5 real risks that could crush stocks in 2024 — and why they won’t (2024)

As U.S. stocks flirt with new highs and recession seems less and less likely, the hardcore stock-market bears continue to predict an array of market-tanking disasters just around the corner.

I expect the U.S. market to finish the year up 5% to 10%, for three main reasons: There will be no recession, inflation will continue to contract, and cautious investors will come into the market and push stocks higher.

Still, it is always good to understand opposing views.With that in mind, here’s a look at five major fears of the market naysayers — and why they will be wrong. Markets can correct at any time (a 10% decline), but another bear market (a decline of 20% or more) is not likely on the horizon.

1. 2024 brings a recession: Stock markets hate recessions, so this would be bad for bulls. It’s a little daunting that no less than seasoned market gurus Jeffrey Gundlach and Bob Doll predict this outcome.Their exhibit A is the inverted Treasury yield curve, which occurs when yields of longer-term securities like the 10-year notes BX:TMUBMUSD02Y yield less than short-term paper BX:TMUBMUSD02Y. It has been seen by markets as a relatively reliable predictor of recessions in the U.S.

But here’s why they’ll be wrong this time.Inverted yield curves forecast recessions because they correctly predict monetary tightening will cause a credit crunch. This, in turn, sparks a financial crisis that tanks both the economy and stocks.

The thing is, we’ve already had the financial crisis. It was the regional-bank-sector mini-meltdown in the first half of 2023. And we’ve skated by because the Federal Reserve handled it. The Fed flooded U.S. banks with liquidity via the Bank Term Funding Program. Now we’ve moved on — except for those who hold on to the economic “hard landing” scenario.

In the meantime, market interest rates have come down, taking pressure off the credit system. Declining rates are also a form of economic stimulus. The Fed will soon start cutting rates at the short end, continuing this trend.

Outside of a credit crunch, the real canary in the coal mine to watch is business activity, notes Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “Businesses are the first to signal trouble as they rein in payrolls and investment,” he says. That undermines consumer sentiment, and a vicious cycle of weakening demand and layoff risks ensues.

“Right now, there is no sign of that,” Zandi adds. “Businesses remain stalwart in their refusal to lay off workers and rein in investment. The economy continues to perform well, and prospects are improving as inflation recedes without an increase in unemployment.”

Moreover, the U.S. is in the midst of a productivity boom that will continue due to elevated business investment in new technology and equipment. Higher worker productivity boosts profits and takes the pressure off companies to raise prices.

Plus, remember that economies usually benefit from election-year spending by the political party in power.

2. Consumer spending dries up as savings decline: Consumers drive the economy, so if they really do close their wallets because they’ve burned through their COVID-era savings, that won’t be good.

But this won’t happen.First, workers cocooned by the lay-low mentality of the pandemic are circulating again. “The post-pandemic surge in labor-force participation has led to a surge in total hours, and supported growth in disposable income,” says Bank of America economist Michael Gapen.

Next, U.S. employment remains high and jobless claims are low, notes William Blair economist Richard de Chazal. Claims hit their lowest level in over a year for the week ending Jan. 13. The bottom line here is that consumers tend to keep spending until they lose their jobs.

Other factors also support consumer spending, says Ed Yardeni of Yardeni Research. He points to boomers retiring and spending their cumulative $75 trillion net worth or passing it along to their heirs. Close to 40% of U.S. homeowners are mortgage-free, and most of the rest were able to lock in record-low mortgage rates.

A “misery index” tracked by Yardeni — the unemployment rate plus inflation — fell to 7.1% during December, well below its historical average of 9%, Yardeni says. This is one reason the University of Michigan consumer-sentiment index jumped to 78.8 in January from 69.4 in December.

3. Inflation makes a comeback: Like generals, stock-market bears often make the mistake of fighting the last war. So when we learned earlier this month that December inflation firmed up, it supported the bears’ case that inflation may not be so transitory after all.

