The "Great Bull" market, now roughly a decade old, will see the end of its glory days as decelerating economic growth, higher interest rates and mountings debt weighs on the market, according to some bears on Wall Street and as reported by CNBC.
In a recent note, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Chief Investment Strategist Michael Hartnett analyzed the state of the markets 10 years following financial crisis. He expects that in the next market phase, investors will reap much lower returns and that the bulk of the profits will be concentrated in assets that suffered during the recent bull market.
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Hartnett cited the unique deflationary nature of the bull market, wherein while stocks have risen to record highs, brokerage commissions have fallen to $30 billion from $80 billion since 2000, as outlined by Business Insider. Deflationary assets such as government bonds, US investment-grade bonds, the S&P 500, US consumer discretionary equities, growth stocks and US high-yield credit have outperformed the inflationary group including assets like commodities, Treasury inflation protected securities, developed-market stocks (excluding the US and Canada), US banks, value stocks and cash. Hartnett expects this trend to reverse as central banks add to the already $12 trillion worth in various easing programs that have seen 713 interest rate cuts globally.
"The Great Bull Dead: end of excess liquidity = end of excess returns," said the strategist. While a stimulus from the U.S. Federal Reserve, which anchored its interest rate near zero for seven years, has driven the S&P 500 up about 335% since crisis lows, as noted by CNBC, plans to end asset purchases and gradually rise rates will pump the brakes once again.
Hartnett recommends that investors focus on "inequality, innovation and immortality," that would disproportionately benefit pharmaceutical companies and disrupters in the tech industry, as well as inflation plays noted above.
"The Fed is now in the midst of a tightening cycle, ignoring structural deflation, focusing on cyclical inflation," stated BofAML. "Until this Fed hiking cycle ends we suspect absolute returns from financial assets will remain slim & volatile."
The strategist noted that easing monetary policy has contributed to a whopping 82% rise in U.S. debt since the implosion of Lehman in Sept. 2008. Meanwhile, investors grew accustomed to central bank policy over the past decade, and are now underestimating the Fed's new determination to normalize rates, he stated.
Hartnett warns that additional increases in rates could lead to an inverted yield curve which has preceded all of the past seven recessions, a situation wherein short-term government bond yields exceed longer-term rates.
"Yet the Fed is now saying 'this time is different' and a flat/inverted curve won't stop them hiking," stated BofAML. "A much more hawkish-than-expected Fed is the most likely catalyst for fresh losses across asset markets."
Hartnett cited other risks unique to this cycle, including the cryptocurrency craze surrounding bitcoin which he calls the "biggest bubble ever." He added that when you remove US tech from the equation, global stocks are actually down 7% in 2018.