The Pandemic Financial Terms You Should Know Right Now



The coronavirus pandemic has made us allarmchair epidemiologists. Master these eight terms to become an armchair economist.

Bailout: This is when the government helps a business or industry avoid collapse by giving it financial assistance. If it helps you, however, you’ll probably prefer to call it “emergency assistance,” “bridge financing,” or maybe “liquidity support.”

Bear market rally: A bear market is declared when stocks fall 20% from their peak. This year it took just a month for that to happen, from mid-February to mid-March. But since then, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index have risen more than 20% from their lows. Technically, then, the bear market is over, and a new bull market has begun. But people who still feel pessimistic about the market tend to call the gains a “bear market rally,” a “blip,” or a “dead cat bounce.”

Force majeure: The term, French for “superior force,” wasexplained best by a Bloomberg QuickTake headline, “When God Appears in Contracts, That’s ‘Force Majeure.’” According to QuickTake, “It’s a clause that can be found buried in many contracts that lets a party off the hook in the event of some unforeseen ‘act of God.’” Expect lawsuits over whether Covid-19 constitutes force majeure.

26,889 in U.S.Most new cases today

-16% Change in MSCI World Index of global stocks since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

-1.​111 Change in U.S. treasury bond yield since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23 -0.​5% Global GDP Tracker (annualized), March

Forbearance: If you lose the battle to invoke force majeure, you can ask for forbearance, which is when a lender agrees to go easy on an overdue borrower. The lender isn’t just being nice; in a crisis like this, it has no interest in forcing thousands of borrowers into bankruptcy and assuming ownership of their devalued houses and cars. Even the Federal Reserve isurging lenders to be “responsive to the needs of low- and moderate-income individuals, small businesses, and small farms affected by Covid-19 consistent with safe and sound banking practices.”

Margin call: Among the two most-feared words in the financial world. If you borrow money from your broker to buy stock or other assets, and then they fall in price, the broker will ask you to put up more money or to sell shares. Maintaining that “margin” protects the broker from losses on the loan. The problem: A down market is the worst time to raise money or sell shares.

Recession: You often hear economists say a recession is two consecutive quarters of falling gross domestic product. Not a bad rule of thumb, but that’s not how it’s defined by the semiofficial arbiter of U.S. recessions, the National Bureau of Economic Research. It defines arecession as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.”

Repo: Nothing to do with therepo man who comes for that TV you bought on installment. Repo is short for “repurchase agreement,” which is essentially a secured loan dressed up to look like a purchase. If you need cash overnight, you sell Treasury bonds to a counterparty (a bank,the Federal Reserve) with an agreement to repurchase them the next day for slightly more—a price difference that’s the equivalent of interest. If you can’t come up with the money, the buyer keeps your bonds. This is how the big boys and girls borrow money.

Seasonally adjusted annual rate: When headlines warn that GDP will fall, say,34% in the second quarter, they don’t mean output will actually be 34% less than it was in the first quarter. That’s just the seasonally adjusted annual rate. Hypothetically, if the economy continued shrinking at that pace for three more quarters, the decline in output for the year would be 34%. Nobody expects that to happen. For more recession math,read this.

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