But inflation will continue to fall. For one thing, history shows it tends to fall as fast as it went up, after it spikes.Also, there’s a lot of natural downward pressure on price increases. China and Europe are suffering from weak economies. Less demand from those regions puts downward pressure on oil prices and the price of goods. “China continues to export deflation to the U.S. and the rest of the world,” Yardeni says.

Rental vacancy rates are on the rise, and this puts downward pressure on rent — the sole holdout inflation component, Zandi says.

The hidden gift for stock investors in all this is that declining inflation pushes down cash yields. This has historically sent more money to stocks from cash, notes Bank of America strategist Savita Subramanian. The tipping point: 5% yields on cash. Below that, people put more cash into stocks. Money-market funds have a record $6 trillion in cash. “Both institutional and individual investors are sitting on high cash levels,” she says.

4. Sentiment is too bullish, making the market vulnerable: When bullish investor sentiment gets too high, it makes the market vulnerable to pullbacks, in the contrarian sense. I just don’t see it.Consider these data from the quant analysts at Bank of America.

Cash at stock mutual funds is one standard deviation above average. That is not elevated sentiment. Hedge-fund exposure to discretionary stocks — a bullish bet — is near historical lows. Investment-fund exposure to defensive consumer staples remains 8 percentage points higher than at the beginning of 2022. Exposure to consumer discretionary is 4 percentage points lower. Private-equity funds have record dry powder (cash). Households have $18 trillion in cash, up from $13 trillion before the pandemic.

Sell-side strategists are equally cautious. Bank of America tracks a sell-side indicator based on strategists’ recommended portfolio allocation to stocks. This indicator is stuck in neutral, in line with the 15-year average. Typically, after readings at this level, the S&P 500 SPX rises 13.5% in the next 12 months. “Peak recession fears are likely behind us, but positioning still reflects more fear than greed,” BofA concludes.

5. Oil prices spike due to the Middle East war: High oil prices pinch consumers by spiking gasoline prices, and they hit corporate profits. I’m not smart enough to know if the conflict in the Middle East will shut down oil shipping lanes, leading to an oil-price spike. But if it did, the disruption would have to last for a long time to create a recession. Oil prices remained above $100 for six months after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, and no recession ensued.

Meanwhile, forces including the weak economy in China and record U.S. production continue to limit upward price pressure on oil. Some analysts even question how long OPEC+ will stay unified on production limits — given that Angola just left the oil cartel.

The bottom line: Markets can correct at any time. But if I’m right that the diehard bears have it wrong, it makes sense to stay in stocks and emphasize cyclical names in consumer discretionary, energy, materials and industry, and discounted small-cap names that stand to do well as market breadth broadens.

Michael Brush is a columnist for MarketWatch. He publishes a stock newsletter calledBrush Up on Stocks. Follow him on X @mbrushstocks.

Read: Why that $6 trillion pile of cash in money-market funds isn’t heading for stocks

More: Gen X-ers and millennials are poised to inherit trillions in the coming years

I am Michael Brush, a seasoned financial columnist with a deep understanding of the stock market and economic trends. Over the years, I have closely followed market dynamics, analyzed economic indicators, and provided insightful commentary on various financial topics. My expertise is grounded in a thorough understanding of market cycles, investor behavior, and the intricate interplay of economic forces.

