Wall Street's Cheery Outlook Could Be Wrong

While investment firms will probably predict that the market will rise in 2017, writes Jeff Sommer of The New York Times, “That’s just not what they usually do.”

He says that, “while a handful of individual forecasters have, from time to time, predicted mildly negative years for stocks, the Wall Street consensus in every single year since 2000 has predicted a rising market.” However, he points out, since the beginning of 2000, the S&P 500 has “ended in negative territory in five calendar years (2000, 2001, 2002, 2008 and 2015) and has been virtually flat once (in 2011).”

The article quotes an independent statistician (Salil Mehta) who examined forecasts by major investment houses going back to 1998 and found that the predictions of decline were “worse than random: In the years when the market did fall, 9 percent of forecasts–never enough to counter the bullish consensus—predicted that it would happen, essentially the same as in a year in which the market rose.”

Even given positive market performance over this past year, the article says the consensus forecast only looks good if you extrapolate forward from December. Early in the year, it points out, the market declined sharply and “forecasters shifted their predictions lower.”

Sommer comments that the post-election surge in stock prices is accompanied by rising interest rates and increased political uncertainty. Seth Masters, chief investment officer of Bernstein Private Wealth Management, says he wouldn’t predict where stock prices will go. “I don’t think it makes sense to do that very often,” he says. “The world is too complex for that. We can analyze trends, we can give some probabilities—we can’t really predict the future.”