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Wall Street’s Prospects Darken; Does The Bear Lie in Wait?

Concerns are mounting among economists and investment analysts that the U.S. economy could be headed for a bear market or correction — or even worse, a cyclical recession. Income investors would be wise to reduce risk in their portfolios and seek safe haven investments. 

Before Trump’s election, pundits were sounding the alarm on the rising chances of a correction or bear market. However, those concerns took a back seat when Trump won and the markets embraced his pro-business policies.

However, concerns over an economic downturn have again come to the fore, as investors start to doubt the viability of Trump’s promises.

The latest voice to underscore these concerns is Laurence D. Fink, CEO of multi-trillion fund manager BlackRock (NYSE: BLK). Fink recently told Bloomberg that lackluster growth of the U.S. economy and uncertainty around the Trump administration’s ability to quickly pass key reforms pose risks to the markets.

“There are some warning signs that are getting darker,” said Fink, noting a pullback in car sales and a slowdown in merger and acquisition activity as indications that uncertainty is rising. “The slowest economy among the G-7 nations is the U.S. If we don’t have earnings validated in these higher P/Es, we could adjust downward 5 or 10% from here. If the administration does succeed on some of these items, then the market will reassert itself going higher.”

But before Trump’s win unleashed “animal spirits” and drove markets to unrealistic levels without any real fundamentals to support the rise, there was a chorus of investment banks that gave high odds for a recession.

Deutsche Bank (NYSE: DB) analyst Steven Zeng last year said his model showed the yield curve is now signaling a 55% chance of a U.S. recession within the next 12 months. That marks the highest probability generated by the model thus far.

Not to be outdone, Michael Feroli and the economists at JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) said their model gives a 67% chance of a recession before the end of 2017, with chances of a recession within three years at 92%.

The Economic Picture so Far

Today’s weakening economic fundamentals contrast with mega-bullish sentiment and moderate strength in employment and the manufacturing sector.

But the Commerce Department recently reported that a key business investment indicator slipped by 0.1%, the first decline since it fell by 1.5% in September.

The downward slope of retail sales constitutes an even bigger worry, because they’re such a large part of the economy. Retail sales declined in both February and March from the prior months.

The U.S. is on track for very sluggish 0.5% growth in the first three months of this year, according to the latest estimates from economists at Macroeconomic Advisers and the Atlanta Federal Reserve.

Even the so-called jobs outlook hasn’t been as rosy lately as the Trump administration would have liked. After two months of stellar job creation, employers pulled back sharply on hiring in March.

The economy only added 98,000 jobs, the Labor Department reported, fewer than half the monthly numbers for January and February.

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom from everyone. There are some that believe the U.S. is still headed for growth. The International Monetary Fund recently upgraded its forecast and now predicts that the U.S. economy will grow at 2.3% this year and 2.5% in 2018 . That’s a faster pace than last year’s 1.6%, but still tepid as compared to previous years.

Given how many downward GDP revisions the IMF has been compelled to make over the last few years, we wouldn’t put too much stock in these forecasts. Even the IMF warns that Trump’s protectionist policies could reverse its growth forecasts.

Meanwhile, any potential improvement in these weakening indicators will depend on the Trump administration’s ability to deliver on its tax cut and infrastructure spending promises, which as most experts note won’t be felt in the real economy until next year. Corporate earnings also bear watching; expectations are perhaps excessively high.

Trump’s pro-growth policies could be too little, too late. Monetary policy tightening (rate increases combined with the dollar’s strength) could stop the economic expansion in its tracks.

For all of these reasons, we advise investors to seek safe havens until there’s clear empirical data for a bullish case.

 


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