The equity rally is likely just the start of a volatile adjustment to a new fundamental reality.

“Investors who sit out now could miss a chunk of this year’s returns.”

Those were the last words that I wrote in one of our CIO Weekly Perspectives in January. Since then, the S&P 500 Index has been consolidating its New Year performance. Those brave enough to buy as the markets closed on Christmas Eve now sit on a return of around 15%, thanks to gains on three out of every four trading sessions. The Europe STOXX 600 and MSCI Emerging Markets Indices are both up by around 10%.

I didn’t expect our words to be affirmed so quickly. And after a couple of days of jitters at the end of last week, it’s worth remembering that the statement was not just about the size of the New Year rally, but also about its limits.

Global Economy Continues to Slow

Regular readers will know that we have long anticipated that the Federal Reserve would err on the side of patience with rate hikes and guide the U.S. economy into a soft landing. The past two weeks have seen it adopt that stance explicitly and offer commentary that is, if anything, even more dovish, even as the U.S. generates an average of 220,000 jobs a month paying wages that grow by 3.2% a year.

While the world’s biggest economy exhibits few signs of imminent recession, however, several indicators from the rest of the world continue to disappoint.

China’s Caixin Purchasing Managers’ Indices, for both manufacturing and services, declined further this month.

In Europe, Spain is the rare highlight, as Germany, France and Italy pushed the euro zone composite PMI to its lowest level in more than five years last week. Italy is now in technical recession and Germany, still struggling with a slump in auto sales, only missed it by one-tenth of a percentage point. Last week, the widely followed euro area Sentix survey of institutional investor confidence dropped to its lowest level in four years. And across the English Channel, as the Brexit deadline nears, the U.K.’s plummeting services PMI added to poor manufacturing and construction data to paint a picture of an economy stalling on sheer uncertainty.

Halfway through fourth-quarter earnings reports, we are also starting to see some fatigue at the corporate level.

As Deutsche Bank pointed out in a U.S. Equity Strategy research note on January 31, despite substantial downward revisions, the proportion of S&P 500 companies beating analysts’ earnings estimates was the lowest for seven years. Earnings-per-share growth expectations for 2019 are now coming in at around 4%, on average, compared with 10% last summer, according to the RBC Capital Markets’ “Halftime Report” that came out on February 5. While the tax impact has turned from a substantial tailwind to a small headwind, these are still sluggish numbers.

Inflection Points Bring Extremes in Both Directions

With that as the background, the New Year rally looks even more remarkable.

When every piece of news was perceived as bad news at the back end of 2018, stocks seemed to be disproportionately punished for marginal earnings-season disappointments. Today, investors seem only to hear the good news, bidding up stocks that are protecting margins or telling the least-negative stories.

Notwithstanding our relatively benign soft-landing scenario, investors will likely need time to adjust to the idea that the global economy is slowing down—not into recession, but meaningfully, and probably for the duration of the current cycle. When markets stand at inflection points such as these, expect extremes of sentiment and momentum on the upside as well as the downside. After December’s sell-off, January’s rally has given us the “V” in volatility, but volatile times rarely stop on a dime.

We remain constructive on risk assets given our soft-landing scenario and reasonable valuations. But volatility will likely continue to haunt us as the economy and markets adjust to a more modest growth outlook, and those who panicked at year-end have probably missed a chunk of 2019’s equity returns.

Like 2016, this year could prove a good reminder of why, as the saying goes, time in the market often contributes more to long-term returns than timing the market.

Joseph V. Amato is President of Neuberger Berman Group LLC and Chief Investment Officer—Equities at Neuberger Berman. He is also a member of the firm’s Board of Directors and its Audit Committee. To learn more, see Mr. Amato's bio or visit

In Case You Missed It

  • U.S. Durable Goods Orders:  +0.7% in November (excluding transportation, durable goods orders decreased 0.4%)
  • ISM Non-Manufacturing Index:  -1.3 to 56.7 in December
  • Bank of England Policy Rate Decision:  Monetary Policy Committee voted to keep its main interest rate at 0.75%

What to Watch For

  • Wednesday, 2/13:
    • U.S. Consumer Price Index
    • Japan GDP 4Q 2018 (First Estimate)
  • Thursday, 2/14:
    • U.S. Producer Price Index
    • U.S. Retail Sales
    • Euro Zone GDP 4Q 2018 (Second Estimate)

– Andrew White, Investment Strategy Group

Statistics on the Current State of the Market – as of February 8, 2019

Market Index WTD MTD YTD
S&P 500 Index 0.1% 0.2% 8.2%
Russell 1000 Index 0.2% 0.3% 8.8%
Russell 1000 Growth Index 0.7% 0.7% 9.7%
Russell 1000 Value Index -0.4% 0.0% 7.8%
Russell 2000 Index 0.3% 0.5% 11.8%
MSCI World Index -0.4% -0.3% 7.4%
MSCI EAFE Index -1.4% -1.4% 5.1%
MSCI Emerging Markets Index -1.3% -1.3% 7.3%
STOXX Europe 600 -1.7% -1.4% 5.2%
FTSE 100 Index 0.7% 1.5% 5.2%
TOPIX -1.6% -1.8% 3.0%
CSI 300 Index 0.0% 1.4% 7.9%
Fixed Income & Currency      
Citigroup 2-Year Treasury Index 0.1% 0.0% 0.3%
Citigroup 10-Year Treasury Index 0.6% 0.1% 0.8%
Bloomberg Barclays Municipal Bond Index 0.3% 0.3% 1.0%
Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index 0.4% 0.1% 1.2%
Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Index -0.2% -0.5% 1.0%
S&P/LSTA U.S. Leveraged Loan 100 Index 0.4% 0.5% 4.0%
ICE BofA Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Index 0.2% 0.3% 4.9%
ICE BofA Merrill Lynch Global High Yield Index -0.1% 0.0% 4.1%
JP Morgan EMBI Global Diversified Index 0.0% 0.0% 4.5%
JP Morgan GBI-EM Global Diversified Index -0.8% -0.9% 4.5%
U.S. Dollar per British Pounds -1.1% -1.6% 1.6%
U.S. Dollar per Euro -1.2% -1.3% -0.9%
U.S. Dollar per Japanese Yen -0.3% -0.8% 0.0%
Real & Alternative Assets      
Alerian MLP Index -3.4% -2.5% 9.8%
FTSE EPRA/NAREIT North America Index 1.9% 1.2% 13.0%
FTSE EPRA/NAREIT Global Index 0.7% 0.1% 11.0%
Bloomberg Commodity Index -1.1% -0.8% 4.6%
Gold (NYM $/ozt) Continuous Future -0.3% -0.5% 2.9%
Crude Oil (NYM $/bbl) Continuous Future -4.6% -2.0% 16.1%

Source: FactSet, Neuberger Berman.