Signs of Hope Emerge, but Pessimism Remains High

Key Points

Equity markets rallied strongly last week as some glimmers of hope emerged.

Investor sentiment remains depressed, however, and we expect volatility will persist.

We think investors should grow less bearish over the coming months, and we have a cautiously optimistic view toward equities.

Equity prices soared higher last week around the globe. In the United States, the S&P 500 Index climbed 2.9%, and gains in Europe and Asia were even higher.1 However, U.S. stocks continue to lead the pack year to date.1 At least some of the gains can be attributed to an oversold bounce and overly negative sentiment. Relative stability in oil prices and in China, along with decent economic and earnings data, helped as well. Many investors remain skeptical about the sustainability of last week’s rally since it came without much of a fundamental shift in the negative feedback loop narrative that has driven financial markets for much of this year.

Weekly Top Themes

  1. Energy sector issues have not been spilling over into the broader economy.
    The long-term collapse in oil prices has resulted in earnings setbacks and credit deterioration for energy companies. At the same time, however, we are still seeing improvements in consumer spending, broader credit growth and the jobs picture, which suggests that a wider contagion is not occurring.

  2. The labor market in particular appears resilient to downside pressure.
    Last week’s unemployment claims fell by a better-than-expected 7,000 to 262,000.2

  3. Inflation is slowly creeping higher.
    The headline Consumer Price Index was unchanged in January, but core CPI rose 0.3% last month.3 This is the largest increase since 2006 and brings the year-over-year increase to 2.2%.3 Given the strength of the dollar and the drop in oil prices, we attribute the increase in inflation to firming domestic cost pressures — specifically the tightening jobs market and rising consumer spending.

  4. We expect modest economic and earnings growth in 2016.
    In some ways, it is surprising that the years-long zero-interest-rate policy in the United States has not produced better growth. In our view, this is due to the fact that it occurred while fiscal policy was contracting and consumer spending remained low. It appears that these trends are ending, and we believe government and consumer spending should promote additional growth. Our best guess for 2016 real gross domestic product is 2.5%.

  5. The unsettled presidential race could spell trouble for the financial markets.
    Investors loathe uncertainty in politics. Should it come to pass that one of the nontraditional, non-establishment candidates (e.g., Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders) gets elected, there is good reason to believe that they will not operate under traditional restraints, and it would be difficult to forecast their policies. This could result in additional market volatility and downside pressures on equities.

What Will It Take to See Risk Assets Recover?
Some glimmers of hope emerged last week. Oil prices stabilized a bit and investors grew less concerned that the United States might follow the lead of other countries and move toward a negative interest rate policy. These were only glimmers, however, as investors remain deeply pessimistic about global economic growth. The fact that government bond yields did not bounce last week in line with equity prices demonstrates that investors are not moving from bonds into stocks as they would if sentiment were improving.

This suggests that financial markets are not yet out of the woods. A sustained rally in risk assets such as equities would require several conditions. Oil inventories must fall, resulting in more stable prices. Additionally, more clarity is needed surrounding the Chinese economy and yuan. Globally, monetary policy must become more certain, along with improved manufacturing and trade data.

We believe these trends should emerge over the coming months, but there is still considerable uncertainty about the near-term, especially since investor sentiment is so depressed and out of line with economic fundamentals. If and when economic data improves, investors should become less bearish, but it will take some time. We remain cautiously optimistic about equities over a six- to twelve-month time horizon, but also expect relatively high levels of volatility to persist.

1 Source: Morningstar Direct, as of 2/19/16

2 Source: Labor Department

3 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The S&P 500 Index is a capitalization-weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure the performance of the broad domestic economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted average of 30 significant stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq. The Nasdaq Composite is a stock market index of the common stocks and similar securities listed on the NASDAQ stock market. FTSE 100 Index is a capitalization-weighted index of the 100 most highly capitalized companies traded on the London Stock Exchange. Deutsche Borse AG German Stock Index (DAX Index) is a total return index of 30 selected German blue chip stocks traded on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Nikkei 225 Index is a price-weighted average of 225 top-rated Japanese companies listed in the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Hong Kong Hang Seng Index is a free-float capitalization-weighted index of selection of companies from the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite is a capitalization-weighted index that tracks the daily price performance of all A-shares and B-shares listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. MSCI EAFE Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization weighted index designed to measure developed market equity performance, excluding the U.S. and Canada. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure equity market performance of emerging markets. Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index covers the U.S. investment grade fixed rate bond market. The BofA Merrill Lynch 3-Month U.S. Treasury Bill Index is an unmanaged market index of U.S. Treasury securities maturing in 90 days that assumes reinvestment of all income.


The views and opinions expressed are for informational and educational purposes only as of the date of writing and may change at any time based on market or other conditions and may not come to pass. This material is not intended to be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered specific legal, investment or tax advice. The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation, or particular needs of any specific person. All investments carry a certain degree of risk and there is no assurance that an investment will provide positive performance over any period of time. Equity investments are subject to market risk or the risk that stocks will decline in response to such factors as adverse company news or industry developments or a general economic decline. Debt or fixed income securities are subject to market risk, credit risk, interest rate risk, call risk, tax risk, political and economic risk, and income risk. As interest rates rise, bond prices fall. Non- investment-grade bonds involve heightened credit risk, liquidity risk, and potential for default. Foreign investing involves additional risks, including currency fluctuation, political and economic instability, lack of liquidity and differing legal and accounting standards. These risks are magnified in emerging markets. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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