Goldman Sachs and Bank of America have very different calls for when stocks will hit bottom

May 23, 2022, 9:39 AM UTC

After seven straight weeks of losses, Goldman Sachs is just about ready to call a floor on this rout in equities. In the latest weekly note to investor clients, Goldman‘s chief U.S. equity strategist David J. Kostin sees the S&P 500 finishing the year at 4,300, implying a solid 10.3% rally from Friday’s close.

That’s the good news.

The glass-half-empty takeaway: Goldman’s 4,300 call actually represents a downgrade for the benchmark index, and is smack in line with the bank’s worst-case recession forecast. With stocks in free-fall, pushing the Nasdaq into a bear market and the S&P flirting with the dreaded 20% decline, Kostin’s team has had to recalibrate their long-held 4,700 year-end forecast. That previous optimistic take by one of the mostly closely watched equities trading teams on Wall Street proved to be untenable with inflation soaring, the Fed tightening and stagflation fears mounting.

In this morning’s note, Kostin and his team left no further explanation for where stocks are headed. Instead, his team laid out plenty of numbers, each showing a market—with the exception of energy and, to be charitable, utilities—in a deep swoon.

Even as it looks downwards, Goldman is hardly the most bearish on Wall Street with the latest MLIV Pulse survey of equities specialists seeing the S&P bottoming out this year at 3,500.

That pessimistic call reflects the findings of Bank of America. BofA Securities' latest "flow show" report was titled "3,600 is the new bull case.” That's not BofA Securities' year-end call, but rather what the investment bank describes as the predominant "heard on the street" markets chatter during last week's sell-off.

If that 3,600 "bull case" were to come to pass, it would mean a further 7.7% drop in the S&P 500, just about wiping out all the gains accrued since Joe Biden won the presidential election in November 2020.

That was hardly the scariest figure published in the report. According to BofA Securities chief investment strategist Michael Hartnett, if history is any guide, investors could be in for at least five more months of pain if stocks enter into a bear market. Looking back over 140 years, he says, market downturns of this magnitude tend to last 289 days, wiping out, on average, 37.3%.

Such a free-fall would send the S&P 500 to 3,000 and the Nasdaq to 10,000.

Plenty to worry about

Hartnett and his team see plenty of headwinds keeping stocks under pressure. Corporate profits are on the wane, inflation is showing little sign of abating, and the housing and labor market are running out of steam. He also sees a warning light flashing on corporate defaults as interest rates rise.

One data point he'll be keeping a close eye on is the so-called JOLTS number, or the figure given for job openings. Currently, it's at 11.5 million, suggesting a historic mismatch in the labor market where employers struggle to find staff—skilled or otherwise—to keep their businesses running smoothly.

That JOLTS number, he says, "needs to pullback below 10 million… to induce bullish peak wages, peak yields, peak dollar narrative."

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