This is how brokerage firms and economists look at 1992:
Kidder, Peabody & Co. Inc.
As we enter 1992, the recovery appears extremely vulnerable. It will be sustained, however, by the lowest short-term interest rates in the past two decades, an accommodative Federal Reserve, and a government commitment to put the economy back on track.
Contrary to the dismal forecasts from the doomsayers, the economy will emerge from recession. The apparent sudden sinking of the economy in the fourth quarter of 1991 has blinded many to the favorable factors supporting an economic recovery. The economy is in the final stages of its contraction and seeds for revival have already been sown. The unprecedented decline in consumer attitudes which have prevailed for too long will slowly reverse themselves as the scars of the 1980s heal and fragile consumer and business balance sheets improve.
Excessive spending and debt in the 1980s, which ushered in a falling savings rate, will be replaced by more sober attitudes which are already evolving and which will provide the foundation for a sustainable long-run recovery. The savings rate, which had fallen to 4.3 percent in 1987, and remained at that low level throughout the late 1980s, recovered in 1990 to 5.1 percent, and has remained firmly in a 5.0 percent to 5.5 percent range so far in 1991. Higher savings will be the backbone of a revived consumer in the coming years.
All of the fundamental indicators point to a slow growth recovery in 1992. The strongest rate of growth will emerge in the second half of the year. Growth should improve progressively from a low of only about 0.4 percent in the first quarter to a high of 4.0 percent in the third quarter. For the 1992 year, economic growth will average about 2.5 percent. While this low rate of growth may at first seem disappointing, it is characteristic of the trend rate of economic growth that should prevail during the next three to five years.
Robert S. Salomon Jr.,
head of research
Dec. 23, 1991
Our 1992 projection for the Dow Jones Industrials is 3,300-3,400.
The economic recovery will be slow but sustainable. We estimate real growth at 1 percent in the final quarter of this year, 2 percent in 1992 and about 2.5 percent in 1993. Inflation will remain moderate. This environment is positive for equity valuation levels and partially explains why stocks have held ground reasonably well in the face of considerable uncertainty. A lack of alternative investments is another part of the explanation. Rates on U.S. Treasury bills are now at levels last seen in 1973. Investors that have grown comfortable living without risk now find that they cannot live on the returns from their cash. In addition, real estate does not provide much competition.
With an election year approaching and a weak economy, the Fed is likely to remain under pressure to ease monetary policy, bringing interest rates even lower and further enhancing the attractiveness of equities. In this environment, we emphasize interest-rate-sensitive issues in the financial sector and stable-growth stocks in the consumer area. Our approach to cyclical issues has grown more selective with the weakening economy: We recommend that exposure be limited to early-cycle plays, extremely undervalued stocks or companies that can show strong earnings gains even if top-line growth is modest.
Based on the post-war experience, earnings in the earliest part of an economic recovery are the most volatile and, hence, the most difficult to predict. S&P; 500 operating profits for the 12 months following a trough in the economy have risen by 13 percent on average, but the range extends from gains of 2.5 percent (off the 1974 trough) to 23 percent (off the 1954 trough).
Conceptually, earnings in the first year of a recovery should grow more quickly than in subsequent years, because costs are low and inventories are lean. In four of the six postwar cycles, however, profits have grown either at the same rate or faster in the second "year" (measured by quarters from the trough). Here, the average growth rate is 9 percent, ranging from a decline of 14 percent in 1951 to a gain of 18 percent in 1984. Excluding 1951, the average rate of gain in the second year is 14 percent.
A slow but steady pace of economic expansion is not the stuff of which explosive profit growth is made. Such an environment, however, should provide incentive for companies to keep costs low. Thus, we expect S&P; 500 profits in 1993 to be about $27.00 per share -- up by 8 percent from our estimate of 1992 earnings.
Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette
Eric Miller, senior vice president, research department
Dec. 31, 1991
We had suggested a modest lowering of equity exposure last September in preparation for what we had expected would be a disappointing stretch of economic and earnings news. On weakness [in stock prices] we had expected to urge more fully invested positions.
