- Uncertainty about the global economy has reached a record high, according to a 20-country index.
- This development doesn’t bode well for the stock-market comeback that bulls have been waiting for.
- In light of this, equity strategists at Goldman Sachs identified two sectors of the market and nearly a dozen US stocks that should withstand further weakness in the global economy.
Investors hate uncertainty, and right now there are more unnerving questions than answers popping up everywhere they look.
The US government shutdown entered its 32nd day Tuesday with no end in sight. Britain’s exit from the European Union, originally slated for March 29, has descended further into chaos. China said over the long weekend that its economic growth last year was the weakest since 2009.
Don’t forget there’s still a trade war between the world’s two largest economies, interest-rate hikes from the Federal Reserve are likely on an indefinite hold, and huge companies like Apple will soon report earnings results that should confirm a slowdown in profit growth.
This cocktail of bitter news has pushed uncertainty about the economy to levels that have never been recorded, according to an index flagged by equity strategists at Goldman Sachs.
It’s the Global Economic Policy Uncertainty Index, which tracks newspaper mentions of “economy,” “policy,” and “uncertainty” in 20 countries. As this chart shows, it’s at a record high.
David Kostin, the chief US equity strategist at Goldman Sachs, said uncertainty is so palpable that it could wind up being a more powerful market driver than even earnings growth.
Kostin’s baseline expectation for this year is that earnings and economic growth will drive a market rebound that delivers a 14% return for the S&P 500. But such a U-turn from last year’s 4.4% decline is in jeopardy, given all the unknowns that investors are contending with.
This uncertainty is tough news for stock market bulls who have been looking forward to celebrating the next record high. They may have to wait a little longer because the events listed above suggest that there’ll be even more uncertainty as the year progresses.
For example, the political stalemate over a border wall that’s caused the shutdown is set to reemerge during the debt-ceiling debate later this year, Kostin said. The latter issue more directly relates to financial markets and caused the US’ first-ever credit downgrade in 2011 — an event that some experts warn could happen again.
As investors grapple with what they don’t know, Kostin is advising they own stocks that don’t depend on the mood swings of the global economy.
“One reason we recommend overweights in the Info Tech and Comm Services sectors is that they have demonstrated relatively small correlations with the pace of economic growth,” he said in a note on Monday.
Goldman Sachs further screened for companies with at least 10% sales growth in 2017 and 2018 that are forecast to deliver the same over the next two years. Furthermore, the consensus estimate for long-term earnings growth is at least 10% for the companies.
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