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Investment Strategy

Is the rally in the rear view?

Jan 12, 2024

Even after 2023’s “everything rally,” we don’t think all the good news is priced in.

The new year has brought new challenges on the heels of 2023’s might, and this has sowed seeds of doubt in the rally.

Some worry that the inflation problem could stage a return (especially as the Federal Reserve turns to rate cuts), or that recession talk could re-emerge. Others are growing more concerned about tensions in the Middle East. Or some simply seem anxious because they think all of the good news might already be accounted for.

All are valid worries—and risks. Yet, as we dig deeper into each dynamic, we still see promise for the year ahead.

Disinflation has more room to run

Inflation has made a lot of progress: For the first time since 2021, this week’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) print showed that both headline and core prices (stripping out food and energy) are running below a 4% annual pace. But the read was also a touch hotter than what economists expected. 

Both headline and core inflation are now below 4%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomberg Finance L.P. Data as of December 31, 2023.
In January 2021, the headline CPI was 1.4%, while the core CPI (less food and energy) was 1.4%. In June 2021, the headline CPI was 5.4%, while the core CPI (less food and energy) was 4.5%. In December 2021, the headline CPI was 7%, while the core CPI (less food and energy) was 5.5%. In June 2022, the headline CPI was 9.1%, while the core CPI (less food and energy) was 5.9%. In December 2022, the headline CPI was 6.5%, while the core CPI (less food and energy) was 5.7%. In June 2023, the headline CPI was 3%, while the core CPI (less food and energy) was 4.8%. In December 2023, the headline CPI was 3.4%, while the core CPI (less food and energy) was 3.9%.

We see three key reasons why inflation can keep moving toward the Fed’s 2% target.

1) Shelter prices: Think: your rent, or the equivalent of what you’d pay to rent your home instead of owning it. This segment contributed over half of the year-over-year increase in headline CPI in December (and over two-thirds of core). Stripping it out, core prices actually ran at a 2.2% year-over-year pace. Leading indicators point to meaningful progress ahead—from reads on new leases being inked to a burgeoning supply of new multi-family homes coming to market.

There’s a lot of housing supply coming online

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Bloomberg Finance L.P. Data as of November 2023.
This chart shows U.S. total multi-family units under construction from 1969 to November 2023. It began at 507 in September 1970, then increased to 991 in August 1973. It fell to 329 in August 1976, increased to 540 in February 1979, then fell back to 276 in July 1982. From here, it increased back to 534 in July 1986, fell to 128 in September 1993, and rose again to 457 in September 2008. At this point, it fell to 165 in January 2011, rises to 617 in May 2018, and continued to rise to 1,005 in November 2023.

2) The labor market: It’s strong, but most measures are back to where they were before the pandemic. New job openings recently fell to their lowest since 2021, and Americans signaled they’re less likely than before to quit their jobs in search of new ones. That’s good news for sticky wage growth.

3) Supply chains: Most gauges of supply chains have now normalized after unprecedented COVID-era disruption. The situation in the Red Sea, and the Middle East broadly, warrants monitoring. But so far, the pickup in global shipping costs and oil prices looks modest, and it hasn’t stretched into other areas of the economy or markets.

Finally, other measures of broad inflation are already showing more powerful signs of cooling. The measure the Fed looks at—core Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE)—has actually been running at a 1.9% annualized rate over the last six months. We expect some bumps along the road of continued progress, but overall, the trend is still promising.

We don’t think all the good news is priced in

While 2024 follows one of the best years that markets have had in the last two decades, we think the gains can continue. Here are three reasons why.

1) Soft landings tend to signal pretty strong returns for both stocks and bonds.

It’s true most expect a soft landing, but we’d note that typical Fed cutting cycles in environments such as this one tend to see even stronger returns than we expect. Compared to history, the rally is actually about what you’d expect so far—and it signals the gains can keep coming.

Looking at hiking/cutting cycles going back to 1965, soft landings have seen the S&P 500 rally about 30% on average between the last hike and the last cut, and 10-year Treasury yields fall by roughly 200 basis points. By comparison, stocks have rallied just 5% since the Fed’s final hike this past July.

