Wall Street’s most bullish strategist warns of choppiness in stocks, still sees the S&P 500 touching a record high this year

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Recent weakness in the U.S. stock market is likely to persist over the near-term, according to Wall Street’s most bullish strategist, who still thinks the S&P 500 is on a path to a record high this year.

John Stoltzfus, chief investment strategist at Oppenheimer Asset Management Inc., in late July projected the S&P 500 would rise above 4,900 by the end of 2023. That is the highest price target for the large-cap index among 20 Wall Street firms surveyed by MarketWatch in August.

It implies the S&P 500 would rise above its earlier closing record high of 4,796 reached on Jan. 3, 2022 by the end of the year. The path up, however, could get bumpy.

“Bullishness [in the stock market] is relatively high while the Fed remains shy of its inflation target,” said a team of Oppenheimer strategists led by Stoltzfus in a Sunday note. They also said, “we persist in suggesting that investors curb their enthusiasm [in the stock market] for a long rate pause or even a rate cut and instead right-size expectations.”

Expectations that the Federal Reserve is nearing an end to its current interest-rate hiking cycle, as well as optimism around artificial intelligence boosted the U.S. stock market in the first seven months of 2023. However, the rally came to a brief halt in August as investors worried the Fed could be forced to keep rates elevated as a batch of stronger-than-expected economic data and rising oil prices fueled concerns that still-sticky inflation would mean that borrowing costs will stay higher for longer.

Investors should not brush off those pressures, even through the Fed appears to be nearing the end to its current rate-hike cycle, Stoltzfus and his team said. “The stickiness evidenced in food, services, energy and other prices warrants the Fed remaining vigilant along with a potential for one more hike this year and perhaps another next year,” they said.

See: When will consumers stop buying more stuff? It’s a key question for the stock market.

However, Stoltzfus doesn’t see current headwinds for stocks as something that would prevent the S&P 500 from achieving his team’s new peak target.

Stock-market investors expect this week’s August inflation report to offer more clarity on whether the central bank will continue to ratchet up its fight against inflation. The headline component of the consumer-price index is forecast to accelerate to 0.6% in August from July’s 0.2% gain, while the core measure that strips out volatile food and fuel costs is expected to rise a mild 0.2% from a month earlier, according to a survey of economists by The Wall Street Journal. 

Meanwhile, a key Wall Street volatility index also pointed to “some choppiness” in the stock market in the near term to keep investors on their toes, said Stoltzfus. The CBOE Volatility Index
at a level of 13.82 on Monday, hovered around its 12-month low and traded about 30% below its one-year average level of 19.9, and 37% below its two-year average of 21.88 (see chart below). 

Stoltzfus and his team suggest that investors use market weakness to seek out “babies that get thrown out with the bath water” in periods of volatility. They said the S&P 500 Energy Sector
looks increasingly attractive as policy makers in the U.S. and abroad strive to contain inflation and manage economic growth. 

“We believe that prospects are looking better that the Fed’s success thus far in bringing down the rate of inflation could lead to a [rate] pause next year, thus lessening pressures on economic growth,” the strategists said. An improved economic growth, along with fiscal stimulus from investment in stateside infrastructure projects and stateside chip manufacturing efforts, could contribute to profitability in the energy sector into 2024, the team added. 

The Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund
which is seen as a proxy of the energy sector of the S&P 500, has advanced 3.9% year to date versus a 8.5% increase in the price of the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil

according to FactSet data.

Oil futures


traded at their highest levels of the year on Monday morning, a week after Russia and Saudi Arabia caught markets off guard with their output cut extension announcements, but they settled modestly lower on Monday afternoon.

See: Energy ETFs are outshining the S&P 500, but it’s not just because of the oil rally

Stoltzfus in late July projected the S&P 500
would rise above its record high by the end of 2023, lifting his year-end price target for the large-cap index to 4,900 from an earlier 4,400 projection from December. It implies a 9.2% advance from where the S&P 500 settled on Monday, at around 4,487.

See: S&P 500 has a new record high 2023 price target. Here’s a look at Wall Street’s official stock-market outlook.

U.S. stocks finished higher on Monday, boosted by technology shares as Nasdaq Composite
advanced 1.1%. The S&P 500 was up 0.7% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average
ended 0.3% higher, according to FactSet data. 


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