A parade of prominent Wall Street voices are already writing off 2022 as a lost year

January 25, 2022, 10:46 AM UTC

Omicron. Mandates. Vladimir Putin. War. Oil prices. Jerome Powell. Interest rates. Fed tightening. Bond yields. Supply chains. Your (former) colleagues who keep quitting. Wages. Inflation.

Add it all up, and you can see why the bears are growing louder and bolder with their picks that this year won’t be anything like what we saw in 2021. A year ago, the benchmark S&P 500 delivered total returns of 28.7%. We’ll be lucky if we see even low single-digit returns this year, some big Wall Street names are saying.

BofA Securities is sticking with its 4,600 year-end forecast (equals to a 4.3% rise on yesterday’s close; or, where the benchmark closed on Jan. 19). Morgan Stanley chief investment officer Lisa Shalett is even more downbeat.

“Our year-end base case target for the S&P 500 remains 4,400, essentially where it finished last week,” she wrote in her latest weekly note to investors. Her advice: go defensive. Move out of equities into “cash for opportunistic deployment later.”

Her colleague Mike Wilson, known for his bearish market takes, recently evoked Game of Thrones in warning, “winter is here” for stocks as a confluence of macro factors—from uncertain growth to monetary stimulus evaporating from the economy—batters risk assets.

That uncertainty roiled markets on Monday, shaving 3.8% off Europe’s STOXX 600 and clobbering U.S. equities for most of the day before a late-afternoon buy-the-dip rally saved investors’ portfolios, leading Deutsche Bank research strategist Jim Reid to remark, “at one point yesterday it felt like we were in a full blown crisis let alone a recession.”

This morning, European stocks are rebounding, though they’re solidly in the red for the week. And, U.S. futures are under pressure, too, making yesterday’s afternoon rally look like a mirage. The S&P and Nasdaq futures were off more than 1% at 4 a.m. ET. Crypto too remains volatile. Bitcoin fell below $33,000 at one point on Monday, a six-month low.

The list of crypto currencies and growth stocks trading below their 200-day moving average—a closely watched measure—is a lengthy one. Meme stocks, in particular, are taking it on the chin this month.

What’s dismaying to some market observers is that stocks are falling even as we get off to a decent start to earnings season. On the eve of a parade of Big Tech Q4 reports later this week, more than half of the 64 companies to have reported this month delivered beats on sales and EPS, BofA Securities notes.

The cloud hanging over all those rosy reports: companies are giving below-consensus guidance. And inside those forecasts, the O-word is frequently mentioned.

“Omicron is not just hurting the top line. Companies have cited worsening labor and supply chain issues with the COVID case spike—workers out sick, trucker shortages—leading to increasing supply constraints and inflationary pressure,” notes Savita Subramanian, equity and quant strategist at BofA Securities.

All eyes on the Fed

This is a big week for corporate earnings with more than one-fifth of S&P 500 companies reporting. What could steal the spotlight is the next FOMC meeting, which kicks off later today. With a series of rate-hikes—as many as three or four—already priced in by Wall Street for this year, investors will be hanging on every word of Fed chairman Powell.

So far today, Treasury yields are subdued, stuck in a range below 1.8%. Most analysts see the 10-year note hitting 2% by year-end, which could put further pressure on high-growth, cash-poor companies—many of the same companies that rallied in the second half of 2020.

The forecasted rise in rates is leading to renewed calls for bonds, if only to cushion the blow from extreme market swings.

“When combined with equities, bonds help reduce total portfolio volatility, which makes for a smoother investment experience for investors,” writes Lawrence Gillum, fixed income strategist at LPL Financial, in an investor note.

That’s not a recipe for stellar returns, he adds. It’s just a time-tested strategy for riding out rough patches in risk-assets.

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