Almost no one is bearish.
This year is poised to be one of the most profitable for the S&P 500 in this bull market, now entering its ninth year, with a double-digit 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, the GOP’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is expected to boost the profits of America’s largest companies, and possibly reward shareholders through more buybacks.
But 2018 may not rival 2017 as one of the most peaceful in market history. Some strategists warn that the regular pullbacks that create volatility could resume.
Here’s what strategists forecast for 2018, in ascending order of their year-end targets for the S&P 500:
“US M&A levels are down 20% year-over-year,” said Ben Laidler, HSBC’s global equity strategist and head of Americas research, in a Bloomberg TV interview on December 4.
“So I think we’re certainly due for a pickup. 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.
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,” said Tobias Levkovich, Citi’s chief US equity strategist, in a November 15 note.
“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. 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.”
Bank of America Merrill Lynch: 2,800
“Optimism was building this year, and we think 2018 could be the year of euphoria,” said Savita Subramanian, the head of US equity and quant strategy, in a November 20 note.
“Of our five target models, only our Fair Value model suggests negative returns. Valuation matters, but is only predictive over multi-year time horizons. We think sentiment will be a more important driver of returns in 2018, and drives the bulk of our market call.”