Big tech leader picture

Leaders of the world's biggest technology companies testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday about concerns regarding their dominance and social responsibility. Clockwise from upper right: Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Apple's Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Alphabet's Sundar Pichai.

As millions of Americans raised hopes about what the second half of 2020 would bring, the pandemic raged on and led states like California to close restaurants, bars and other public places

The rise of cases throughout America comes at a crucial time for college students and voters as the fall semester for many universities begins in a few weeks and the election is less than 100 days away.

How markets moved

Stocks generally trended upward this month despite turbulence as investors awaited word on a proposal from Congress on a new stimulus package as well as monitoring the numbers of new cases around the country.

The S&P 500 gained 4.6% in July while the blue chip Dow Jones Industrial Average marched 3.1% higher and the tech-heavy Nasdaq ascended 3.8%, as of July 29.

Heading into August, investors should be focused on whether new restrictions in states like Texas are helping decrease the number of COVID-19 cases. Investors will also be curious to see what the actions of many universities around the country will do as their decisions can potentially expose millions of Americans at increased risk of transmitting the disease.

Here are the subplots and storylines that moved markets.

Tech makes wave in the market and on Capitol Hill

American tech companies continue to shield themselves from the coronavirus financially and have seen stocks of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet — parent company of Google — return roughly 35%. These same five Silicon Valley heavyweights now account for more than one-fifth of the S&P 500’s value, according to Goldman Sachs in a letter to clients.

CEOs like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai testified to Congress about the size their companies have expanded to and whether they’ve unfairly stiffed competition and made it impossible for competing entrants. The meeting was reminiscent of when leaders like Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan and JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon met in Washington last year to discuss the state of the economy and financial institutions.

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and the world’s wealthiest man, testified in front of Congress for the first time Wednesday and was asked several questions regarding the accumulation of his wealth and growth of Amazon, allowing Congress to understand the CEO’s thoughts on Amazon’s impressive performance in recent years.

Stimulus uncertainty

On the heels of the European Union establishing a relief program of 750 billion euros ($860 billion), the U.S. government is quick to establish another coronavirus relief package before Congress takes a planned break in August. 

Sign up for the Madison Business Review Email

Senate Republicans formally unveiled their new relief package called the HEALS Act, which stands for Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools. In the new stimulus package, more direct payments to Americans are expected, another round of PPP forgivable loans are expected to be handed to small businesses who have seen revenues decline 50% or more, as well as liability protections. 

Funding for ramping up testing and vaccine research is in the new bill as well as funding for hard hit schools facing the reality that faces society.

In opposition to the new stimulus package proposed by Senate Republicans, Democratic leaders were set on a $3 trillion bill they proposed in May but was shot dead by Republicans. Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader, said the bill proposed by Republicans was “too little, too late” and a “half-hearted deal.”

Reopening schools

Colleges and universities across the nation are faced with the difficult decision of bringing back students with an increased risk of COVID-19 spreading or keeping students online, which could very well see many students leave and not pay tuition, crippling the school for years to come. 

Thirty years ago, Michael Young was faced with helping draft a plan to unify East and West Germany. Fast forward three decades and Young is president of Texas A&M University, and he looks back on his work unifying Germany as easier than navigating how to bring back a large student body as well as faculty and staff in the wake of a pandemic.

A threshold of 100 cases a day among students or faculty would most likely put Texas A&M on lockdown and move completely online, Young said. Many colleges, especially those who earn a lot from football games, are going to see continued financial struggles. The University of Michigan expected to lose close to $1 billion this spring, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Election anxiety

The 2020 presidential election will be like no other and may see voters mail in their choice of candidates or take an online voting poll.

As the coronavirus continues to spread around the country and world, Americans won’t see the usual rallies and conventions that help voters make their decision for the next president. This not only leads to a challenge for candidates to persuade and attract voters but poses the question about which party is favored.

In light of the possibility of voters having to send in their votes via mail, Democrats are believed to be more responsive because mailing polls makes access easier for minority groups, which typically will favor the blue party. 

However, if voting occurs in person like those in the last elections and doesn’t occur by mail, Republicans would be favored. According to the American Perspective Survey, minority groups like African Americans would be more worried about catching COVID-19 in crowded voting centers. 

Many on the right, including President Trump, fear mail-in voting will compromise the integrity of the election, though there’s skepticism around whether there’s enough evidence to validate those concerns. 

As usual, America is divided ideologically. If the nation started to separate physically through social distancing, that could finally do some good.

Andrew Withers is a junior finance major. Contact Andrew at witheran@dukes.jmu.edu.