Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Oct 18, 2021

Retail Investors Continue to Support Valuations

With Mike Wilson
U.S. Equities Research for Investors


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mike Wilson, chief investment officer and chief U.S. equity strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the latest trends in the financial marketplace. It's Monday, October 18th at 11:30 a.m. in New York. So let's get after it. 

Last week, we noted it may take a bit longer for the ice portion of our "fire and ice" narrative to play out. More specifically, we cited the potential for markets to look through the near-term supply bottlenecks and shortages as temporary. With the Biden administration directing substantial resources toward addressing the problem, that conclusion is even easier to make. Second, the budget reconciliation process has been pushed out and is unlikely to be resolved until later this year. This delays the negative earnings revisions from higher taxes we think have yet to be incorporated into 2022 consensus forecasts. In short, while earnings revisions' breadth is falling from extreme levels, it isn't falling fast enough to cause a deeper correction in the broader index, at least not yet. 

Perhaps most importantly for the broader index is the fact that retail continues to be a major buyer of the dip. We highlighted a few weeks ago that the correction in September was taking longer to recover than the prior dips this year. In fact, both the primary uptrend in the 50 day moving average had finally been breached on significant volume. Could it be that the retail investor had finally run out of dry powder or willingness to buy the dip? 

Fast forward to today, and the answer to that question is a definitive no. Instead, our data show retail investors remain steadfast in their commitment to buying equities, particularly on down days. Until these flows subside or reverse, the index will remain supported even as the fundamental picture deteriorates. As already noted, earnings revision breadth is rolling over. Some of this is due to higher cost and supply shortages, which investors seem increasingly willing to look through as temporary. 

We remain more skeptical as the data also supports sustained supply chain pressures, rising costs and the potential for weaker demand than anticipated next year. Last week, our economics team published its latest Business Conditions Index survey, which showed further material deterioration. While most of this decline is due to supply issues rather than demand, we're not sure it will matter that much in the end if earnings estimates have to come down one way or the other. 

As part of our mid-cycle transition call, we have been expecting business confidence to cool. We think it's important to note that our survey suggests it's not just manufacturing businesses that are struggling with cost and supply issues. Service businesses are also showing material deterioration in confidence to manage these pressures. Whether and when it proves to be a concern for equity markets remains unknown, but we think it will matter between now and January. Until proven one way or the other, the seasonal path of least resistance for equity markets is flat to higher. 

Similar to our Business Conditions Index, consumer confidence surveys have also fallen sharply. Like business managers, the consumer appears to be more concerned with rising costs rather than income. Yet, the retail investor continues to aggressively buy the dip. This jives with the conclusion other investors are making -- that demand remains robust, and we just need to get through these supply bottlenecks and price spikes. One other possible explanation is that individuals are worried about inflation for the first time in decades, and they know it's not temporary. Stocks offer protection against that rise to some degree, and so we may be finally witnessing the great rotation from bonds to stocks that has been predicted for years. While we have some sympathy for that view, in the longer term, the near-term remains challenged by the deteriorating fundamentals in our view. In short, we'd like to see both business and consumer confidence improve before signaling the allclear on supply and demand trends. 

Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review and Apple podcast and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

With supply chain pressures and rising costs still weighing on markets, retail investors continue to see long term value.

Each week, Mike Wilson offers his perspective on the forces shaping the markets and how to separate the signal from the noise. Listen to his most recent episode and check out those of his colleagues from across Morgan Stanley Research.

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