Investors hoping January’s rally in stocks portends a big year of gains ahead are going to have to dial back their expectations, according to Peter Oppenheimer, chief global equity strategist with Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
The current rebound is a reaction to investors growing too negative at the end of last year, as U.S.-China trade tensions, Brexit rhetoric and concerns about global growth intensified, he said, speaking to Bloomberg TV from the sidelines of the Goldman Sachs Global Macro Conference Asia-Pacific in Hong Kong.
“That rally has got limits,” Oppenheimer said. “Fundamentally, we do expect quite low profit growth over the course of this year across major equity markets, and that will cap the upside.”
The MSCI All-Country World Index has jumped almost 5 percent this year, its second-best start since 2012 behind last year’s 6 percent gain over the same period. That hot start didn’t endure, with the index slumping to an 11 percent loss by the end of 2018.
Investors in 2019 should focus on two issues:
First, whether the economic slowdown that markets have priced in actually emerges, or whether the data surprises to the upside. Oppenheimer expects the latter, seeing a slowdown especially in the U.S., though not as bad as feared.
Second is earnings. With companies in the midst of reporting their fourth-quarter results, guidance will be important, with investors also focusing on margins, he said. Consensus expectations in most regions are for these to expand through the course of the year, which is too optimistic and suggests earnings revisions will be pared, Oppenheimer said.
Still, companies that have posted disappointing earnings aren’t seeing much of negative price action, suggesting much of that news has been priced in, the strategist added.
“This rally will continue for a little bit,” Oppenheimer said. Moderate profit growth “will support positive returns but I think we’ll be in a more flattened, sort of skinny trading range for most markets over the bulk of the year,” he said.
In the meantime, U.S. stocks with the highest exposure to the U.K. may get a boost if a Brexit deal is delayed and the British pound pushes higher, Goldman strategists including Arjun Menon wrote in a separate note.
Stocks with high U.K. sales exposure include Newmont Mining Corp., PPL Corp., Affiliated Managers Group Inc. and Willis Towers Watson Plc, the strategists said in a note.
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