• Thoughts On The Market
  • January 11, 2022

New Year, New Opportunities

With Mike Wilson
U.S. Equities Research for Investors


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market and Happy New Year! I'm Mike Wilson, Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, January 3rd at 11:30 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it.

A new year brings new investment opportunities, even if the narrative isn't changing. More specifically, tightening monetary policy and decelerating growth supports our large cap defensive quality bias - a strategy that has worked well since we first started recommending it back in mid-November. On the first score, the Fed and other central banks appear to be determined to remove monetary accommodation in the face of higher inflation. Not only is inflation turning out to be an economic issue, but it's quickly becoming a political one given this is a midterm election year. What this means is the Fed will likely turn out to be more hawkish than investors expect, and that hawkishness is likely to be front-end loaded so markets have time to recover by November.

As for the second part of the narrative, we think growth will decelerate this year as most of our leading indicators point to that outcome. Furthermore, this dynamic should be supportive of defensives outperforming cyclicals amid large cap quality leadership. This week, we expand our analysis to the industry level and illustrate that within defensives, Health Care, REITS and Consumer Staples tend to be the best performers in a decelerating but positive growth regime.

As we reflect on 2021's strong performance from large cap U.S. equity indices last year, it's hard to get too excited about any remaining upside this year. Having said that, most individual stocks have gone nowhere since March, with many in a deep bear market. In many ways, 2021 looked a lot like 2018 - a year of rolling corrections and rotations as investors continually sought out higher ground in the high-quality S&P 500 index. As we enter 2022, the key question for investors is to decide if they want to stay with the relative winners, or is it time to go bottom fishing? New calendar years tend to support the latter strategy as the pressure of keeping up with the index eases. Hence, the new opportunities for investors.

While we continue to favor the large cap defensive tilt that has been working, we recommend creating a barbell with stocks that have already corrected but still offer good prospects at a reasonable valuation. Over the past nine months, the quality bias has driven more and more money into a handful of large cap growth stocks - further highlighting the importance of favoring large over small since March. But as we already noted, this crowding has left many smaller stocks behind. A few areas we think make sense to consider include consumer services and other businesses with pent up demand. In the more growth-y segments, we think biotech and China Internet are good bottom fishing candidates. Meanwhile, we would still be careful with very expensive tech stocks that remain unprofitable.

One final development to watch closely is long term interest rates. With a significant move higher in inflation and the Fed's pivot on policy, we think long term interest rates look too low. The sharp move higher today looks like the beginning of something more meaningful, and it could lead to new 52-week highs in short order if our technical view is correct. As such, we remain positive on financials as our sole cyclical overweight. A backup in rates is the reason, and that could be happening now.

Bottom line, stick with a large cap defensive quality bias as we enter 2022, but balance it with financials and small mid-cap value stocks, particularly with the Fed and other central banks tightening policy faster than investors expect and rates likely back up.

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With a new calendar year, the narrative in markets may not be shifting but there are still opportunities for investors to consider as growth rates, policy proposals, and interest rates shift in the coming year.

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