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10 predictions for 2020: 4Q update

Robert (Bob) C. Doll
Senior Portfolio Manager & Chief Equity Strategist
Ten predictions - large 10 over blue background

A look at our old and new predictions

It seems like a lifetime ago when we offered up our usual annual set of 10 Predictions in January. At the time, we expected the economic expansion still had some life left. The coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic and market upheaval changed everything. Amid the height of a new bear market and sharp recession in April, we recast our predictions to provide investors with some new perspective about where things might be heading. We will continue tracking (and scoring) both our original and newer predictions through the rest of 2020. At this point, we think markets are facing some near-term risks, but our longer-term view is more positive.

10 Predictions

A light at the end of a very long tunnel

At the start of the year, we expected economic growth to pick up modestly and were encouraged by seemingly diminishing macro risks, such as trade policy. Conversely, we were concerned by relatively full stock valuations and thought that market gains could be limited following a strong 2019. The unanticipated coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic and market upheaval threw all of this for a loop. The (mostly) new predictions we offered in April were based on our expectation that the crisis would peak in the second quarter, paving the way for a slow economic recovery in the second half of the year. Below, we offer scoring and commentary on our full list of predictions. Below, we offer scoring and commentary on our full list of predictions.

1. Original: The world avoids recession in 2020 as U.S. GDP grows over 2% and global GDP grows over 3%.
Scorecard for heading in the wrong direction

Update: The U.S. and world experience a sharp, but reasonably short recession with noticeable recovery before year-end.
Scorecard for heading in the right direction We didn’t quite get to the twelfth year of the expansion, as the outright halt in economic activity pushed the world into a sharp and deep recession. At this point, it is safe to say that the deepest recession in post-World War II history has also been the shortest one. Third quarter GDP growth could come in close to or over 30% following the intensely sharp contraction in the spring.

2. Original: Inflation and the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield end the year above 2% as the Fed stays on hold through the election.
Scorecard for heading in the wrong direction

Update: All-time low yields move higher during the second half, with the 10-year Treasury closing the year above 1%.
Scorecard for too early to call
The 10-year Treasury yield plummeted to record lows during the heart of the crisis in March, and has since been moving in fits and starts. The yield did approach 0.9% in the second quarter before falling again and hovering around 0.6% to 0.7%. As economic growth improves and investors move back into risk assets, we think bond yields will rise modestly. But it’s looking like a long shot that the 10- year yield moves to over 1% this year. 

Until a medical breakthrough allows the economy to enter a self-reinforcing expansion, ongoing stimulus is still needed.”

3. Original: Earnings fall short of expectations, partially due to rising wage rates.
Scorecard for heading in the right direction

Update: Earnings collapse, but rise smartly by the fourth quarter.
Scorecard for heading in the right direction
Going into 2020, we thought earnings expectations for 2020 were too high. Expectations then collapsed, although obviously not for the original reasons we anticipated. Third quarter earnings are on track for a rebound, and fourth quarter results could potentially be even better. Critically, we are expecting a notable dispersion between sectors and industries, with areas like technology and health care likely to outperform those hit hard by economic closures.

4. Stocks, bonds and cash all return less than 5% for only the fourth time in 25 years.
Scorecard for too early to call
This is one of the three predictions we left unchanged. Markets experienced this phenomenon in 2005, 2015 and 2018. Stock prices soared higher through the summer, and survived a setback in September to remain in positive territory (up 5.6% for the year). With the Fed anchoring short-term rates at zero, cash returns have been miniscule. Bonds are performing better than we expected (The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index is up 6.8%), but that could change if longer-term yields rise.

5. Original: Non-U.S. stocks outpace U.S. stocks as the dollar retreats.
Scorecard for heading in the wrong direction

Update: The dollar weakens as global growth strengthens in the second half.
Scorecard for heading in the right direction
This prediction was originally based on our view that the U.S. dollar would fall and non-U.S. stocks offered better relative valuations. During the crisis, however, non-U.S. stocks were hit even harder than their U.S. counterparts and have not recovered as quickly. The value of the dollar has been falling since the crisis began and may have approached oversold conditions. Massive U.S. deficits will also drag on the dollar over the long term. 

Stocks are likely to remain choppy and range-bound for the next several months, pointing to the importance of investment selectivity.”

6. Original: Value and cyclicals outperform growth and defensive stocks.
Scorecard for heading in the wrong direction

Update: Value and cyclicals outperform growth and defensive stocks in the second half.
Scorecard for too early to call
As of now, the Russell 1000 Value Index (-11.6%) is significantly trailing the Russell 1000 Growth Index (+24.3%) for the year, and value is also lagging so far in the second half of 2020. The cyclical/ defensive situation is mixed: An equal-weighted basket of each are both down just under 1% for the year, while cyclicals (+6.6%) are slightly ahead of defensive stocks (+6.1%) in the third quarter.

