 vaccines and additional legislation that provided $900 billion in pandemic-related stimulus.

On the last day of the year, the Dow and the S&P 500 ended at all-time highs. In fact, the fourth quarter was robust for stocks, with each of the major indexes posting double-digit gains, headed by the small caps of the Russell 2000, which surged to a gain of 31.3% over the prior quarter. Despite the turmoil and early-year losses, all of the benchmark indexes listed here closed 2020 well ahead of their 2019 closing marks. The tech stocks of the Nasdaq, which gained more than 43.0%, led the way, followed by the Russell 2000, the S&P 500, the Dow, and the Global Dow.

With the current positive economic momentum and vaccinations being administered around the world, the year 2021 should bring continued economic recovery. As the nations of the world inch slowly toward normalcy following the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, stock markets, employment, and production should also advance. The new year brings with it a sense of hope: hope that the virus will be controlled; hope for a return to some form of normalcy in our daily lives; hope for economic prosperity and job security; and hope for peace, both here and around the world—and a common opinion that the year 2020 will not be missed.