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U.S Stocks Have Risen Nearly 30% in the Past Five Months. Is It Time to Worry About a Correction?

March 24, 2024
minute read

Investors no longer exhibit concerns regarding the Federal Reserve's intent to maintain interest rates at elevated levels for an extended duration, despite the significant surge in equities and other high-risk assets observed since autumn.

Notably, the primary U.S. stock indexes recorded their most substantial weekly gains in several months last Friday, following Federal Reserve Chairman Powell's indication that three rate cuts remain plausible for this year, albeit with a cautious approach to transitioning away from restrictive monetary policies.

Recent data from FactSet indicates that major equity benchmarks have achieved record highs, with the S&P 500 index currently positioned approximately 27% above its low point on October 27.

Iman Brivanlou, who serves as the head of income equities at TCW, a Los Angeles-based investment firm, expressed astonishment at the rapid ascent of stock prices. While acknowledging the Federal Reserve's success in curbing inflation without significant harm to the economy, Brivanlou voices concerns that stocks may have surged excessively and hastily. He underscores the potential risks associated with maintaining inflation near 3% while the Fed contemplates multiple rate cuts, suggesting the possibility of upheaval in credit markets or financial instability.

The recent surge in Wall Street's performance occurs against the backdrop of the Federal Reserve's policy interest rate resting at one of its highest levels in a quarter-century. The Fed's projected trajectory indicates a decline in the policy rate to 4.6% by the end of this year, with a gradual descent to 2.6% by 2026, all while steering clear of recession and high unemployment. However, analysts caution against assuming a flawless economic transition, emphasizing the need for vigilance in navigating potential downsides.

Similarly, the rally in credit spreads within the U.S. bond market, alongside heightened investor optimism, raises concerns about inadequate compensation for risk. Despite factors such as potential oil price increases and uncertainties in commercial real estate, spreads on high-yield "junk bonds" have narrowed significantly, prompting a call for cautious risk assessment.

Against this backdrop, investment strategies that prioritize companies with robust balance sheets and exposure to select real estate investment trusts (REITs) emerge as prudent choices. TCW's approach, which includes an underweight position in sectors like office and retail, reflects a focus on long-term trends and resilience against potential downturns.

The current market rally reflects a combination of factors including a resilient U.S. economy, expectations of interest rate cuts, and enthusiasm for artificial intelligence stocks. Despite concerns about inflation and economic data surprises, the absence of significant market corrections in recent years suggests sustained optimism among investors.

While acknowledging some degree of market exuberance, analysts note fundamental differences from past bubbles, emphasizing the presence of genuine earnings potential in current market valuations. Additionally, the stability of the U.S. housing market plays a crucial role in supporting economic resilience, albeit with lingering concerns about supply shortages and overbuilding in certain regions.

Looking ahead, key economic indicators such as the PCE price index will provide insights into inflationary trends, influencing the Federal Reserve's policy decisions. As markets continue to navigate uncertainties, a cautious approach to risk management remains essential for investors.

Editorial Board
Eric Ng
John Liu
Editorial Board
Bryan Curtis
Adan Harris
Managing Editor
Cathy Hills
Associate Editor

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