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After being a notable optimist in 2022, JPMorgan’s chief strategist Marko Kolanovic has been one of the most prominent bears on Wall Street this year — even as stonks have rallied.
His year-end target for the S&P 500 is 4,200 points — about 5 per cent below its current AI-stirred level — because of aggro from the Federal Reserve and Vladimir Putin. But the man once dubbed “Gandalf” by Bloomberg remains committed to fighting the tape.
Here’s a note Kolanovic sent out to clients yesterday evening, with our emphasis below:
Following the regional banking crisis earlier this year, markets took an optimistic view: soft landing became a consensus, European stocks rallied at the back of China reopening (e.g. luxury goods, travel, etc.), and Japan stocks rallied as many institutions reduced exposure to China and moved money into Japan as a proxy. The US equity market rallied as investors extrapolated that AI will transform and boost the economy and corporate profitability in a short period of time; however, we see this as unrealistic. US tech stocks, particularly the largest ones, drove the market higher, as the NDX rallied ~50%. This rally was mostly a multiple expansion on the AI narrative, while in some cases revenue of key tech stocks declined, and overall corporate profits declined 6.5% YoY (as of June 30th). Furthermore, any theoretical market model (risk premia) would have expected multiples to decline given the increase of interest rates. Perhaps more significant than these narratives, systematic inflows into stocks were driven by a decline in market volatility, as both fundamental and quantitative investors re-levered from relatively low positioning at the end of last year.
The question now is where we do stand and should we analyze things differently seeing that the market was more ‘resilient’ than macro fundamentals warranted. As both premises for our cautious outlook (rates and geopolitics) turned more negative over the past few months, while positioning and valuations increased, we think there is now a higher likelihood of a crisis over the next 6 to 12 months, the severity of which could be higher than market participants anticipate. Risks of an interest rate shock and monetary tightening are clear: consumer credit (auto loans, credit cards, student loans, etc.), real estate globally (commercial and residential in both DM and EM), funding of startups and small businesses, increase of market volatility that comes with tighter monetary policy, and, eventually, impact on employment (construction, small businesses, etc.).
Sadly, he doesn’t expand upon this looming crisis risk. Most of the note is geopolitical waffle, rather than an exploration of the systematic investment flows that made Kolanovic’s reputation.
This is frustrating, as the procyclical, interlinked nature of volatility, flows and market prices remains a major issue, and — as Kolanovic nods to above — positioning now looks a little stretched. It would have been nice to have more of the good old stuff.
But what would it take for Kolanovic to change his mind?
We would turn more positive if interest rates start being reduced globally in the near future, and if we see de-escalation of the war with Russia, and easing of tensions and economic rapprochement with China. Our negative market view is based on seeing a low chance of either of these scenarios materializing near term — in short, we think that developments may first need to get worse before they get better.
This somewhat undermines the unchanged bearishness — sure, it’s hard to see the Ukrainian situation calming down any time soon, but JPMorgan itself forecasts that interest rates have peaked, and that Treasury yields will decline gently from here.
Indeed, some central banks are already cutting — for example China, Brazil, Chile, Vietnam and (probably later today) Poland. And plenty of investors and economists expect the Fed to start trimming rates in early 2024.