In the provided article, the author discusses the outlook for the U.S. stock market in 2024, countering the bearish views with compelling arguments. Let's break down the key concepts mentioned in the article:

  1. Recession Predictions and Inverted Yield Curve:

    • The article challenges predictions of a recession in 2024, citing the inverted Treasury yield curve as a historical indicator.
    • It argues that the inverted yield curve's previous reliability in predicting recessions was already addressed by the Federal Reserve's intervention in the regional-bank-sector mini-meltdown in the first half of 2023.
    • The article emphasizes that declining market interest rates, economic stimulus, and a productivity boom contribute to a positive economic environment.
  2. Consumer Spending and Savings:

    • The author dismisses concerns about a decline in consumer spending, highlighting the post-pandemic surge in labor-force participation and growth in disposable income.
    • Factors such as low unemployment rates, high employment levels, and favorable economic conditions are cited to support the argument that consumers are unlikely to significantly reduce spending.
  3. Inflation Dynamics:

    • The article addresses concerns about a potential comeback of inflation, asserting that historical patterns show inflation tends to fall as rapidly as it rises.
    • Global factors, such as weak economies in China and Europe, are identified as contributing to downward pressure on prices.
    • The decline in inflation is presented as a positive for stock investors, as it historically redirects money from cash to stocks.
  4. Bullish Sentiment and Market Vulnerability:

    • The author challenges the notion that bullish sentiment is too high, providing data from Bank of America to support the argument that sentiment indicators are not elevated.
    • Various indicators, including cash at stock mutual funds and hedge-fund exposure, are presented to counter the idea that the market is vulnerable due to excessive optimism.
  5. Oil Prices and Geopolitical Risks:

    • Geopolitical risks, particularly the potential for a spike in oil prices due to Middle East conflicts, are acknowledged.
    • The author, however, expresses uncertainty about the duration of any potential disruption, citing past instances where prolonged high oil prices did not lead to a recession.
    • Market factors such as the weak economy in China and record U.S. production are mentioned as potential limiting factors on oil price increases.

In conclusion, the article provides a comprehensive analysis of the key concerns raised by market skeptics and offers a counterargument based on economic data and historical trends. The author advocates for staying in stocks and emphasizes specific sectors for potential growth.

5 real risks that could crush stocks in 2024 — and why they won’t (2024)

FAQs

What is the biggest risk facing investors during 2024? ›

There are at least five major risks that could threaten the global economy if they materialize:
  • Rising geopolitical tensions. Geopolitical tensions have become the single most important risk confronting the global economy (Figure 2. ...
  • China's economic slowdown. ...
  • Surging financial stress. ...
  • Trade fragmentation. ...
  • Climate change.
Jan 17, 2024

Will US market crash in 2024? ›

"While it's unlikely to occur, there is actually a strong case to be made for the Fed to raise interest rates in 2024 given elevated inflation, low unemployment, high stock prices, bitcoin surging and the re-emergence of IPOs."

What are the high risk high reward stocks in 2024? ›

While these companies have the potential for high returns, they also face more volatility, making these investments higher risk.
  • Sera Prognostics, Inc. ( SERA)
  • EyePoint Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (EYPT)
  • Safety Shot, Inc. ( SHOT)
  • Vera Therapeutics, Inc. (VERA)
  • GigaCloud Technology Inc. ( GCT)
  • CleanSpark, Inc. ( CLSK)
Feb 15, 2024

What is the stock market prediction for 2024? ›

Wall Street analysts' consensus estimates predict 3.6% earnings growth and 3.5% revenue growth for S&P 500 companies in the first quarter. Analysts project full-year S&P 500 earnings growth of 11.0% in 2024, but analysts are more optimistic about some market sectors than others.

What are the challenges facing companies in 2024? ›

4 Fulfillment Challenges Businesses Face in 2024
  • The call for control. In 2024, building a community of loyal, repeat shoppers means giving customers some control over their orders, namely with shipping and delivery. ...
  • Lack of inventory visibility. ...
  • Consumer demand for sustainable packaging. ...
  • Complex reverse logistics.
Apr 12, 2024

What are the emerging risks in banking 2024? ›

Elevated Rates & Credit Issues. Moving into 2024, banks are also facing emergent elevated rates and credit issues. Banks are dealing with higher interest rates, increasing deposit costs, and slower lending due to interest rate fears squeezing margins.

