‘Not the time to be concerned about a big crash’ say stock market strategists

February 23, 2021, 11:54 PM UTC

Should investors be worried about inflation? Not according to some market pros.

That’s because Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell once again reassured markets that low rates aren’t going anywhere, at least for now, easing some of the increasingly loud fears over inflation.

On Tuesday, stocks swung wildly, with the Nasdaq plunging roughly 2% in midday trading (before recovering to close 0.5% down), as the biggest tech stocks like Apple and Tesla traded in the red. Bellwether indexes like the S&P 500 and Dow weren’t spared either, both trading in the red until late afternoon, ultimately closing flat, up 0.1% and 0.05%, respectively.

“We came into the day with some concerns about inflation, concerns about interest rates moving higher, and I think Chairman Powell again reassured the market that they plan on keeping monetary conditions very loose and accommodative for some time to come,” Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Advisor Alliance, tells Fortune. “The time to panic is going to be if the Fed starts tightening financial conditions, and as long as the Fed has no intention of doing that, it gives you more room to run.”

Inflation chatter

To be sure, Treasury yields have been on the rise, with the 10-year yield hovering around 1.36% on Tuesday. Rising rates have spooked tech stock investors, while fostering a bit of a rotation into more cyclical areas like financials and industrials. Yet Powell reiterated the Fed’s low-interest rate policies in testimony before Congress on Tuesday, saying inflation remains below the Fed’s 2% target.

That’s giving some strategists confidence in their estimates that the bull market is on solid footing.

“For those people who are invested, now is not the time to be concerned about a big crash,” says Zaccarelli. “That time will come down the road” when the Fed does raise rates to “head off” inflation.

For now, “The discussion around inflation is just beginning,” he says. That’s to be expected, as history shows that rising rates are normal during recoveries (see LPL Financial Research’s chart). Analysts at LPL estimate the 10-year yield will rise to 1.75% in 2021, they wrote in a Tuesday note.

And even rising inflation, for the right reasons, isn’t too concerning for some market watchers. If prices are “going up because GDP forecasts are rising, which they are, or because corporate earnings forecasts are rising, which they are, then that’s inflation for the right reasons,” Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab, suggests to Fortune.

Bubbling up

Yet it’s clear by virtually every measure that stocks are very expensive.

On top of that, recent data like retail sales and producer price index readings suggest a strong rebound in the economy—something that’s perked up treasury yields and tested the hypothesis that high-flying valuations are justified due to near-zero rates. It’s “sort of put the kibosh on this recent rally,” Frederick points out.

Strategists do see pockets of bubbles popping up, in areas like cryptocurrency and Reddit stocks where speculation is higher. But some argue there’s a big difference between an overvalued market and a bubble.

“Yes, we see the market is expensive, but we think it’s expensive for rational reasons, and we believe that ultimately, stocks will grow into those valuations” in the coming year or two, Zaccarelli says. Signs of encouragement include the continued fiscal and monetary support, low rates, an improving vaccine rollout, and a rebounding economy.

That’s not to say it will be all smooth sailing in the coming weeks and months.

A number of prognosticators on the Street have been calling for pullbacks and further volatility: “In the near term, pullbacks are a healthy component of market activity, so I don’t think that would be necessarily a terrible thing,” Ally Invest’s chief investment officer Lindsey Bell told Fortune on Monday. She’s called for something like a 5% or 10% pullback, though others like Frederick and Zaccarelli are predicting even milder selloffs.

But in the meantime, Schwab’s Frederick has a bullish prediction: “I don’t see a whole lot of headwinds. I just don’t. Unless something completely unexpected comes out of the woodwork, I don’t think we’re going to see anything more than just some very minor pullbacks, which we’re getting right now—which will probably ultimately be met with buyers.”

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