Barron's: Top Strategists Remain Mildly Bullish

In its latest survey of top investment managers, Barron’s found that, on average, most of the managers are expecting the market’s ascent to slow significantly this fall, though they remain bullish on the whole.

The 10 strategists on average expect the S&P 500 to end the year around 1,056, which would represent a minor 4% increase from current levels. “They are essentially bullish, even if their price targets are subdued,” Barron’s Kopin Tan writes. “Nearly all of them think that lavish government stimulus programs have stabilized the economy during the worst recession in generations, and they expect operating profits of S&P 500 companies to rebound 24% in 2010. The majority heavily favor cyclical energy, materials and technology stocks, which usually thrive as the global economy mends. In contrast, no one likes consumer staples. And other defensive havens, such as health care and utilities, are roundly shunned.”

Barron’s last 10-strategist survey — which included five of the managers included in this latest survey — took place in December, and the forecasts have so far proved somewhat prescient. Back then, the analysts on average saw the S&P reaching 1,045 by the end of 2009; the index began the post-Labor Day season at 1,016.

At the opposite ends of the forecasting spectrum are John Praveen, the chief investment strategist at Prudential International Investment Advisers, and Barclays’ equity strategist, Barry Knapp.

Praveen thinks the S&P will rise another 16% before year end, reaching about 1,175. “The recovery from the global recession is stronger and faster than expected, earnings expectations are being revised upward, and we’re entering the inflation sweet spot,” he said. “Deflation fears are receding, yet inflation is not yet picking up. So corporations have pricing power, but central banks aren’t going to raise rates just yet.”

Knapp, on the other hand, sees the S&P falling about 8.5% to about 930 by the end of ’09. Writes Tan: “Stocks’ summer rally coincided with falling real rates, ‘which implies a slight marking down of growth expectations,’ [Knapp] cautions. Meanwhile, bank loans and leases have shrunk 4.9% this year. The yields of lower-risk asset classes and agency mortgage-backed securities have risen slightly this summer, versus those of comparable-maturity Treasuries. Knapp views this as tied to the winding down of the government’s massive quantitative easing program (read, money printing). ‘If the recent spread widening continues into September, we doubt that U.S. equities will remain unscathed.'”

For a full PDF chart of the 10 strategists’ predictions, along with the areas of the market they are highest on, click here.

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