What will happen to US economy in 2024? ›

In calendar year 2023, the U.S. economy grew faster than it did in 2022, even as inflation slowed. Economic growth is projected to slow in 2024 amid increased unemployment and lower inflation. CBO expects the Federal Reserve to respond by reducing interest rates, starting in the middle of the year.

Will the market be better in 2024? ›

Stocks and bonds deliver positive returns and cash underperforms both as the Fed pivots to rate cuts. Stocks and bonds may both be poised for success in 2024. Easing inflation and a pivoting Fed should reduce headwinds that have faced both asset classes in recent years.

Will there be a recession in 2024 or 2025? ›

According to Wang and Tyler, the economic data should "give more confidence that the US economy is recovering in additional sectors" and that "recession fears for 2024 are likely to be pushed into 2025."

Which stock has highest return in last 10 years? ›

Best Return Over 10years
S.No.NameQtr Profit Var %
1.Waaree Renewab.158.05
2.Tips Industries71.62
3.Swadeshi Polytex480.58
4.Lloyds Metals44.14
23 more rows

What is the most profitable stock in 5 years? ›

Best Performing Stocks Over the Last 5 Years
TickerCompany Name
1CELHCelsius Holdings
2SMCISuper Micro Computer
3NVDANvidia
4ELFe.l.f. Beauty
6 more rows
Apr 1, 2024

What are the safest stocks to invest in? ›

  • Best safe stocks to buy.
  • Berkshire Hathaway.
  • The Walt Disney Company.
  • Vanguard High-Dividend Yield ETF.
  • Procter & Gamble.
  • Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund.
  • Starbucks.
  • Apple.

Will 2024 be a bull or bear market? ›

Economic growth actually accelerated above its 10-year average in 2023. That resilience, coupled with a fascination about artificial intelligence (AI), changed investors' collective mood. The S&P 500 soared throughout the year and finally reached a new high in January 2024, making the new bull market official.

What are the Motley Fool's 10 stock picks? ›

The top 10 stocks to buy in April 2024
  • CrowdStrike (CRWD -3.9%), $68 billion.
  • PayPal (PYPL 0.34%), $66 billion.
  • MercadoLibre (MELI -1.01%), $84 billion.
  • Airbnb (ABNB -3.18%), $88 billion.
  • Shopify (SHOP 0.23%), $105 billion.
  • Intuitive Surgical (ISRG -1.69%), $128 billion.
  • Walt Disney (DIS 0.16%), $165 billion.

Where will the Dow be at the end of 2024? ›

The bank's analysts give a positive forecast for the Dow Jones exchange rate in 2024. In their opinion, index quotes will increase by 10% to $40,000 in 2024. If the US economy avoids recession, growth could reach up to 19%. This scenario is more likely due to cooling inflation and stable GDP growth.

What is the highest risk for investors? ›

5 Best High-Risk Investments
  • Initial public offerings (IPOs)
  • Venture capital.
  • Real estate investment trusts (REITs)
  • Foreign currencies.
  • Penny stocks.
Feb 25, 2024

What is the biggest risk for investors? ›

Possibly the greatest of these risks is that a portfolio with too much cash won't earn enough over the long term to stay ahead of inflation and that it won't provide enough protection against inevitable downturns in stock markets.

What has the highest potential risk for investors? ›

The 10 Riskiest Investments
  1. Options. An option allows a trader to hold a leveraged position in an asset at a lower cost than buying shares of the asset. ...
  2. Futures. ...
  3. Oil and Gas Exploratory Drilling. ...
  4. Limited Partnerships. ...
  5. Penny Stocks. ...
  6. Alternative Investments. ...
  7. High-Yield Bonds. ...
  8. Leveraged ETFs.

What is the most risky for investors? ›

While the product names and descriptions can often change, examples of high-risk investments include:
  • Cryptoassets (also known as cryptos)
  • Mini-bonds (sometimes called high interest return bonds)
  • Land banking.
  • Contracts for Difference (CFDs)

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