The Ups and Downs of Declining Inflation

by Warren Seah

Investors may be celebrating the decline in inflation, but there are some drawbacks to consider. While it’s true that lower inflation rates could lead to a decrease in interest rates by the Federal Reserve, resulting in improved corporate profits and higher stock prices, there may be challenges ahead in the stock market.

The S&P 500 has experienced a significant increase of approximately 27% since hitting a low during the bear-market in early October. This surge can be attributed, in part, to investor confidence in the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy changes. Over the past few years, the Fed has undergone a series of interest rate hikes, raising the fed-funds rate from near zero in March 2022 to above 5%. However, the recent consumer price index indicates a slowdown in inflation, as it rose only 3% year over year in June, down from over 9% in June 2022.

However, this decline in inflation also means that companies will be less motivated to aggressively raise prices. While this may ultimately lead to increased demand for goods and services when interest rates stabilize or decrease, it may also impede immediate sales growth due to limited price increases. As a result, investors may face potential disappointment with regards to sales and earnings. Companies might fall short of revenue expectations or analysts could revise their forecasts for sales and profits as they observe evidence of constrained price hikes.

Unfortunately, recent economic data supports these concerns. The producer price index, which measures the cost of supplies and materials for businesses, has been rising at a slower pace as firms brace for weaker demand.

In conclusion, while declining inflation yields some positive effects on the stock market, caution should be exercised as limited price increases may hinder sales growth and potentially disappoint investors. Awareness of these challenges is crucial for making informed investment decisions.

The Complexities of the Stock Market

Inflation, Earnings, and Stock Prices

Morgan Stanley recently released a report on the correlation between the Producer Price Index (PPI) and revenue declines for S&P 500 companies. Historically, PPI results have been associated with a nearly 5% decrease in year-over-year revenue for these companies. Surprisingly, the second-quarter profit reports show that sales have only dropped by 0.8% in aggregate so far. However, experts predict that more declines could be on the horizon as companies struggle to cut costs quickly enough to keep up with reduced revenue.

In this challenging scenario, “disinflation is now eating into sales growth,” says Mike Wilson, the chief U.S. equity strategist at Morgan Stanley. Wilson believes that Wall Street’s expectations for aggregate earnings from S&P 500 companies next year are too high and anticipates a 9% fall in the index.

The Impact on Stock Prices

The magnitude of the decline in stock prices will depend on the extent to which earnings are affected by the slowing rate of inflation, as well as how quickly sales and profits can recover. Currently, the market seems to view this challenge as a temporary blip on the radar and has not reacted adversely.

However, if investors perceive the revenue headwind as a more long-lasting trend, stock prices could experience a significant drop. If prices of goods and services continue to fall and only show moderate growth afterward, the market will have to revise its sales and earnings outlook unless there is compelling evidence of a substantial surge in demand forthcoming. Lower earnings typically translate into lower stock prices unless investors are willing to assign higher multiples to profit valuation.

The Complexity of the Stock Market

It is crucial to recognize that the stock market is far more intricate than it may appear. Its dynamics are shaped by various factors, including inflation rates, earnings performance, and investor sentiment. As the situation unfolds, it remains uncertain how these elements will interplay and influence stock prices.

Remember, navigating the stock market requires a deep understanding of its complexities. Nothing can be taken for granted.

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