2) Earnings growth is just getting going. The strength of that matters.

While economic growth has been solid and stands to cool overall, recently battered sectors (such as manufacturing, housing and semiconductors) are stabilizing—and by some measures, recovering.

That jibes with our view that last year’s correction in earnings—which rolled across different sectors at different times—is staging a recovery. After refocusing, cutting costs and scaling their businesses, many companies are just in the nascent stages of returning to profitability. For instance, Q4 2022 marked a low point—68% of S&P 500 sectors by market cap were struggling with negative earnings growth. Now, the imminent Q4 season should see just over 80% with positive earnings growth. This rises to 100% by Q3 2024. Indeed, earnings expectations for the next 12 months just hit a fresh all-time high.

Future earnings expectations just hit an all-time high

Source: Factset. Data as of January 11, 2024. EPS: Earnings Per Share. Expectations represent FactSet consensus.
This chart shows S&P 500 forward earnings estimates from 2017 to January 2024. In 2017, it was at 133.6. It then increased to 160.4 in February 2018, then continued to rise to 177.8 in March 2020. It fell from here to 142.1 in May 2020 before rising once again to 239.7 in July 2022. The series then fell to 227.2 in February 2023 and subsequently rose to 244.9 in January 2024.

This last point is an important one. Companies seem to be operating more efficiently now. For instance, during the Q3 earnings season, just over 60% of companies beat revenue estimates. Even better: 80% beat on earnings. Similarly, profit margins have now stabilized at pre-COVID levels. In all, this suggests companies are using their costs effectively to generate sales—a good sign for future profitability. This Q4 season should offer more insight.

3) Not everything is accounting for a soft landing.

While we see more broad market upside, we’d note some of the most cyclical and value-oriented pockets of the market don’t fully appreciate the shift in the economic landscape. Small- and mid-cap companies, as well as regional banks, are still lagging the broader market. To us, this signals a soft landing isn’t fully appreciated. That’s supportive for a more robust, wider rally than the tech-dominated climb of 2023.

Some pockets of the market aren’t fully appreciating a soft landing

Source: Bloomberg Finance L.P. Data as of January 11, 2024. Note: Small caps represented by the Russell 2000 Index, mid caps by the S&P 400 Midcap Index, and regional banks by the SPDR S&P Regional Banking ETF. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.
This chart shows price performance, indexed to the beginning of 2024, of the S&P 500, small- and mid-cap companies, and regional banks from January 2023 to January 2024. For S&P 500: It was at 7.1% in February 2023, then rose to 19.5% in July 2023. It then fell again to 7.2% in October 2023 before rising again to 24.5% in January 2024. For small caps: It was at 12.7% in February 2023. It fell to -2.3% in March 2023, then rose to 13.2% in August 2023. It then fell to -7.1% in October 2023, then rose to 17.3% in December 2023. In January 2024, it fell to 11.0%. For mid caps: It was at 11.4% in February 2023. It then fell to -0.6% in March 2023 and rose to 11.9% in August 2023. It fell once again to -4.3% in October 2023, then rose to 12.4% in January 2024. For regional banks: In February 2023, it was at 10.2%. It fell to -38.5% in May 2023, then rose to -16.5% in August 2023. It fell once again to -34.3% in October 2023, then rose to 11.9% in January 2024.

Focus is key

Every day brings new headlines and new challenges. In unpacking the facts and distilling the data, we still see compelling returns ahead for multi-asset investors. This year may yet see volatility as investors confront upcoming catalysts, but we don’t think it should derail your plans. For long-term investors, time in the market and diversification can help reduce uncertainty.

Your J.P. Morgan advisor is here to think through your portfolio for the year ahead.

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All market and economic data as of January 2024 and sourced from Bloomberg Finance L.P. and FactSet unless otherwise stated.

We believe the information contained in this material to be reliable but do not warrant its accuracy or completeness. Opinions, estimates, and investment strategies and views expressed in this document constitute our judgment based on current market conditions and are subject to change without notice.

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