However, with the full-point reduction in the discount rate, the largest proportionate drop since 1934, we thought that the Fed had purchased some time for the market (although that was not its major intention). The immediate alternatives to stocks were made less attractive, and the hope increased that somewhere down the road the cumulative fall in rates would beneficially impact economic activity. Accordingly, the seeming effect was to have ratcheted up the probable trading range for the next several weeks. Instead of the broadened trading range we had envisioned for the Dow Jones Industrial Average of roughly 2,700-3,300 through March, we thought the range now might be 2,900-3,300. Risks were not quashed, but pushed off until later this spring.
We focus on spring as a period of vulnerability because an economic upturn cannot be deferred indefinitely. The odds of financial problems or major financial risks increasing beyond that are just too great. But, for now, we think that the market is geared to expect more weak business data and poor fourth quarter earnings, and will not be very upset about it as long as it entertains hopes for an upturn by midyear.
Massachusetts Financial Services
A. Keith Brodkin, chairman and chief executive officer
Dec. 9, 1991
Economic recovery in the United States will be modest at best in 1992 as consumers, business and government work to pay down debt and monetary growth remains near historically low levels. Recovery from the recession will be very slow. The economy is still fragile.
Based on an outlook for slow growth, low inflation and limited demand for money, long-term interest rates will continue their downward trend in 1992, toward a target of 7 to 7.5 percent by yearend.
MFS research analysts see very few signs of strength based on their meetings with company managements. Automobile manufacturing and housing construction remain very weak, which affects the industries that supply them as well. Advertising lineage is at a 15-year low. The export sector is weak.
The positive in economic outlook is inflation, which currently is running at about 3 percent and could drop toward 2 percent in 1992. Inflation as an investment concern is dead.
Josephthal, Lyon & Ross Inc.
David B. Bostian Jr., chief economist
Dec. 6, 1991
The 1992 expansion of the U.S. economy could be far stronger than expected -- possibly surpassing 4 percent real GNP (or GDP) growth. While the recovery will be driven by housing, capital investment and exports, as well as inventory accumulation, the consumer should not be counted out. The consumer sector balance sheet is in better shape than those who are alarmed about debt would have us believe, i.e., during the past decade tangible and financial assets of the consumer increased over four times as much as debt.
On the policy front . . . monetary policy has certainly been directed in an expansionary mode. Short-term interest rates are at their lowest levels in almost 20 years and the monetary aggregates appear to finally be growing. Furthermore, there is considerable "moral suasion" under way to encourage the banking system to begin making more loans for productive economic purposes and to even lower the prime rate without additional discount rate cuts.
Fiscal policy will adopt a pro-growth orientation in the near future. This would not only include capital gains tax rate reduction, but most importantly, investment tax credits to foster both domestic investment and long-term global competitiveness.
In sum, enlightened economic leadership will emerge in Washington and the U.S. economy and financial markets are going to be beneficiaries. [A forecasting model used by Mr. Bostian suggests a Dow Jones industrial average of 5,000 by 1995-1996].
From a sector standpoint, I expect that leadership is going to move away from consumer growth stocks toward capital goods stocks -- to include basic industry issues. Small capitalization equities are judged to be in the early phase of a multiyear advance. Regardless of sector or size considerations, multinational exposure is viewed positively, given the new markets that will be opening around the globe in the 1990s.
Kemper Financial Services Inc.
Stephen B. Timbers, senior executive vice president
and chief investment officer
Nov. 20, 1991
The economy in 1992 will continue to strengthen, but its emergence from the recent recession will be subpar. We are going to see below-average economic recovery because this has been a below-average recession. This most recent recession was relatively brief and shallow by historical standards. And because of the improved methods of inventory management, U.S. companies did not embark on a massive liquidation of inventories. Consequently, these companies will not enjoy [the] strong growth that has traditionally resulted from inventory rebuilding.
On the other hand, with inflation firmly in check, the Federal Reserve Board is committed to lowering interest rates and the cost of money in order to rekindle economic growth. We will continue to see further easing moves by the Fed until there is significant improvement in the economy.
The economy could potentially experience 0 to 1 percent growth in GNP during the fourth quarter of 1991 and the first quarter of 1992, but that GNP should turn upward thereafter. The 6 percent increase in consumer spending and 16 percent rise in durable goods orders in the third quarter was largely a one-time phenomenon that came following the Persian Gulf war. Although consumer confidence improved following the war, a high level of consumer debt coupled with a decline in home prices weighed on consumer buying attitudes, and ultimately the demand for goods. Growth in GNP during the third and fourth quarters of 1992 will be at 2 percent to 3 percent.
