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Citi downgrades U.S. stocks

Scott Gamm
Specialist Peter Mazza, left, and trader Michael Urkonis work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. Stocks are opening lower on Wall Street after China reported a surprise drop in exports to the U.S. last month. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Don’t get too carried away by January’s Fed-induced rally, which amounted to a 5% gain so far this year and a roughy 12% spike since Christmas Eve.

That’s the assessment from Citigroup, in a Thursday note to clients.

“We are now neutralizing our U.S. equity overweight,” the analysts wrote. “[Quantitative tightening] and late-cycle margin contraction are still concerns, whilst our investment framework implies that a new high for U.S. equities is unlikely if growth is normalizing back to trend.”

After all, Citi’s year-end price target on the S&P 500 (^GSPC) is 2,850, implying a 9.5% gain for 2019; a 7.9% gain from the S&P 500’s current level, but the target is still down 2.7% from the broad index’s closing high of 2,930 on Sept. 20, 2018.

If Citi kept its rating on U.S. equities as overweight that would imply 15% upside, “which seems a little high given the current growth dynamic.”

The other thesis around Citi’s outlook centers around a looming era of lackluster stock market returns, a departure from the average annual 12% market gain since 2010.

“Whilst we have held an overweight in U.S. equities since May 2018, we acknowledge that risk assets could be entering into sustained period of more moderate returns,” they wrote, adding that stocks need to start moving more in line with fundamentals.

“Looking at the traditional metric of U.S. market capitalization relative to GDP, U.S. equities seem to have now ‘paid back’ some of Trump’s fiscal stimulus introduced in 2017,” they wrote.

The S&P 500 is up 23.5% since the Nov. 8, 2016 election.

Scott Gamm is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @ScottGamm.

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