As we have been discussing since May of this year, there are increasing signs we have been groping for a bottom in the equity markets. This “Process” is not a single event but rather the totality of the circumstances which increasingly weighs the probability towards that positive resolution.
I also use the word probability because this outcome is not pre-ordained, but rather, subject to forces from future events which have yet to unfold. When we look forward, we are collectively making probabilistic bets as to several specifics, including the impact of these events, and the odds of them occurring. Some are known and already priced in, more are ambiguous and not, to say nothing of the random surprises which by definition we do not know of.
The caveat to this bottoming process involves future FOMC action. I have been fairly vocal that inflation has peaked, the Fed has already overtightened, and are risking too much economic damage fighting a demon that has already been exorcised. But my job is not to give the Fed policy advice, it is instead to provide clients with investment advice. The best way I can accomplish that is to recognize the ambiguities created by none of us knowing if the FOMC will be very right, a little wrong or very wrong. Those three options will determine whether or not the equity and bond markets make a bottom now, at some point in 2023, or some future date beyond.
My take on these probabilities looks something like this:
1. The Fed gets it precisely right: Yay! Inflation is vanquished, the economy makes a soft landing, rainbows and sprinkles and unicorns! Inflation comes down to 3%, Unemployment never goes above 4%, GDP stays around 2%. Its goldilocks as far as the eye can see. It’s nothing but 10% gains a year forever. All hail the U.S. central bank! (20% chance)
2. The Fed gets it a little wrong: The Fed takes rates over 5% and keeps them there way too long. Parts of the economy suffers – notably residential real estate, new job creation, and consumer spending. U3 unemployment goes from its current 3.7% to closer to 5%. New job creation falls to under 100k per month. GDP is flattish to slightly positive. Given these headwinds, the overall economy remains fairly resilient, with falling savings rates and a lack of wage gains offset by falling inflation. Maybe this economic slowing results in a mild shallow recession, maybe not. Markets go sideways through Q1 perhaps even into Q2, then takes off. (50% chance)
3. The Fed totally blows it: The tightens and keeps tightening, straight through 5% towards 6%. Ignoring the deflation in goods and focusing on the inflation in services, especially rent, which they themselves are causing, they stay tight. GDP goes negative, Unemployment goes above 5%, house prices fall 15%, Consumer spending crashes. (30% chance)
Do not assume, however, that the Federal Reserve is the only significant market input:
The economy has thus far remained resilient;
Consumers are still spending;
Households and corporate balance sheets are healthy;
Profits have remained robust;
Valuations have become more attractive;
Seasonal patterns are positive.
This is why I put a 50% probability of markets finding a bottom sometime between October 2022 and March 2023.
If you are a long-term investor, I would suggest considering Value and Small Caps. Financials have held up well also, as they generate greater profits thanks to higher rates. And I never like to bet against tech, especially after it has fallen substantially. I would be more cautious with single stock risk, specifically, those circumstances where there are problematic business models, mercurial CEOs, and/or increased competition.
I acknowledge there are lots of ways it can go south. I remain — hopeful? Constructive? Engaging in wishful thinking? Perhaps all three. YMMV.
Chart above via JC
Big Moves: Bears & Bottoms (November 11, 2022)
Groping for a Bottom (October 14, 2022)
7th Inning Stretch (September 30, 2022)
Countertrend? (August 15, 2022)
Big Up Big Down Days (May 5, 2022)
Too Many Bears (May 3, 2022)
End of the Secular Bull? Not So Fast (April 3, 2020)