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Over the last month, the world has been gripped by fears of the coronavirus and its eventual toll on the global economy. Most economists expect global economic growth to reaccelerate in the second half of the year after the virus peaks. We agree that most of the negative effects will most likely be felt in the first half of 2020.
Since January and February Chinese economic data will not be released for a few weeks, we thought it would make sense to review the current state of the economy in the United States. The table above shows leading indicators for the U.S. economy. Green denotes a healthy measure and red denotes a deteriorating measure. Some of the more stable measures over the past few years have been the 50-year low unemployment rate and inflation, which has been stable at 2%. The more volatile measures have been stock market valuations, the purchasing manufacturer’s index (“PMI”; a gauge of domestic manufacturing activity), and corporate earnings growth. Let’s start with PMI first since stock market valuation and earnings growth are more intertwined. PMIs have been under pressure since the start of the U.S.-China trade war in 2018. In January 2020, PMIs traced their way back into expansionary territory (i.e., above 50), but the coronavirus fallout may cast a cloud over manufacturing in the coming months.
What about the U.S. equity market? Last year, corporate earnings growth was virtually flat in an expensive stock market. Since then, stock market valuations¹ have come off their 2019 high but are still above the 10-year historical average of 16 times forward earnings. We believe meaningfully positive corporate earnings growth will be needed to support such an above-average market valuation. The most obvious way to ensure that is to have a strong U.S. consumer. Consumer confidence has steadily increased throughout this business cycle and right now consumers are as confident as they have ever been. Since the U.S. consumer drives two-thirds of the economy, we will be closely monitoring the consumer for weakening sentiment through measures like retail sales, revolving debt defaults, overall debt level, and other telling data. While we expect some metrics to potentially soften due to the coronavirus, we expect most to be positive by year-end. Ultimately, much like SARS and MERS, the virus’s bark will be much worse than its bite on the U.S. economy and equity market.
¹ As measured by forward P/E
² FactSet Expected Earnings Growth for 2020
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