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"Barring recession, pain should be limited to correction," Charles Schwab's Liz Ann Sonders said on Tuesday (emphasis added).
"Barring recession" — or something worded similarly — is the hot caveat that Wall Street's stock market strategists are inserting into their research notes to clients.
The recent volatility in the stock market, which has seen the S&P 500 fall more than 10% from its high, has made it challenging for strategists who are trying to reassure their clients that the bull market will resume. Of course, these strategists don't want clients calling them, complaining about how they didn't warn of worse scenarios.
"While credit spreads have widened, oil prices have collapsed, and profit forecasts are being adjusted downward, the majority of economic indicators point to continued economic expansion," RBC Capital's Jonathan Golub said on Tuesday.
Golub argued that the current sell-off was a buying opportunity because he didn't see a recession. But he also notes, "Most bull markets end with recessions."
The consensus call out there is that the US will avoid recession for now. But that has not stopped prominent names like Jeff Gundlach and John Hussman from pointing out major warning signs that a recession may be imminent.
Citi's Tobias Levkovich said on Thursday:
The most aggressive bears may not be in the movie "The Revenant," but they are in the markets and some have been growling about recessions, stating, for example, that the recent powerful 292,000 jobs report was a good history lesson since it is a lagging indicator. We do not yet see the ingredients for an economic recession and even if one emerged, it would probably be less awful on earnings than seen in the past.
Indeed, if there is a recession anywhere right now, it's occurring in corporate profits, but not quite yet in the broad economy.
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"All GDP recessions coincide with profit declines, but not all profit declines coincide with GDP recessions, and that's what makes it a profit recession as distinct from a broad recession," Deutsche Bank's David Bianco said on Monday.
"[T]he so-called earnings recession seen the past couple of quarters could continue, which might torture some investors but also would intimate a lower probability of a precipitous decline in equity prices," Levkovich conceded.
Now, for the very few strategists who do see a recession coming, their outlooks for stocks are not good. Here's perennial bear Albert Edwards of Societe Generale:
I believe the Fed and its promiscuous fraternity of central banks have created the conditions for another debacle every bit as large as the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. I believe the events we now see unfolding will drive us back into global recession. I have long believed that 30y US bond yields would converge with Japan, just as Germany has now done. But a key part of my Ice Age thesis is that the US equity market remains in a valuation bear market that did not fully play itself out in March 2009, when the S&P touched the 666 level, and we will see new lows.
The S&P 500 would have to fall 65% from recent levels to get to 666.
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