Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, November 21st, at 11 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it.
Last week, we published our 2023 U.S. equities outlook. In it, we detail the path to our 2023 year end S&P 500 price target of 3900. While the price may seem unexciting relative to where we're currently trading, we think the path will be quite volatile with several key inflection points investors will need to trade to make above average returns next year. The main pushback in focus from investors has centered around the first inflection - the near-term tactical upside call we made about a month ago
Let's review a few key points of the call as we discuss how the rest of the year may play out. First, the primary tactical driver to our bullish call was simply respecting the 200 week moving average. As noted when we made the call last month, the 200 week moving average does not give way for the S&P 500 until a recession is undeniable. In short, until it is clear we are going to have a full blown labor cycle where the unemployment rate rises by at least 1-1.5%, the S&P 500 will gqive the benefit of the doubt to the soft landing outcome. A negative payroll release also does the trick.
Second, in addition to the 200 week moving averages key support, falling interest rate volatility led to higher equity valuations that are driving this rally. Much like with the 200 week moving average, though, this factor can provide support for the higher PE's achieved over the past month, but is no longer arguing for further upside. In other words, both the 200 week moving average and the interest rate volatility factors have run their course, in our view.
However, a third factor market breadth has emerged as a best tactical argument for higher prices before the fundamentals take over again. Market breadth has improved materially over the past month. As noted last week, both small caps and the equal weighted S&P 500 have outperformed the market weighted index significantly during this rally. In fact, the equal weighted S&P 500 has been outperforming since last year, while the small caps have been outperforming since May when we upgraded them. Importantly, such relative moves by the small caps and average stocks did not prevent the broader market from making a new low this fall. However, the improvement in breadth is a new development, and that indicator does argue for even higher prices in the broader market cap weighted S&P 500 before this rally is complete.
Bottom line tactically bullish calls are difficult to make, especially when they go against one's fundamental view that remains decidedly bearish. When we weigh the tactical evidence, we remain positive for this rally to continue into year end even though the easy money has likely been made. From here, we expect more choppiness and misdirection with respect to what's leading. For example, from the October lows it's been a cyclical, smallcap led rally with the longer duration growth stocks lagging. If this rally is to have further legs, we think it will have to be led by the Nasdaq, which has been the laggard.
In the end, investors should be prepared for volatility to remain both high intraday and day to day with swings in leadership. After all, it's still a bear market, and that means it's not going to get any easier before the fundamentals take over to complete this bear market next year.
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