Consumer expectations for stocks hit three-year high in May


Consumers are the most bullish they’ve been on the outlook for stocks since May 2021.

The latest survey of consumer expectations from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed the mean perceived probability that stocks will be higher in the next 12 months rose to 40.5% in May, up from 38.7% in April.

The survey also showed consumers’ expectations for inflation over the next year fell to 3.2% in May, down from 3.3% in April. Broadly, the New York Fed found households were feeling better about their financial situations as more respondents reported being “better off than a year ago” while fewer respondents noted they were “worse off.”

The upbeat sentiment from consumers comes as stocks are near record-highs. The S&P 500 (^GSPC) is up more than 12% this year while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) has risen more has 14%.

An increasingly positive corporate earnings outlook has prompted several analysts to upgrade their year-end S&P 500 targets. The Street-high year-end target for the S&P 500 has moved up to 5,600 from 5,200 at the start of the year.

The enthusiasm raises the question of whether the market is getting frothy. Typically, when Wall Street gets overly bullish, it’s often the sign of the peak in a market rally, according to research from Bank of America.

But in a research note on Monday, Bank of America head of US equity and quantitative strategy Savita Subramanian noted that sentiment is “not euphoric.” Bank of America’s Sell Side Indicator, which tracks Wall Street strategists’ recommended allocation to stocks, rose to 55.3% in May, which the bank notes is still “neutral.” A reading of 58% or higher would usually be a sell signal.

Bank of America's sell-side indicator shows Wall Street has yet to reach extreme bullishness amid the market rally.

Bank of America’s sell-side indicator shows Wall Street has yet to reach extreme bullishness amid the market rally. (Bank of America US equity and quant strategy)

Others on Wall Street are particularly concerned with what’s being priced into the current bull case. Markets currently see about two interest rate cuts this year, largely built on a case that inflation will keep declining throughout 2024. RBC Capital Markets head of US equity strategy Lori Calvasina wrote in a note to clients on Monday her team continues to worry that “market participants have gotten a little too optimistic about the timing of cuts.”

Calvasina’s model projects the S&P 500 should be at 5,300 given the current consensus views on inflation and economic growth. This is about in line with the roughly 5,341 the S&P 500 opened up at on Monday. The risk, Calvasina notes, is if the inflation story continues to prove bumpy and doesn’t play out as well as investors currently hope.

“There is some modest downside risk to the US equity market if the Fed does nothing this year and inflation is stickier than expected,” Calvasina said.

In this scenario, Calvasina believes the S&P 500 could fall to 4,900, representing a roughly 8% pullback from current levels.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 24: A man sits on the Wall street bull near the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on November 24, 2020 in New York City. As investor's fear of an election crisis eases, the DowJones Industrial Average passed the 30,000 milestone for the first time on Tuesday morning.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 24: A man sits on the Wall street bull near the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on November 24, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) (Spencer Platt via Getty Images)

Josh Schafer is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on X @_joshschafer.

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