Building a stronger bridge into 2021: U.S. Congress reaches $900 billion stimulus deal

Today, Congress is expected to pass a coronavirus relief bill, providing approximately $900 billion of new support for the U.S. economy. To cut to the chase, fiscal and monetary stimulus was and is critical for bridging affected households and businesses to the other side of this pandemic. Barring any major surprises, our view is that this latest package should be sufficient to do precisely that - to keep consumer and corporate balance sheets healthy into mid-2021 when large-scale vaccinations slow the virus and allow our lives (and economies and markets) to get back to normal again. The stimulus deal reinforces our positive economic outlook.

The good news is that we don’t need to learn a new alphabet soup of government support programs over the holiday break. The most market-relevant provisions from the stimulus package are all essentially booster shots of the most successful components from the CARES Act back in March. Based on the latest reports, the package will include:

  • $600 stimulus checks for the majority of U.S. households (down from $1,200)
  • $300 per week of federal unemployment benefits for affected workers (down from $600)
  • $284 billion of new, forgivable small business loans (down from $669 billion1)
  • Billions more in grants for severely impacted industries - i.e., airlines, cinemas, entertainment, etc.

The dollar amounts are, clearly, smaller this time around. However, the U.S. economy has also made substantial progress recovering from the lockdowns in the spring, and does not need as much support anymore to continue to grow.

While there is considerable uncertainty around short-term virus trends, our expectation is that the current economic recovery will strengthen and broaden over the course of 2021 as effective vaccines allow dislocated sectors to bounce back. The stimulus deal is important in bridging the gap to that medical solution.

A few other odds and ends before we close out the year:

  • The two Georgia runoff elections are quickly approaching on 5 January. These are consequential, given they jointly will determine the control of the U.S. Senate and the ability of the Biden administration to follow through (or not) on its agenda. Betting markets currently give Republicans a 75% chance of winning at least one seat and retaining control of the Senate. A surprise Democrat victory would likely cause long-term interest rates to rise on an expectation of further rounds of fiscal stimulus in 2021. However, the possibility of corporate tax hikes would be an offsetting headwind for U.S. equities.

  • Markets sold off moderately this morning on reports of a mutated, and potentially more infectious, strain of the coronavirus in the UK. There is a lot of speculation and guesswork jumping around the airways this morning. The limited scientific facts that we do know are well-encapsulated here. The most important question for markets is if the vaccines will still prove effective against this new virus strain. Most experts seem to think they will. But we do not know that yet.

  • Brexit discussions continue to go down to the wire as the 31 December deadline looms. This is of relevance to the UK economy and the British pound and, to a lesser degree, continental Europe - but of almost no significance to the United States.

Thank you for your readership during this truly unprecedented year. We look forward to providing continued insights into the latest market and economic developments in 2021. On behalf of the entire strategist team, we wish you a happy and safe holiday season.


Any opinion expressed is that of Russell Investments, is not a statement of fact, is subject to change and does not constitute investment advice.

1 The CARES Act provided $349 billion and the Paycheck Protection Program and Healthcare Act provided an additional $320 billion.