From Bob Doll at Nuveen Investments. His weekly top themes:
1. We think the odds of a U.S. recession are low, but we also believe growth will remain soft for a couple of quarters. U.S. growth may bottom in the first half of 2019 following a relatively disappointing fourth quarter and the recent government shutdown. We expect growth will improve in the second half of the year.
Agreed, though growth is likely to remain soft for an extended period. The Philadelphia Fed Leading Index is easing but remains healthy at above 1.0% (December 2018).
2. Inflation remains low, but upward pressure is mounting. With unemployment under 4% and average hourly earnings rising to an annual 3.6% level, we may start to see prices rise. So far, better productivity growth has kept the lid on prices, but this trend bears watching.
Agreed. Average hourly earnings are rising and inflation may follow.
3. Trade issues remain a wildcard. The U.S./China trade dispute appears to be making progress, but the timeline is slipping and significant disagreement remains over tariff levels and intellectual property protections.
This is the dominant issue facing global markets. Call me skeptical but I don’t see a happy resolution. There is too much at stake for both parties. Expect a drawn out conflict over the next two decades.
4. We do not expect Brexit to cause widespread market issues. We think the risk of a hard Brexit is low, since no one wants to see that outcome. Some sort of soft separation or even a Brexit vote redo appears more likely.
Agreed. Hard Brexit is unlikely. Soft separation is likely, while no Brexit is most unlikely.
5. The health care sector may remain under pressure due to political rhetoric. Health care stocks in general, and managed care companies in particular, have struggled in light of talk about ending private health care coverage. We think Congress lacks the votes to enact such legislation. But this issue, as well as drug pricing policies, are likely to remain at the center of the political dialogue through the 2020 elections.
Health care is a political football and may take longer to resolve than the trade war with China.
6. Downward earnings revisions may present the largest risk for stocks. As recently as September 30, expectations for first quarter earnings growth were +7%. That slipped to +4% by January 1 and has since fallen to -3%.
A sharp fall in earnings would most likely spring from a steep rise in interest rates if the Fed had to combat rising inflation. That doesn’t seem imminent despite rising average hourly earnings. The Fed is maintaining money supply growth at close to 5.0%, around the same level as nominal GDP, keeping a lid on inflationary pressures.
7. Equity returns may be modest over the next decade compared to the last. Since the bull market began 10 years ago, U.S. stocks have appreciated over 400%. It’s nearly impossible to imagine that pace will be met again, but we feel confident that stocks will outperform Treasuries and cash over the next 10 years.
Expect modest returns on stocks, low interest rates, and low returns on bonds and cash.