Credit Suisse analyst Jonathan Golub introduced his 2021 price target for the S&P 500 (^GSPC) of 4,050, implying 12.2% upside from Tuesday’s closing levels. Underpinning this upbeat call is his assumption that two years from now, the post-virus economic recovery will have already hit a peak.
“Our 2021 forecasts are designed to answer a simple question: what will the future (2022) look like in the future (end of 2021),” Golub said in a new note Wednesday. “From this perspective, we are forced to de-emphasize the near-term, focusing instead on the return to a more normal world.”
“As we look toward 2022, the virus will be a fading memory, the economy robust, but decelerating, the yield curve steeper and volatility lower, and the rotation into cyclicals largely behind us,” he added.
Based on Golub’s analysis, economic activity as measured by GDP growth will renormalize at levels slightly above trend, or with quarterly annualized growth rates just over 3%, starting in the second half of 2021.
And the labor market — which as of October was still 10 million payrolls short of pre-pandemic levels — will likely reach “full employment” by the second half of 2022, Golub added.
Since the stock market discounts future events, each of these prospects for further improvement down the line should translate into a higher S&P 500 as investors price in these events.
Analysts have already begun to account for an anticipated improvement in corporate profits, as S&P 500 earnings per share (EPS) have on aggregate sharply topped consensus expectations so far for each of second and third quarter results this year.
“We expect 2020 estimates to rise, 2021 to remain stable and 2022 to moderate,” Golub said.
His 2021 S&P 500 price target of 4,050 is based on earnings per share of $168 next year, for an improvement of 20% over the expected aggregate EPS this year. He expects EPS will then rise to $190 in 2022.
On a sector basis, Golub rates technology stocks as Overweight for 2021, given their “faster sales growth, superior margins, robust FCF [free cash flow], and low leverage. He also rated financials, one of the laggard sectors so far for the year-to-date, as Overweight, given their propensity to lead during recoveries.
“Consistent with a typical recovery, banks should benefit from improving credit conditions, increasing transaction volumes, and a steepening yield curve,” Golub said. “The group is adequately reserved, likely. resulting in a greater return of capital.”
Golub designated cyclicals with a Neutral rating for next year, saying he is “positively inclined toward economically-sensitive groups and believe[s] their momentum should persist over the near-term.” But he added that he thinks the largest quarter-over-quarter improvements in economic activity have already come and gone, leaving more tepid further upside potential for stocks with profits closely tethered to economic growth.
He rated non-cylicals like consumer staples as underweight, while giving health care specifically an Overweight rating.
“Non-cylicals should lag in an improving economy as falling volatility supports higher P/Es (price-earnings multiples) for riskier assets, and rising rates make their high dividend yields less appealing,” he said. “The one exception is health care, which should outperform given a more robust earnings trend.”
Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck
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