It is going to be a slow, rather than rapid recovery, but I am confident the economy will not slip back into recession. Furthermore, the current investment climate still offers investors tremendous opportunities in both the fixed-income and equity markets.
The outlook for corporate profits remains dim, largely because of the prospects for sluggish economic expansion. Growth stocks, on the other hand, represent companies that are experiencing a consistent, reliable stream of earnings growth regardless of the economy. Small-capitalization stocks, which finally began to outperform the overall stock market this year for the first time since 1983, should also continue to perform well in the coming year. High-yield corporate bonds should also perform well, provided the economy continues to strengthen, but the real estate sector will continue to be hampered by oversupply and by regulatory pressure on lending institutions.
Wheat First Securities Inc.
Don Hays, director of investment strategy
Dec. 13, 1991
Our projection for 1992 is based on the premise that what has always been will once again occur.
We expect the tempo of the economic recovery as 1992 unfolds to pick up, and make up for lost time. Our confidence in the "staying power" of the economic recovery comes from the extremely favorable inflation outlook. With commodity prices tepid, wage demands still meek, and money supply still on the bottom edge of the modest Fed target zones, there is little chance that inflation can reignite for the foreseeable future, giving the Fed the incentive to tighten monetary policy again.
On the interest rate front it is almost impossible to predict to what level the Fed will allow short-term rates to decline in the current desperation of the moment. Short-term interest rates are a direct function of inflation expectations. The recent sharp break in these short rates is an excellent technical confirmation that the core rate of inflation in the years ahead is about to drop into the 3 to 4 percent range. By 1996 inflation could easily be down to the 2 to 3 percent range.
The most important factor to focus on as we continue to slip into the '90s is the very modest inflation rate that is unfolding.
Mortgage rates have also felt these new lower inflation expectations as they recently dropped to the lowest level in 16 years. While we suspect that they might be close to their low point for the next 12-24 months, here again by 1996 we expect to see mortgages even lower -- in the 6 to 7 percent range. The same applies to the long-term bond market.
The stock market, despite its recent uncertainty, should have another excellent year in 1992, as the current worries about the economic recovery begin to be resolved in a positive light. Even though the "Chicken Littles" keep telling us the market is overvalued, they failed to see the factories in this country operating at their highest level of efficiency in the last 40 years. They fail to recognize the tremendous quality, and productivity, gains. They fail to see the tremendous boost in world leadership by the U.S. They fail to see how the lower inflationary environment is going to greatly accelerate America's ability to compete on the world market. They fail to equate how the loss of the Soviet threat, and the new world unity fostered by the successful war with Iraq, will translate those billions of defense dollars in the next 10 to 20 years into vastly more productive areas. And finally, they are valuing today's market (i.e. price-earnings ratio) based upon the depressed earnings of the last four quarters in an extremely tough economic environment. Those tough days should be ending soon, and earnings should quickly rebound. In fact, with the "lean-and-mean" structure of corporate America, we suspect the earnings growth trend line to accelerate in the years ahead.
Of course it doesn't hurt any that 1992 is an election year. There have only been two times since the end of World War II in which the election year has produced a loss in the stock market, and even those losses were extremely minimal. So you can count on the immense resources that this, as well as any administration, has at their disposal to turn the current dismal headlines more positive as November 1992 approaches. As a result of all of the above, and even more, we still expect our long-standing projection of 3,600 for the Dow Jones industrial average to be fulfilled in 1992. And smaller-cap growth stocks should exceed that appreciation potential by a large margin.
The frosting on the cake continues to be the unfolding drama of the "baby boomers" as they approach the "saving/investing" cycle of their normal life cycle. The leading edge of this mammoth economic bubble reaches that age -- widely proven to be age 48 -- in 1993. As they approach this significant hurdle, it is already obvious that the "investing" era outlook is starting to put a pronounced upward bias on stock market appreciation, a downward bias to inflation and interest rates, an upward bias to productivity, and a downward bias to instability. Now that they are escaping from their bouts with the middle life crises, they will be making plans for a long, 17-year trip toward retirement.
Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc.
Richard E. Cripps, director of equity marketing
Dec. 26, 1991
The economy in 1992 should begin a substantial growth pattern. The engine for growth will be the productivity gains wrung from painful corporate restructuring and continued growth in exports
on the heels of a weak dollar. The wild card here is what type of a fiscal stimulus package Washington comes up with.
Election years have usually been up years on Wall Street. The stock market is at a high level relative to corporate earnings, driven there mostly by lower interest rates. The question will be when the economy turns and supports the market with earnings, rather than lower interest rates. My crystal ball shows a market gain in 1992 at around the market's long-term average of 10 percent.
Massachusetts Financial Services
John Ballen, senior vice president
Dec. 9, 1991
Small company stocks have outperformed the broader market dramatically in 1991, but they remain well shy of the record price-to-earn- ings multiples that they reached in the early 1980s.
Because small companies have the ability to grow their earnings faster than large companies, small capitalization stocks should command rising multiples as the economic recovery takes hold. Coming out of a recession, you will have accelerating earnings with the small caps. Price-earnings multiples should expand and provide for a good opportunity in the emerging-growth stock market.
The Jerome Levy Economics Institute of Bard College
David A. Levy and S. Jay Levy
Dec. 19, 1991
The economy will encounter crosscurrents early in 1992. Poor Christmas season sales will have left stores and manufacturers of consumer goods with unwanted inventories. If the involuntary accumulation of stock is large despite pre-holiday price promotions and hand-to-mouth purchasing policies, then inventory liquidation will be a serious, negative influence on the economy. However, efforts to pare inventories will reduce imports, a favorable development. Moreover, consumer incomes will be bolstered by increases in federal Social Security payments and salaries totaling nearly $20 billion, at an annual rate. This boost could be offset by more cautious consumer spending and higher saving.
Businesses' decisions on inventories and consumers' on saving will help to determine the economy's path in 1992, but that road will not lead out of the contained depression. No development will eliminate the vast excesses of commercial, industrial, and services capacity as well as the burdensome debts that resulted from 1980s speculation. Private investment in fixed assets will remain discouraged by the surfeit of existing facilities and by the inability and unwillingness of financial institutions to provide funds. Falling rents, financially troubled tenants, and still decreasing asset prices will constrict economic growth. So will excessive capacity in industries ranging from steel and automobiles to beer and pantyhose to air travel and fast food.
Indeed, shrinkage rather than growth is to be seen almost everywhere. Cutbacks in state and local government services are reported almost daily. Major corporations that have symbolized American economic strength and vitality, including IBM and General Motors, are shrinking -- closing plants and permanently discharging employees.
Federal government spending, about one-fourth as large as gross domestic product, is forestalling a further plunge in economic activity. The federal deficit in fiscal 1991 totaled $190 billion, (excluding payments to the Resolution Trust Corp., the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., etc). In fiscal 1992, the deficit will increase to at least $250 billion regardless of what tax and expenditure measures are adopted to help boost economic activity. This net pouring of funds into the economy will continue to contain the depression, to prevent the slump from becoming a disaster in 1992, and it may maintain activity at about the 1991 pace. If government aggressively increases its injection of funds into the economy with such a measure as a $300, all-at-once tax rebate to all wage and salary earners, it would greatly improve the economy -- for a short time.
A lump-sum rebate totaling $25 billion would give an intense but short-lived stimulus even if most of these refunds were saved. If only $5 billion were spent in the month received, it would constitute a $60 billion, annual rate, jump in spending in one month. Inventories would abruptly run down, and factory orders would spurt ahead. Inevitably, inventories would be overbuilt, leading to trouble half a year later, but the economy would appear to be vigorous for several months.
Major forces influencing prices . . . are predominantly counter-inflationary. In the short term are narrowing profit margins and aggressive efforts to move merchandise. The medium-term influences are effects of the contained depression: intense competition, weak labor markets, oversupplies of goods and services, and asset deflation. In the long run, the global economic environment will maintain downward pressure on workers' compensation and encourage high productivity.
Corporations that are slashing employment grudgingly grant, at
most, small raises. When dozens, sometimes hundreds, of qualified persons apply for a job, the employer is in a position to offer a low wage or salary. Prevailing labor market conditions, an aspect of the contained depression, will continue. Thus, wage inflation will not be a factor for at least a few years.
