Eq: Total Market
Where is the economy headed? Investors seem to be torn at the moment. On the one hand they seem to feel that the economy must be headed south because of the long running expansion and recent inversion, but on the other, there is little data to really back up that claim. Accordingly, every new piece of economic data is being closely watched right now. The newest in is retail sales, which had fallen a bit recently. Today, though, is a different story, with March retail sales seeing their biggest jump in 18 months, rising 1.6% month on month.
FINSUM: Seeing evidence that consumers still look healthy is a testament to the fact that the underlying economy still looks strong.
Goldman Sachs put out a bearish article today that is calling for the tail end of this bull market. The bank thinks the rest of this year is going to be a dud and that PE multiples will not rise above 17. Therefore, they are suggesting a group of stocks that can thrive in such an environment. Here is a selection of 10 of their 20 choices: Texas Instruments, VeriSign, Gilead Sciences, Abbvie, Amgen, Starbucks, Lam Research, AT&T, Foot Locker, HanesBrands.
FINSUM: Appears like there are a lot of defensive stocks in this basket, which seems like a good plan for a sideways or bearish market.
Investors may be worried about a big fall in stock prices, but that is looking less likely than the opposite, at least according to BlackRock. The asset manager’s CEO, Larry Fink, said yesterday that records amount of cash may suddenly flow into the market, driving prices sharply higher. He points out that despite the good year in stocks so far, not a lot of money has been flowing into equities. Fink said dovishness by the Fed has created a shortage of” good assets”, which puts the market further at risk of a melt up.
FINSUM: A melt up could certainly happen, but we wonder what the catalyst would be. Maybe a solid trade deal with China?
Asset manager Guggenheim just put out a big call. The money manager’s strategists think that the economy is headed for a recession and markets are headed for huge declines. Their call is more interesting than the usual prognostications though. They point out that while this recession looks likely to be shallow because of a lack of underlying issues in the economy, the losses the market will suffer are likely to be severe. Scott Minerd of Guggenheim points out that “Our work shows that when recessions hit, the severity of the downturn has a relatively minor impact on the magnitude of the associated bear market in stocks”. Instead, it is the loftiness of valuations prior to the downturn that has a greater impact on how markets behave during a recession.
FINSUM: This argument makes total sense to us—there is no big fundamental problem with the economy, so a shallow recession, but equity prices are hefty right now, which means big losses.
There have been a lot of bullish indicators lately, and not just in share prices rising. However, there is a big warning sign that investors need to be paying attention to. One of the challenges of assessing corporate earnings is to get a feel for where things are really headed when the whole Wall Street reporting mechanism is stacked to make you think companies are always outperforming. One way to do so is to look at spreads between GAAP earnings and so-called “adjusted earnings”, or the doctored earnings companies love to show to make themselves appear more attractive. The wider the spread, the more companies are reaching to appear as though things look good. This, therefore, makes it a bellwether for how earnings and the economy are really trending. The spread between the two types of earnings stood at $200 bn for year-end 2018, the highest level since 2010.
FINSUM: This is not a perfect proxy, but it is certainly indicative, and the indication right now is not positive.
Every investor seems to assume that this bull market is nearing its expiration date. Good things must come to an end, after all. However, Barron’s is arguing (rather adamantly) that this bull market could perhaps go on for another ten years. Reminding us of the old adage that bear markets don’t die of old age, Barron’s says there is just no sign of real weakness. “As far as the U.S. economy is concerned, there is no obvious sign that it has deteriorated”, says the publication. What about the yield curve? They say that is just an adjustment to tighter monetary conditions and not predictive of a recession in this case.
FINSUM: There is undoubtedly an element of superstition/intuition which is making investors feel like this bull run must come to an end soon. But the reality is that the underlying conditions for that to happen may not be in place.