The 2022 bear market will be remembered as a year when collapsing growth stock valuations and rising interest rates doomed almost every asset class to return purgatory. Hopes for avoiding a second down year rest with a potential top in interest rates and solid earnings underpinning the stock market. Wall Street strategists have a year-end 2023 price target of just over 4,000 for the S&P 500, a few percentage points of upside from today but hardly reason to toast a prosperous new year.
A new study looking at the relationship between inflation and profit margins is introduced. The goal is to understand how the latest margin peak was reached in mid-2021 and what impact inflation might have on margin forecasts underlying next year’s earnings estimates. Full report will be sent mid-month.
PPI and CPI inflation reached levels that were “too hot to handle” last April and July, respectively, yet the blue chips kept going up through year-end. Large Cap investors who trimmed stocks in response to the violation of these long-time inflation speed limits, however, haven’t missed out on much, and Small Cap investors who did so are happy.
At some point during the June/July streak of seven-consecutive S&P 500 daily-closing highs, an album from 1980 popped into our heads: Nothin’ Matters And What If It Did—released when John Mellencamp was still known as John Cougar. It brought to mind some “nothin’s” that seem not to matter.
In the latest Green Book, we noted that Producer Price Inflation does not usually become a challenge for the stock market until its annual rate breaks above 4.0%. The day that comment was published, the year-over-year gain in the March PPI for Finished Goods spiked to 6.0%, thanks mostly to the well-celebrated COVID-19 anniversary-effect.
With the recent weakness in oil prices and the renewed strength of the U.S. dollar, we would not be surprised to see weaker headline numbers in the next few months. The expectations of a rate hike might actually end up pushing the rate hike further out. We are now less sanguine about a pick-up in PPI in the rest of the year.
While there’s understandable obsession over the likely level of inflation (especially with the year-over-year CPI dipping below zero in the past two months), equity managers with no interest or skill in inflation forecasting might be better served by monitoring the character of inflation—i.e., whether it was led by changes in consumer or producer prices.
Inflation measures are broadly in line with expectations, and overall inflation pressure is anemic. We maintain our view that inflation will be a non-factor in the first half of 2014, and it might increase moderately in the second half. Inflation on the producers’ level is weak, too and the PPI inflation pipeline doesn’t seem to pose any immediate inflationary threat either.