7. Original: Financials, technology and health care outperform utilities, real estate and consumer discretionary.
Scorecard for heading in the right direction

Update: Financials, technology and health care outperform utilities, energy and materials in the second half.
Scorecard for heading in the right direction
For our original prediction, a basket of financials, technology and health care is up 4.5%, while a combination of utilities, real estate and consumer discretionary is trailing at 3.6%. Regarding our revised prediction, our list of favored asset classes is up 7.4% in the third quarter, and a basket of our least-favored asset classes was flat. Technology and health care should continue to do well in an environment of quantitative easing, and the financial sector appears undervalued.

8. Active equity managers outperform their indexes for the first time in a decade.
Scorecard for too early to call
This is the second of our predictions that did not change. Active managers outperformed for most of this year, before trailing during the sharp rise in stocks in the spring and early summer. As of the end of the third quarter, 40% of large cap active managers are ahead of their benchmarks, per Bank of America Merrill Lynch. We think opportunities for active management from here are relatively high. In our experience, active managers generally have a tailwind when small stocks beat big stocks, non-U.S. stocks outperform, equity returns are relatively low, value beats growth, correlations are low, economic growth improves and interest rates rise. We think most of these scenarios will play out in the coming months.

9. The cold wars within the U.S. and between the U.S. and China continue.
Scorecard for heading in the right direction
This is our third unchanged prediction. And, sadly, it is proving to be correct. An optimist would hope that Americans would have used this time of crisis to pull together, but the opposite is the case as political and social divisions within the United States have worsened through 2020. And the relationship between the U.S. and China (and, indeed, China and the rest of the world) appears to be deteriorating as the countries move from being competitors to adversaries.

While near-term risks for stocks remain elevated, we also believe global equity prices will be higher one year from now.”

10. Original: The U.S. concludes a tumultuous political year with a status quo election.
Scorecard for too early to call

Update: The coronavirus recession and rise in unemployment cause Donald Trump to be a one-term president.
Scorecard for too early to call
President Trump’s popularity and poll numbers have been dropping and the possibilities of a Democratic sweep of the White House and Congress are growing. As 2016 showed us, however, election surprises can’t be ruled out. Should a sweep occur, it would represent a substantial change in the government’s tax and regulatory policies that could significantly impact financial markets. 
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All market data from Bloomberg, FactSet and Morningstar Direct

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A word on risk
The views and opinions expressed are for informational and educational purposes only as of the date of writing and may change at any time based on market or other conditions and may not come to pass. This material is not intended to be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered specific legal, investment or tax advice. The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation, or particular needs of any specific person. All investments carry a certain degree of risk and there is no assurance that an investment will provide positive performance over any period of time. Equity investments are subject to market risk or the risk that stocks will decline in response to such factors as adverse company news or industry developments or a general economic decline. Debt or fixed income securities are subject to market risk, credit risk, interest rate risk, call risk, tax risk, political and economic risk, and income risk. As interest rates rise, bond prices fall. Foreign investing involves additional risks, including currency fluctuation, political and economic instability, lack of liquidity and differing legal and accounting standards. These risks are magnified in emerging markets. An alternative strategy sells securities that it has borrowed but does not own (“short sales”), which is a speculative technique. A strategy will suffer a loss when the price of a security that it holds long decreases or the price of a security that it has sold short increases. Losses on short sales arise from increases in the value of the security sold short, and therefore are theoretically unlimited. Because a strategy invests in both long and short equity positions, the strategy has overall exposure to changes in value of equity securities that is far greater than its net asset value. This may magnify gains and losses and increase the volatility of returns. In addition, the use of short sales will increase expenses. Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against a loss. As an asset class, real assets are less developed, more illiquid, and less transparent compared to traditional asset classes. Investments will be subject to risks generally associated with the ownership of real estate-related assets and foreign investing, including changes in economic conditions, currency values, environmental risks, the cost of and ability to obtain insurance, and risks related to leasing of properties. Alternative investments may be illiquid, there may be no liquid secondary market or ready purchasers for such securities, they may not be required to provide periodic pricing or valuation information to investors, there may be delays in distributing tax information to investors, they are not subject to the same regulatory requirements as other types of pooled investment vehicles, and they may be subject to high fees and expenses, which will reduce profits. Alternative investments are not appropriate for all investors and should not constitute an entire investment program. Investors may lose all or substantially all of the capital invested. The historical returns achieved by alternative asset vehicles is not a prediction of future performance or a guarantee of future results, and there can be no assurance that comparable returns will be achieved by any strategy.

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