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  • Writer's pictureSteven Sherman

Guide to the Markets by JPMorgan Q1 2020

Dr. David Kelly, Chief Global Strategist

Economic & Market Update: Using the Guide to the Markets to Explain the Investment Environment

1. Recession risks have risen, but we expect resilience

LEFT: U.S. growth has slowed to 2%

The economic expansion entered its 11th year last year, making it the longest expansion since 1900. In fact, 2010-2020 is the only decade in which the U.S. economy has not experienced a recession.

This economic expansion has been like a healthy tortoise – slow, but steady. However, as the effects of fiscal stimulus from the tax cuts, which boosted growth in 2018, fades, growth has slowed to a more trend-like 2%. Despite recession risks rising given persistent trade tensions, cyclical sectors of the economy, such as autos, housing, business investment spending or inventories, do not appear over-extended, the labor market is tight, and inflation is stable, making the case for economic resilience.

RIGHT: Consumption is the foundation of GDP

Consumption comprises 70% of GDP, and appears resilient, but moderating in the third quarter. However, business fixed investment and net exports are weaker, likely as a result of heightened trade tensions. When uncertainty is pervasive, it often causes businesses to delay or suspend future investment or hiring decisions.

2. Employment gains have slowed

The unemployment rate is like a playground slide: it rises steeply during a downturn, and falls steadily during a recovery and expansion, similar to the shape of a playground slide. However, at the end of every playground slide is a leveling off to slow momentum. After reaching multi-decade lows, the unemployment rate is likely nearly as low as it can go. After all, job growth lags GDP growth by one to two quarters, so as growth decelerates, we have also seen job gains slow.

Although wages experienced a modest acceleration, that is also likely to plateau from here, as companies continue to resist raising wages, workers have limited bargaining powers given the decline of trade unions, and wages are pushed down by a wave of retiring baby boomers.

3. Earnings growth has slowed, but should still be positive in 2020

Profit growth was extremely strong in 2018, but slowed to low-single digits in 2019. 2020 looks set to achieve low to mid-single digit earnings growth again, as margins face pressures from rising wages and input costs, and the U.S. dollar remains a headwind for multinationals.

4. Inflation, though rising slowly, remains below the Fed’s 2% target

Almost 10 years of monetary stimulus, economic growth and falling unemployment have succeeded in boosting home prices, bond prices and stock prices. However, they have not had a meaningful impact on consumer prices.

Information technology continues to make consumer markets more competitive and this, along with likely only modest wage growth from here, suggests that PCE deflator inflation will hover just under 2% year-over-year in 2020, undershooting the Federal Reserve’s 2% target. Lower oil prices continue to weigh on the headline inflation numbers, while the core readings ex-food and energy have nudged up. Core CPI inflation has heated up recently, but it is unlikely to takeoff much further.

5. The global economy has slowed, but not stalled

Amid global trade tensions that have intensified this spring and remain unresolved, along with political turmoil across Europe and a slowing China, the global economy is facing a slowdown. We have seen manufacturing activity, as measured by PMI data, dip into contractionary territory (below 50) in many regions, most notably Germany, the Euro Area, Taiwan and Korea. Services PMI, which has held up better than manufacturing, is also beginning to deteriorate. Still, the global economy is not likely to stall in 2020. Additionally, global central banks have shifted towards easing monetary policy, which is supportive of the global economy.

6. The Fed should remain on hold in 2020

Although the labor market is still very tight and inflation pressures are muted, the Federal Reserve cut rates three times in 2019, characterizing it as a “mid-cycle adjustment.” The FOMC noted that “the current stance of monetary policy is appropriate to support sustained expansion of economic activity,” suggesting it intends to remain on pause over the medium term. It also acknowledged that muted inflationary pressures and global developments—a nod to ongoing trade tensions—will be closely monitored going forward. Looking forward, the bar remains high for the Fed to adjust interest rates in either direction at least through 2020.

7. Low for even longer

Long-term interest rates remain very low, especially compared to historical averages. Rates across the curve fell dramatically over the summer, but rebounded slightly in the autumn. Still, in this low rate environment, investors continue to hunt for yield. However, higher yield often means higher risk, and often a greater correlation to equities. Investors ought to weigh whether they are being compensated adequately for owning some areas of the market that offer higher yields. Investors should also consider moving up in quality and longer in duration to protect their portfolios.

8. U.S. equity valuations are above long-term averages

Equity markets moved higher in 2019 and achieved new market highs. Although valuations do not appear to be overextended, they are not cheap either. Although the market may have room to run, it is important for investors not to be positioned too aggressively, as many uncertainties, such as trade, growth, and politics, may continue to cause volatility ahead.

9. International stocks offer long-term opportunities

For most of the last three decades, both U.S. and international markets moved sideways. However, come 2011, U.S. markets took off while international markets remained stuck. In 2017, international markets started to outperform, but saw a reversal in 2018, leaving many to wonder if international strength was short-lived. However, international equities remain attractive over the long run thanks to strong economic growth and likely a downward trajectory for the U.S. dollar. Moreover, valuation measures suggest that international stocks are cheap relative to both the U.S. and their long-term histories.  

10. Broad diversification and careful portfolio management are required in late cycle

Despite slowing economic growth ahead, equity markets and the economy still have room to run. However, an older expansion and bull market call for a more disciplined approach, with smaller over-weights and under-weights relative to a normal portfolio. It will be even more important for investors to maintain well-diversified portfolios and be willing to make adjustments as late-cycle risks gradually rise.


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