Wells Fargo sees economic “soft patch” capping further S&P 500 gains

By David Randall

NEW YORK (Reuters) – An upcoming “economic soft patch” will likely weigh on the recent U.S. equity rally and stall sectors such as consumer discretionary and small-cap stocks, strategists at the Wells Fargo Investment Institute warned in a note on Monday.

The firm cut its 2024 earnings estimate for the Russell 2000 index of small cap stocks while maintaining its 2024 year-end S&P 500 target price range between 4,600 and 4,800. The index traded near 4,550 on Monday.

While the U.S. economy is slowing, it has not deteriorated enough to justify the Federal Reserve beginning to cut interest rates, the firm noted. As a result, the economy will likely suffer from the squeeze of tighter credit longer than markets appear to anticipate, it said.

“It is our belief that equity rallies will be capped until a path to an economic and earnings recovery becomes clear,” the firm noted, adding that it suggests investors add to large-cap technology stocks if the S&P 500 falls near the bottom of its range for the year.

The benchmark S&P 500 is up more than 10% over the last three weeks as Treasury yields have fallen from 16-year highs following signs of cooling inflation and a weakening labor market, helping boost valuations in technology and other growth sectors. It hit a high for the year in late July as predictions of an imminent recession sank Treasury yields.

The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow estimates show US gross domestic product growing at a 2.1% annualized rate in the fourth quarter, down from a third-quarter reading of 5.1% in early October.

Overall, futures markets anticipate a 22% chance that the Fed begins cutting rates in March, up from a 13.7% chance seen a month ago, according to CME’s FedWatch Tool.

A re-acceleration of the global economy in the second half of 2024 will likely push stocks higher as a weakening dollar and falling interest rates spark a global risk rally, Wells Fargo said.

(Reporting by David Randall)