I think this is the best buying opportunity for stocks since the winter of 2016.
In that year, a corporate earnings per share (EPS) decline of 11% led the S&P 500 into a -15.2% correction over a period of nine months. In my view, the correction during 2015/2016 was warranted -- fundamentals were weak, corporations were struggling, and the economy was growing at a snail's pace.
The exact opposite economic conditions exist today (and that's not just my opinion), yet the S&P 500 has declined in a sharp and scary way over a four-month period, by about the same amount (~15%). I think the S&P 500 is oversold, and that investors are selling based on an emotional response to an imminent recession that isn't actually imminent. Look at it another way: US GDP grew approximately 3.25% in 2018, but the S&P 500 declined -4.4% over the same time period! Something doesn't add up, and I think investor psychology is to blame.
There is little doubt that the US economy is likely to slow some in 2019. But some key facts remain about the economy’s overall health: the US's unemployment rate is 3.7%, near a 50-year low, and wages are rising at about 3.1% while core inflation is 2.2%. Because all attention was focused on Apple’s rare earnings revision on January 3, few people noticed that the private sector added 271,000 jobs in December, significantly more than the 178,000 that economists expected. Corporate earnings are expected to grow 8% in 2019 and virtually no investment bank on Wall Street sees a recession in 2019. To me, there is a clear disconnect between what the economy is doing and what the stock market is doing.
As we go forward in the new year, it will probably take clearer evidence of positive economic and earnings growth, a trade breakthrough with China, the end of the government shutdown, and a Fed “pause” before we see reduced volatility and sustained recovery in the equity markets. I think all of those things will happen, and that when they do the market will have a solid runway to move higher.
As Warren Buffet once said, "be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful." There is plenty of fear in the market today, and my view is that it's time to be bullish. My opinion now is to go hard against the crowd and take the opportunity to buy while others are selling. I think it will be rewarded if the S&P 500 hits 3,000 this year, which I believe that it will.