Stocks are up big in 2019. Really big. Year-to-date, the S&P 500 as represented by the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (NYSEARCA:SPY) is up more than 16%. To put that in perspective, this decade has only featured two years wherein stocks returned more than 15% for the whole year. The stock market has already done that this year, and we aren’t even a third of the way through 2019. People are finding stocks to buy all over the place.
Given how far and how fast socks have rallied in 2019, some market observers think that best of 2019 is in the rearview mirror. Indeed, some pundits think that stocks have already reached their 2019 peak, and that the rest of the year will play out like the last few months of 2018.
I don’t buy that bear thesis. Stocks aren’t done rallying here. Granted, while we may not see the S&P 500 tack on another 15% from here into the end of the year, stocks should be able to grind higher over the next several months for several reasons.
What are those reasons? Let’s take a closer look at why stocks can and will head higher from here, and why you should still be open to new stocks to buy.
The Economy Appears to Be Stabilizing & Improving
Above all else, stocks could remain in rally mode for the rest of 2019 because the global economy, which has slowed over the past several months, appears to be stabilizing and even showing signs of improving.
The OECD area Composite Leading Indicator (CLI) has been slipping since late 2017, but February 2019’s month-to-month drop in CLI was the smallest month-to-month drop since early 2018. Thus, the decline is moderating. This is true for the CLI in the EU, the U.S. and China.
Broadly speaking, economic conditions globally are stabilizing in 2019, while they are actually improving in the U.S. and China. If these economic improvements persist, stocks will naturally remain on an upward trend.
A Trade War Resolution Could Be Coming Soon
One of the biggest headwinds which weighed on stocks in late 2018 was rising trade tensions between the U.S. and China. But, those trade tensions have cooled substantially in 2019. Now, the consensus on Wall Street is that a trade war resolution is coming soon.
If such a resolution does happen soon, stocks will rally in a big way. China economic activity will re-accelerate. So will U.S. economic activity. Corporate revenue and margin headwinds will move into the rear-view mirror. Profit estimates will move higher. Investor sentiment will improve.
In other words, I wouldn’t want to be on the sidelines if and when a trade war resolution comes in 2019.
The Fed Has Gone Dovish
Another huge headwind which weighed on stocks in late 2018 was a hawkish Federal Reserve, which was seemingly determined to hike interest rates regardless of the incoming economic data.
This headwind, too, has reversed course in 2019. The Fed has done a 180, going completely dovish and adopting a data-dependent policy. The data right now, while good, doesn’t show any inflation. As such, the Fed appears ready to hold rates steady for the foreseeable future.
Zero rate hikes into the end of the year could add some much-needed juice back into this economy. The consumer economy will pick back up thanks to lower borrowing costs. The housing sector will rebound. So will the auto sector. Industrial activity will pick back up. Broadly speaking, the whole economy should continue to improve so long as the Fed stays on the sidelines. That improvement will ultimately help push stocks higher.
The Bond Market Has Rallied
One of the biggest thing for stocks is their valuation gap relative to bonds. In plain English, the bigger that gap, the more attractively valued stocks appear, and the more room they have to run higher from a relative valuation perspective.
Right now, that gap is really big, mostly thanks to the Fed holding rates constant, which has led to a bond market rally, and kept the yields on bonds depressed. Specifically, the 10-Year Treasury Yield today sits at just 2.6%. The S&P 500 forward earnings yield is 6%. That is a 340 basis point spread between bond and stock yields, which is huge from a historical standpoint.
As such, relative to bonds, stocks remain historically undervalued. Because of this, until the bond market collapses, stocks will likely remain on an upward trajectory
Valuations Are Reasonable
Even excluding valuation relative to bonds, stocks appear reasonably undervalued at current levels.
The current forward-12-month price-to-earnings multiple for the S&P 500 is 16.7. That’s only slightly above the five-year average forward multiple of 16.4. Plus, most analysts see 2019 as a weak year for earnings growth, and are projecting for 2020 earnings growth to be much better, given the global economic improvements outlined above.
As such, fiscal 2020 EPS estimates for the S&P 500 currently sit at $187. A five-year average 16.4 forward multiple on $187 implies a 2019-end price target for the S&P 500 of over 3,050. The index currently sits around 2,900. Thus, upside into the end of the year looks good from a numbers perspective.
The Market Has Leadership Again
One thing close market observers always say is that in order for the market to head higher, you need market leadership. Translated, that basically means that financial markets are healthiest when there’s a group of stocks which are paving the path for higher prices for the whole market.
In the back half of 2016 and through all of 2017, the stock market had that leadership in large-cap tech stocks. The Nasdaq-100 Technology Sector rallied nearly 70% from July 2016 to December 2017, and that paved the path for a nearly 30% rally in the S&P 500. In 2018, the market lost that leadership. Tech stocks faltered, and the Nasdaq-100 Technology Sector dropped 6%. That likewise led to a 6% drop in the S&P 500.
As economic and financial market conditions have improved in 2019, though, tech leadership has returned to the market. Tech stocks are up a whopping 30% year-to-date, and that has powered a robust 15% gain for the S&P 500. So long as this tech leadership persists, stocks should broadly head higher.
Individual Narratives Are Improving
At the end of the day, the stock market is a collection of a bunch of individual stocks. Thus, so long as those individual stocks continue to do well, the stock market will broadly continue to do well, too.
Presently, the outlook for individual stocks to head higher is favorable. Narratives across the market are improving. Digital ad stocks like Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) are shaking off 2018 data privacy concerns and turning on the growth engines in 2019. Semiconductor stocks like Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD) and Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) are rebounding amid signs that the worst of this recent cycle downturn is over. Retail stocks like Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Target (NYSE:TGT) are pushing higher amid renewed consumer confidence. Housing stocks like KB Home (NYSE:KBH) are in full rebound mode as confidence has returned to the housing market. China stocks like JD (NASDAQ:JD) and Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) are likewise rebounding strongly as China’s economy has improved in 2019.
In other words, individual stock narratives are dramatically improving. So long as these improvements persists, stocks will broadly head higher.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long FB, GOOG, NVDA, WMT, HD, KBH, JD, and BABA.
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