It’s hard to find anyone that’s bearish.
2017 was one of the most profitable for the S&P 500 in this bull market, now in its ninth year, with a 19.4% gain. And all the lead strategists at top Wall Street firms expect many of the same catalysts to lift stocks again in 2018, particularly earnings growth and US economic expansion.
Across the board, Republican tax bill is expected to boost the profits of America’s largest companies, and possibly reward shareholders through more buybacks.
But this year may not rival 2017 as one of the most peaceful in the market’s history. Some strategists warn that the regular pullbacks that create volatility could resume.
US mergers-and-acquisitions levels “are down 20% year-over-year,” Ben Laidler, HSBC’s global equity strategist and head of Americas research, said in a Bloomberg TV interview on December 4.
“So I think we’re certainly due for a pickup,” he said. “We’ve got a bit of visibility with the tax reform that will allow that to accelerate. US corporates are sitting on a lot of cash. They are sitting on high multiples. I definitely think we’re going to see a pickup here.”
He added: “I also think we’ll see something on the capex front, and a little will go a long way given that US capex is the most depressed in the world. But I still think most of it goes on share buybacks.”
“Tax cuts could be quite stimulative to S&P 500 EPS,” Tobias Levkovich, Citi’s chief US equity strategist, said in a note on November 15.
“We suspect that investors may not be willing to accord the same P/E for earnings generated by a lower tax rate versus one for underlying operating performance,” he said. “Nonetheless, even if we assumed half the market multiple on the incremental tax-related EPS gains, it will still be additive to the S&P 500’s upside potential.”