Stock Market

‘Growth scare’ strikes U.S. stocks as estimated $5 trillion to $8 trillion of household wealth evaporates in five months

Amid a sea of red in U.S. stock markets for much of Friday, a fundamental shift in investors’ thinking appeared to be taking hold, one which analysts describe as a “growth scare.”

A “growth scare” is characterized by a correction in anticipation of slowing economic growth, even if such a slowdown hasn’t yet been borne out by the data. Though the DowJones Industrial Average
DJIA,
+0.03%

eked out a slight gain into the closing bell on Friday, it still booked its longest streak of weekly losses in 90 years, while the S&P 500
SPX,
+0.01%

narrowly averted a bear-market finish. Meanwhile, investors flocked to Treasurys and the dollar as safe havens of choice.

Before the final minutes of trading, a broad-based selloff in equities punished every industry and every stock strategy —- from value and small-cap to growth, as well as the consumer-discretionary, energy, utilities, financial and tech sectors. Economists at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
JPM,
-0.82%

estimate that U.S. household wealth has fallen by $5 trillion to $8 trillion in 2022, driven largely by falling equity prices. And BofA Securities strategists ranked U.S. equities as this year’s worst-performing asset class, as well as the third-biggest loser among global stocks ahead of only Chinese and German equities, based on data through Wednesday.

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“For a good portion of this year, we saw a positive correlation between equities and bonds: that is, a selloff in equities and selloff on bonds,” said Subadra Rajappa, head of U.S. rates strategy at Société Générale. “Now, we’re seeing a rally in bonds correspond to a selloff in equities. The subtle shift is that bonds are starting to act as safe haven, suggesting a growth scare and the potential for demand destruction that leads to lower growth.’’

“Clearly, this week’s price action in stocks stems from earnings guidance and forward-looking guidance on consumer spending, signaling the potential for a retrenchment,’’ she said via phone. Still, Rajappa said she isn’t seeing any “concrete evidence” of a recession in the data, though some slowdown in growth can’t be ruled out. She also foresees no serious risk of recession in the next 12 months.

Prior rounds of U.S. stock selloffs this year were largely driven by prospects of rising interest rates from the Federal Reserve, which is attempting to stomp out the highest inflation in four decades. While the risks of a recession or economic slowdown lingered in the backdrop, they hadn’t been brought to the fore. Many in financial markets have remained confident the U.S. can avoid a downturn, or speak of recession risks in terms of the next one to two years.

Data released in April shows the U.S. economy shrank 1.4% during the first quarter, mainly because of a record U.S. trade deficit, following a 6.9% surge in GDP in the final three months of 2021. The National Bureau of Economic Research defines a recession as a significant decline in activity lasting more than a few months.

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But deteriorating stock values and financial conditions may have the potential to hasten the anticipated arrival of an economic downturn, according to some traders.

As of Friday, there have been 59 negative earnings-per-share preannouncements issued by S&P 500 companies for the second quarter, and 32 that were positive, according to Refinitiv’s S&P 500 Earnings Scorecard. That compares with 55 that were negative and 28 which were positive a week ago.

Read: S&P 500 earnings are another potential `shock’ awaiting financial markets trying to shake off stagflation fears: economist

Meanwhile, the flight to safety in government bonds was felt most acutely in the longest-term maturities, sending 10-
TMUBMUSD10Y,
2.789%

and 30-year rates
TMUBMUSD30Y,
2.998%

below 2.8% and 3% respectively. Yields drop when demand for bonds goes up.

The price action in bonds led to shrinking spreads between the 2-year
TMUBMUSD02Y,
2.578%

and 10-year rates, as well as between 5-year
TMUBMUSD05Y,
2.811%

and 30-year rates, which are seen as worrisome signs about the outlook. In addition, the 5-year rate traded above the 10-year yield, inverting that part of the curve.

Meanwhile, the ICE U.S. Dollar Index
DXY,
+0.27%

rose 0.3% to 103.02, not far from some of the highest levels in almost 20 years.

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Over the past two years, since the pandemic began, U.S. household wealth has increased by $30 trillion, Michael Feroli, JPMorgan’s chief U.S. economist, said via phone Friday. In a sense, the market is “giving back a little bit from a period of strong gains and households are generally still probably sitting on unrealized gains over the past year,” he said.  

JPMorgan isn’t yet forecasting a recession and expects U.S. growth to remain positive through next year, Feroli said. “But the risks are pretty elevated and over the next two years it’s a coin flip as to whether we go into a recession.”

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