Stocks have climbed higher but we don’t recommend attempting to trade around short-term moves; rather, investors should remain disciplined and diversified, and use any volatility to rebalance as needed. The consumer continues to drive the economy, while weakness is mostly still concentrated in manufacturing. Yet, the potential for volatility remains, as a comprehensive trade deal is not in sight, tariffs on consumer goods are still set to kick in on December 15, and monetary policy’s ability to spur growth and inflation may be waning. We continue to favor large caps over small caps and are neutral to U.S. and global equities.
Stock markets have become more volatile as trade tensions have worsened and weakness in the manufacturing side of the economy has caused increasing concern. Swift resolutions to these issues seem unlikely and a dovish Fed may not be the elixir to what ails the economy. With the likelihood of persistent volatility in the coming months, we recommend investors stay broadly diversified and focused on the long term. From a tactical perspective, we remain neutral to U.S. and global equities; with a bias within the U.S. market toward large cap stocks relative to small caps. Investors should not attempt to trade around short-term moves in the equity markets; but instead remain disciplined, diversified, and use rebalancing as necessary.
We won’t speculate about the final outcome of ongoing trade tensions, but we are growing more concerned that the hit to business confidence will increasingly filter through to consumer confidence and hard economic data. A more positive outcome could elongate the runway between now and the next recession. In the meantime, we continue to recommend that investors maintain a relatively neutral stance consistent with long-term asset allocations, using inevitable gyrations to rebalance as needed.
Trade tensions will likely continue to contribute to increase volatility and the longer it drags on, the bigger hit to economic growth, consumer/business confidence and the stock market. Our neutral stance around U.S. equities suggests keeping allocations no higher than longer-term strategic targets, with a large cap bias; using volatility for rebalancing opportunities. For those investors who don’t have broad international exposure, now may be a good time to consider areas that may feel less impact from the U.S.-China trade dispute.
Some volatility has returned and we believe a pullback in U.S. equities is a healthy development in terms of both investor sentiment and valuations. But some cracks in economic growth may be emerging, and inflation could start to rise given the tight labor market, so investors should remain disciplined with an eye toward rebalancing in the face of volatility. Trade remains a weight on the confidence of business leaders, and if the dispute with China continues to escalate, stocks and the economy would likely suffer further.
U.S. equity market gains since the Christmas Eve 2018 low have been impressive, and we don’t think a recession is in the near-term future—but sentiment is extended and investors should be cautious about chasing gains at this point; either in the United States or emerging markets. A near-term pullback would likely be healthy and could afford a better opportunity for investors who are looking to add equity exposure. On the other hand, those investors whose portfolios are now holding an outsized equity allocation could use the latest strength to rebalance back toward targets.
Stocks and bonds appear to be at loggerheads with regard to the economic outlook, and we believe both sides have merit. Unless earnings comfortably surprise on the upside, with healthy corporate guidance, there is a risk that stocks will give back some of their recent gains. Investor optimism remains elevated, economic data has been mixed, earnings expectations are in the red for the first quarter, and persistent trade concerns all remain potential headwinds. Stay patient and diversified and stay focused on longer-term goals.
Brief dips in U.S. stocks have done little to dent investor confidence; and with an inverted yield curve, trade uncertainty continuing, economic growth slowing and earnings possibly declining in the first quarter, we believe a pullback is becoming increasingly likely. Investors should remain disciplined and diversified and continue to prepare for the inevitable end of this cycle—without needing to pinpoint the timing precisely.
Recession fears have risen and stocks have become more volatile, but is now the time to prepare for a sharp downturn?