Time to be defensive

Bob Doll at Nuveen says he does not expect a recession (for the next few quarters) but remains neutral towards stocks:

“Although stock prices have advanced over the last couple of weeks, investors remain focused on downside economic and policy risks and are increasingly concerned about a possible recession. The latest manufacturing readings hurt economic sentiment, while trade issues, turmoil in Hong Kong, the increasing likelihood of a messy, no-deal Brexit and a downturn in European growth are increasing worries.”

The Institute for Supply Management August Report points to an economic slow-down, with the Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) falling to 49.1 percent, from 51.2 percent in July. The New Orders Index also declined, to 47.2 percent from 50.8 percent in July. Readings below 50 indicate contraction.

“…The 2020 U.S. elections linger in the backdrop, offering potential to produce either a dramatic shift in economic policy should the Democrats retake the White House, or continued policy uncertainty should President Trump win reelection.

Against this backdrop, investors are struggling to position their portfolios. Consensus appears to say that it is time to turn more defensive, but U.S. Treasuries and other government bond yields appear to offer little if any value. Indeed, government bond markets are pricing in a high likelihood of a recession and a prolonged period of sluggish growth. At the same time, equity markets have been range bound over the last several months (and, by some measures, since the start of 2018) and are providing unclear signals.

In our view, the preponderance of the evidence suggests that growth will remain sluggish but a recession will be avoided, at least for the next few quarters. In other words, we think the signals coming from the equity markets are more accurate than those coming from government bond markets. Nevertheless, we continue to have a broadly neutral view toward stocks, and think investors should remain selective, focusing on such themes as companies that offer compelling value and those that have the ability to put relatively high levels of free cash flow to work.”

The wild card is the impact that high levels of uncertainty may have on business investment and employment.

Google Searches for Recession

This is a time to be defensive.

Bonds, traditional dividend-paying blue chips, and growth stocks all appear over-priced at current levels. Small caps are high risk in the current volatile environment and we are focused on large cap stocks with strong cash flows and defensible market position in non-cyclical industries. Some cyclical sectors may present value but investors need to be selective because of vulnerability to a potential down-turn.

Weekly Investment Commentary from Bob Doll | Nuveen

From Bob Doll:

Equities may struggle until corporate earnings improve.
For the past 18 months, equities have been able to make modest gains despite declining corporate profits. This has largely been due to highly accommodative monetary policy and central banks’ willingness to engage in new easing measures. Additionally, investors have been willing to look past the earnings recession since we have not seen a corresponding economic recession. Looking ahead, we believe earnings must advance for equity markets to make meaningful gains. It is early in the third quarter reporting season, but so far the news hasn’t been favorable.

It may take another quarter before corporate earnings accelerate.
At present, consensus expectations are that earnings will decline 3% in the third quarter while revenues rise 3%. Excluding energy, earnings would be up 1% with revenues advancing 4%. Conditions should improve in the fourth quarter, with consensus expectations pointing to a 6% earnings increase…..

Source: Weekly Investment Commentary from Bob Doll | Nuveen