A troublesome phenomenon for many Americans for generations, low-wage competition from abroad, is an accelerating force. Foreign competition is increasingly affecting jobs that were formerly unaffected by wage scales elsewhere.
The increasing competition from low-paid workers abroad develops slowly. From one year to the next, this phenomenon does not become an acute problem for the American economy. But over the decade it will have an increasingly deleterious effect on U.S. economic growth and employment.
William M. LeFevre, senior vice president, market strategy
Dec. 23, 1991
The focus in 1992 will be on corporate earnings. It's a given that they'll be up, but when? And by how much? The Dow's trailing 12-month earnings through September 1990 were $193.17; through September 1991 they were $100.91. It is our view that at least one-third if not one-half of that year-to-year drop was from non-recurring events such as write-offs, write-downs and restructurings. And given the prospects for what we think will be a worthwhile economic recovery in 1992, the Dow's earnings could recover to, say, $175 in the coming election year.
Given the present low interest rates, the lowest since 1963 (Fed discount), or 1977 (prime), the stock market has less competition from the fixed-income area of investment. Thus, price-earnings ratios can be expected to expand from their mid-teens levels of the 1980s, particularly where the big capitalization growth stocks are concerned. The current 29 multiples are a function of those depressed 1991 earnings, and should not be construed as a "red flag" warning of an imminent drastic decline. Using $175 as the Dow's 1992 earnings estimate, and a range of P/E's from 16 times to 20 on those earnings, its range next year could be from 2,800 to 3,500.
Interest rates have declined sharply this year. They more than likely will continue to decline next year. The long bond could break below a 7 percent yield down toward the low 6 percent range next year. It's currently about 7.5 percent. That's good for stocks, not so good for savers who depend on fixed-income and still remember those 15 percent, 90-day Treasury bill yields of the early 1980s.
Stock sectors we think will be in favor next year will be the big growth stocks, because recessions have less effect on these earnings, the industrial cyclical (non-ferrous metals, papers, 1b chemicals) because the recession will end and these are early beneficiaries, and electric utilities for yield.
Small stocks have outperformed, by far, big stocks this year. The NASDAQ Composite has risen 43 percent this year, as opposed to 11 percent in the Dow and 16 percent or 17 percent in the S&P; 500 and NYSE Composite. Small stocks can be expected to continue their rise next year too, but "selectively" is the watch-word.
Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.
The U.S. stock market has received support from investors who moved into equity funds as interest rates on money-market funds dropped sharply. But recent highs in the stock market appear to have discounted the 1992 recovery. We see the risk of a letdown in the first several months of 1992, with a possible market decline of 15 percent or more. But 1992 is a presidential election year, and the stock market has usually ended election years with a net gain.
Short-term interest rates may decline a bit more from current levels and then end 1992 slightly above current levels. We expect long-term rates to remain in a narrow range. Investors with a large portion of their funds in short-term fixed-income assets stand to earn less on their portfolios. We recommend that such investors extend maturities where possible, but keep in mind the extra price risk that long-term securities entail. We suggest intermediate maturities in the Treasury market and advise investors to stick with high-quality issues in other fixed-income markets. For the most part, we do not think that the yield advantage on lower-quality issues is large enough to justify the extra risk.
The economy will experience distinctly subpar growth during 1992. But corporate earnings are probably past their low point on a year-to-year basis and should show considerable improvement, even in a lukewarm economy.
With the United States economic recovery remaining a source of concern, investors are urged to evaluate international investment opportunities more closely.
Norman Robertson, senior vice president and chief economist
Despite the current malaise, the U.S. economy is not sliding into a major recession. The drop in short-term interest rates, while largely ineffectual in boosting economic growth, has growth of the economy.
In addition, there is simply no evidence of a major decline in final demand that might signal the onset of a severe economic contraction. Notwithstanding the widely reported plunge in consumer confidence, it is encouraging to see that consumer spending, although far from robust, still appears to be holding on to an even keel. Considering, moreover, that most of the cyclically sensitive sectors, notably automobiles and housing, are already at a low ebb, there is reason to hope that activity will either stabilize or improve a little over the immediate months ahead.
