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Portfolio > Economy & Markets

Bank Stress Signals Bear Market End: Morgan Stanley Strategist

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Morgan Stanley’s Michael Wilson said the stress in the banking system marks what’s likely to be the beginning of a painful and “vicious” end to the bear market in U.S. stocks.

“With the back-stopping of bank deposits by the Fed/FDIC, many equity investors are asking if this is another form of QE and therefore ‘risk on’,” the strategist — who correctly predicted the selloff in stocks last year and rebound in October — wrote in a note. “We argue it’s not, and instead represents the beginning of the end of the bear market as falling credit availability squeezes growth out of the economy.”

The S&P 500 will remain unattractive until equity risk premium climbs to as high as 400 basis points from the current 230 level, according to Wilson, who is known for being one of Wall Street’s staunchest bears.

“The last part of the bear can be vicious and highly correlated,” he said. “Prices fall sharply via an equity risk premium spike that is very hard to prevent or defend in one’s portfolio.”

Bloomberg chart showing Estimates Are Still Too High | Michael Wilson says profit forecasts haven't dropped enough given weaker growth

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and selloff in Credit Suisse Group AG shares have fueled concerns about the health of the global financial system this month, roiling markets.

U.S. equity futures declined on Monday after UBS Group AG’s agreement to buy Credit Suisse and central bank moves to boost dollar liquidity failed to calm investor worries about the health of the global banking system.

“This is exactly how bear markets end — an unforeseen catalyst that is obvious in hindsight forces market participants to acknowledge what has been right in front of them the entire time,” Wilson wrote.

The ongoing turmoil in the banking system should lead investors to focus on the deteriorating growth outlook amid restrictive credit conditions, according to Wilson.

“The events of the past week mean that credit availability is decreasing for a wide swath of the economy, which may be the catalyst that finally convinces market participants that earnings estimates are too high,” he wrote, adding that the risk of a credit crunch has increased materially.

The strategist expects analysts to slash expectations as the reporting season approaches, while corporates prepare to lower guidance in a notable way, he said.

He recommends positioning in defensive, low-beta sectors and stocks, while cautioning against the view that mega-cap technology shares are immune to growth concerns.

Wilson is not alone in forecasting a tough time ahead for markets. JPMorgan Chase & Co. strategists led by Mislav Matejka said the inverted yield curve will be “proven right,” signaling a recession ahead. The first quarter will likely be the high point for stocks this year, he wrote in a note, adding that equities won’t reach lows until the Fed has pivoted to rate cuts.

(Image: Shutterstock)


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