Stocks Keep Rallying, Despite Lack of Visibility on Economy

The coronavirus pandemic has upended expectations for corporate earnings and economic growth, so obscuring the outlook for financial markets that some investors say it is as if they are flying blind.

In ordinary times, many investors consider earnings projections a critical factor in determining what shares are worth and look to forecasts for metrics such as gross domestic product to gauge the health of the economy.

Now, as the pandemic disrupts industries from travel to manufacturing to retail, the only consensus is that those measures are doomed to fall.

Even so, stocks continue to rally, with the S&P 500 up 27% from its March low. Money managers attribute much of the bounce to stimulus from the Federal Reserve, but the disconnect between rising stock prices and a lack of visibility on the economy has lent an unsettled tone to the rally.

Many investors say they hesitate to jump back into the market when so much remains unclear, but they also fear missing out if stocks keep climbing.

Just how far earnings will fall is a subject of great debate. Disagreement among analysts has soared, with the dispersion of estimates for S&P 500 company earnings over the next full fiscal year reaching the highest level in March since May 2009.

Investors will parse earnings reports this week from companies including Walt Disney Co., General Motors Co. and Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. and look to the April jobs report for clues about the outlook for the rest of the year.

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