4. Despite pressure on valuations, earnings have held up so far.
While multiples have taken a hit over the past year, corporate earnings have held up relatively well, suggesting that the valuation excesses of the past bull market are undergoing a correction—particularly among unprofitable technology companies. To be sure, disappointments have begun to surface in third-quarter earnings reports, with strong results in the energy sector masking downgrades in other sectors. Ultimately, though, we believe a less-speculative environment could lend greater importance to company fundamentals. Active management can help uncover companies with strong cash flows, earnings and margin resiliency that are not only able to withstand market disruptions but are also positioned to outperform in a recovery.
5. Earnings declines in high-inflation environments have historically been mild.
Given the exceedingly tight labor market, analysts differ on whether the US economy is technically experiencing a recession. Still, concerns are mounting that tighter monetary policy could eventually trigger a US recession. Europe is also vulnerable to recession, given the region’s acute energy crisis. The silver lining is that peak-to-trough declines in corporate earnings during inflation-fueled recessions have historically been mild. In particular, during three inflationary periods covering 1990, 2001 and 2007, earnings declined just 15.3% from peak to trough. By comparison, earnings fell by nearly 45% during low-inflation recessions.1
6. A focus on quality companies can help buffer against the effects of inflation.
Rising inflation has the potential to erode the real value of investment returns. Fortunately, investors have a number of solutions they can put to use, including a diversified real-asset strategy. But one of the most effective approaches is to seek out quality companies with a wide economic moat, secular growth potential and strong pricing power—all of which can result in earnings resilience, even during inflationary periods. High-quality stocks can be found in a diverse range of sectors and industries, and include growth companies, as well those more sensitive to economic cycles.
7. Stocks have historically performed well in periods of moderate inflation.
This isn’t the first time investors have faced rising prices. Fortunately, the historical record is encouraging. Moderately high inflation has generally supported equity multiples, and equities have delivered solid returns during periods of moderate inflation for more than seven decades. So, if inflation ultimately settles down below 4%, we believe stocks should do well.
8. Today’s light positioning in equities could provide future technical support.
Because market sentiment around equities has turned negative, many investors have maintained a relatively light allocation in stocks, which has put a damper on investment returns. So far in 2022, globally distributed equity funds have seen significant outflows, with nearly consistent outflows from equity funds since June 2022. If investors detect that inflation is peaking and consumer sentiment improves, flows could reverse course, providing equities with much-needed technical support.
9. US stock buybacks have continued at a breakneck pace.
Continuing a trend that began after passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, US companies are repurchasing shares at a breakneck pace. In 2021 alone, S&P 500 firms bought back a record $882 billion of stock. Through August 2022, that figure has exceeded $500 billion. In addition to showing confidence in a company’s growth prospects, buybacks can support asset values by boosting a company’s earnings per share. As part of a broader capital return strategy that may also include dividends, stock buybacks can provide an additional layer of support against equity volatility.