Charles Schwab, a major conduit for retail investors’ views of the markets, has just come out very bearish. The broker’s chief investment strategist is full of interesting, and bearish insights for 2019. For instance, she explains that earnings growth estimates are far too high (at 6-8%) and that an earnings recession is likely. Schwab expects a rolling bear, if not a full bear market, to continue. The broker pointed out that nearly 50% of S&P 500 stocks are now already in a bear market (down 20% or more).
FINSUM: It is pretty difficult to find reason to be bullish on shares right now. The economy seems to be past peak, an intractable trade war is growing, and a yield inversion is taking shape. That said, the market loves to climb a wall of worry.
There has been a large segment of money managers and investors that have taken a bullish stance against Treasuries. With rates rising and the economy performing well, it stood to reason that yields would keep on rising. However, after a couple of months of brutal stock volatility and worries over a trade war and growth, investors are finally shedding those bearish short positions. The stance was one of the most popular of the year, but the volume of bearish positions has shrunk by two-thirds since from the record it reached in late September.
FINSUM: The ten-year yield now looks more likely to fall than rise given the longer-term economic outlook and trouble in stocks.
Earlier this week it seemed that the market might finally have a reason to believe the Fed might pause its inexorable march higher in rates. That reason was that inflation had dipped below the Fed’s target. Being just a single occurrence, it was a weak-footed hope. Now, new data shows the American consumer is doing well, as retail sales jumped 0.9% in November. The explanation for the jump is that a drop in gasoline prices helped fuel more retail spending.
FINSUM: Consumers are obviously still feeling comfortable, which will give the Fed a bit of comfort about the stage of the cycle.
One of the guiding mantras of the markets since at least 2015 has been to buy the dip. The generally idea was that the market was on an upward trend, so every little downturn presented a good buying opportunity. One of the big problems with the markets right now is that such dip-buying has all but evaporated. With a trade war raging and a recession on the horizon, investors have lost faith that the direction of the market is upward, which means each dip now represents additionally downside risk instead of a buying opportunity.
FINSUM: That core belief in the direction of stock prices has been badly shaken and it is hard to imagine it will return any time soon.
The market is in its toughest position in recent memory. Numerous headwinds, none of which are easy to resolve, are stacked against it. Wit that in mind, banks are starting to publish their doom and gloom outlooks for 2019. Nomura has identified a number of “grey swans” (not black) which could topple the market next year. Some of the most interesting risks they identified included a European debt crisis sparked by Italy, oil plunging to $20 per barrel, the end of populism, and an “inflation sonic boom”.
FINSUM: To be honest, we think these are all very unlikely. What is much more likely is a recession accompanied by a trade war.