Citi Cuts S&P 500 Profit Forecast on Lingering Trade Effects
(Bloomberg) — Citigroup Inc. has grown concerned the U.S.-China trade war will persist long enough to dent any potential profit rebound for corporate America.Tobias Levkovich, the firm’s chief U.S. equity strategist, cut his earnings forecast for S&P 500 companies this year by $3.80 to $166.20 a share. He’s long held the view that analysts are too optimistic about companies’ abilities to retain high margins. His latest move, which included a $4.25 cut to 2020’s forecast as well, puts his target for next year’s annual growth at 4.8%, less than half the Wall Street average.
The swift escalation of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China suggests the battle is likely to drag on until U.S. presidential elections next year, according to Levkovich. The prolonged uncertainty will cloud a profit picture that’s already worsening amid a global slowdown, he said.
“While it is difficult to accurately assess the impact of any tit-for-tat actions, growing protectionism is not conducive to better earnings,” Levkovich wrote in a note late Monday. “The overhang of a sluggish economy, trade war threats and potential currency devaluation is likely to take a toll on 2H19 profits.”
Global stocks have tumbled this month amid concern the spat will worsen to the extent it derails the longest U.S. economic expansion on record. The S&P 500 suffered its worst day of the year Monday, extending its slide from a record reached in late July to 6%. Stocks dropped overnight after the Treasury department labeled China a currency manipulator before recovering.
The S&P 500 rose 0.7% to 2,864.02 as of 9:56 a.m. in new York, poised to snap a six-day decline that’s longest longest streak since October.
Levkovich is sticking to his year-end target of 2,850 for the index. While profit growth is set to slow, tame inflation makes stocks attractive, he said. The Federal Reserve last week reduced interest rates for the first time in a decade and is expected to keep cutting for the rest of the year.
The upside seems to be limited for stocks, but investors should consider buying the dip, particularly should Trump dial back his hard stance on trade, Levkovich said.
“The resultant sharp market retreat puts pressure on Donald Trump since he has touted the S&P 500 as being a key gauge of his economic stewardship,” he wrote. “Thus, the reaction of equity prices might force the White House to lower the protectionist rhetoric and seek out some sort of compromise position.”