Top Strategists See Slow Growth, Strong Profits for U.S. Firms

ISI Group’s Ed Hyman, who has been one of the top-ranked economists on Wall Street for years, says he doesn’t see a new recession hitting the U.S.

“The economy has definitely slowed down globally, both developed and emerging. There is probably a 30% chance of recession in the U.S.,” Hyman says in an interview with Barron’s. “But … slow growth is more likely than a downturn, particularly in the U.S. The risk in Europe of a recession is greater than in the U.S., perhaps a 50% chance versus 30%.”

Hyman sees gross domestic product growth in the U.S. of about 2.5% in the second half of 2011 and again in 2012. Factors that should lead to continued growth include near-zero interest rates, a positive yield curve, solid corporate profits and balance sheets, and emerging economies continuing to grow.

While U.S. growth should be much slower than that of emerging markets, ISI Group’s Bijal Shah says U.S. equities could very well outperform emerging markets in the coming years.

In the U.S., Shah says, pay growth has been negligible in recent years, which has allowed the expansion of profit margins, which helps stocks. But in emerging economies, low unemployment rates and inflation will make it hard to keep a lid on pay growth. Because of that, Shah says U.S. companies are better positioned to grow profits in the coming years, and he expects U.S. equities to outperform emerging equities by about 5% per year over the next few years.

“I would envisage that in the next five years, the U.S. equity market could actually outperform the EM equity market quite significantly,” he says. “U.S. profits can grow in a period of not fantastic, but OK, GDP growth. Margins will go to levels we haven’t seen in 50 to 60 years.”

Shah also discusses areas of the market he’s high on, including companies with big consumer brand names, and perhaps even financials.