These few expressions of very cautious optimism may carry little weight at a time when the economy again seems to be contracting. Confidence has been badly shaken by the abortive recovery as well as the sense of disarray in Washington, and there is widespread skepticism regarding predictions of a second half of 1992 improvement in economic conditions. Within the past month, our forecast of GDP growth in 1992 has been cut from a feeble 1.8 percent to a barely positive 1.0 percent.
The U.S. economy is stumbling into 1992 with a distinct lack of confidence and optimism that could, in and of itself, prolong the
current recession-like environment.
A. Marshall Acuff Jr., portfolio strategist
Business expansion in the U.S. may remain in a gradual trend into 1992, resulting in slow utilization of economic resources: i.e., the people and plants necessary to support future growth of the economy.
While there may be some new fiscal stimulus, the major impetus of future growth is going to continue to be dependent upon monetary policy . . . [It] is likely to remain positive and supportive of a favorable climate for equities.
With the inflation outlook having improved and fiscal discipline likely to be maintained to a large degree, real interest rates can decline further, permitting long-term Treasury bond yields to drop to 7.5 percent, or possibly even to 7 percent during 1992. Therefore, equity valuations can remain high and possibly climb to more extreme levels than [have been] seen for many years. As we are projecting a meaningful recovery in profits over the next two years, this earning recovery should eventually support a pTC further broadening of interest in stocks.
T. Rowe Price Associates Inc.
Paul W. Boltz, chief economist
Dec. 3, 1991
The economy will regain momentum gradually, with real growth in the 2 percent to 2.5 percent range during the first half of 1992. The sluggish recovery will feel like a recession. But, by the second half, consumer sentiment will be sufficiently robust to encourage a modest strengthening in spending.
In this setting, I would expect the Federal Reserve to remain accommodative,possible until midyear, and then to tighten modestly unless inflation remains exceptionally tame. By year-end 1992, however, look for both short- and long-term rates to be about 1/2 to 1 percentage point above today's levels.
The Boston Co. Economic
Allen Sinai, chief economist
Dec. 30, 1991
When 1992 begins, financial markets probably will take a breather in the aftermath of the move to generally lower interest rates, a lower dollar, and higher stock prices off the big 1 percentage point cut in the discount rate 10 days ago. But the momentum and trends set by the factors behind these moves remain in place.
The fourth and first quarter weakness in the economy, led by cutbacks from the consumer and a big round of cutting back by American business, now is well understood.
An extended recession means lower inflation, continuing pressure on the Federal Reserve to ease more, other Washington measures to revive the economy, and some sort of eventual recovery. The easing of Fed policy, lower inflation and lower interest rates, some fiscal stimulus to come, numerous other measures being taken, and just the passage of time should begin to produce an end to the recession by spring and some sort of second half upturn.
Actually, economic recovery is more likely in 1992 than it was in 1991. Big uncertainties surround the economics of a political presidential election year, how economies will do overseas, and the behavior of the American consumer. This longest recession since the 1930s should give way to an upturn this year, helping the stock market, which has discounted many recoveries already, and later bringing an end to the declines in interest rates except insofar as lower inflation can bring long-term rates down further. Sometime during the year, the dollar should stop falling as well, bottoming out and moving up sharply once the recovery is in place.
John H. Shaughnessy
Dec. 20, 1991
1992 is shaping up to be a reasonably profitable year for equity and fixed-income investors. Returns on stocks, as measured by the S&P; 500, may approximate 10 percent over the year.
We expect the NASDAQ Composite, driven by growing investor interest in the equities of smaller, growth companies, will continue to outperform the broader market averages.
Interest rates will remain under downward pressure in response to aggressive easing by the Federal Reserve as well as an expected sharp slowdown in the major foreign economies, especially Germany's. Ninety-day T-Bill rates could fall below 3.5 percent before recovering in line with the domestic economy, while 30-year bond yields could trade within a 7.25 percent to 7.75 percent range.
The investment backdrop should improve as the year progresses. Inflation is low, interest rates are dropping, liquidity should continue to build in the system and economic growth will likely pick up from current anemic levels.
Given our constructive investment outlook, our recommended asset allocation for long-term investors is as follow: cash 5 percent; bonds 35 percent; equities 60 percent.