Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • May 7, 2024

Managing for Economic Uncertainty

With Mike Wilson
U.S. Equities Research for Investors


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Morgan Stanley’s CIO and Chief US Equity Strategist. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll be talking about the higher-than-normal uncertainty in economic data and its impact on markets

It's Tuesday, May 7th at 1:30 pm in New York. 

So let’s get after it. 

In recent research, I’ve discussed how markets are likely to oscillate between the "soft landing" and “no landing" outcomes in today's late cycle environment. Continued mixed and unpredictable macro data should foster that back and forth, and last week was a microcosm in that respect. Tuesday's Employment Cost Index report came in stronger than expected, leading to a rise in the 10-year Treasury yield to nearly 4.7 per cent. Meanwhile, the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index turned down, falling to its lowest level since July of 2022. 

On Friday, the equity market rose sharply as bond yields fell on the back of a weaker labor report, while the ISM Services headline series fell to its lowest level since December of 2022. 

In our view, this uncertain economic backdrop warrants an investment approach that can work as market pricing and sector/factor leadership bounces between these potential outcomes. As such, we recommend a barbell of quality cyclicals which should outperform in a "no landing" scenario and quality growth, the relative winner in a "soft landing.” One might even want to consider adding a bit of exposure to defensive sectors like Utilities and Staples in the event that growth slows further.  

Meanwhile, last week's Fed meeting materialized largely as expected. Chair Powell expressed somewhat lower confidence on the timing of the first cut given recent inflation data, but he pushed  back on the notion that the next move would be a hike which eased some concerns going into the  meeting. The April Consumer Price Index released on May 15th is the next key macro event informing the path of monetary policy and the market's pricing of that path. As usual, the price reaction on the back of this release may be more important than the data itself given how influential price action has been on investor sentiment amid an uncertain macro set up. 

On the rate front, our view remains consistent with our recent research—the relationship between the 6-month rate of change on the 10-year yield and the S&P 500 price earnings multiple implies that yields around current levels are about 10 per cent headwind to valuation through the end of June but a tailwind thereafter, all else equal.

Given the uncertainty and unpredictability of the economic data more recently, we think it's useful to look at the technicals for insight into what comes next. In early April, we highlighted that the breakdown in the S&P 500 from its well-defined uptrend was an important early warning sign that performance could become more challenged. 

Based on our analysis, this headwind to valuation is likely to remain with us through the end of June unless yields fall significantly in the near term. Assuming interest rates stay around current levels, stronger valuation support lies closer to 19 times earnings, which would also imply price support closer to the 200-day moving average or 4800.

Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review wherever you listen and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today. 

As the U.S. economy continues to send mixed signals, our CIO and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist explains how markets are likely to oscillate between “soft landing” and “no landing” outcomes.

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