Morgan Stanley Chief Investment Officer and Chief U.S. Equity Strategist Mike Wilson told CNBC this week that the overall economy isn’t as strong as the stock market suggests, and a recession would help “flush” some of the inflated stocks.
“I’m rooting for a recession in some ways because that’s what would get the flush in terms of expectations that still has to happen,” Wilson said on CNBC’s “Halftime Report” on Wednesday. “And then we can have a cyclical recovery.”
Wilson is regarded as one of Wall Street’s more bearish bettors and he admitted his point of view “may sound ironic,” but it is rooted more in how small and mid-sized companies are performing, where there is far more weakness than the overall market suggests.
Negative operating leverage has led to disappointing earnings among the smaller U.S. companies, Wilson said.
“We have actually positive sales growth still in the economy. We have small, mid-cap companies delivering three, four, five percent top line but actually seeing 10% negative earnings growth,” he explained. “If I saw companies start firing people, I would get more positive because that is going to protect profit margins into next year … . That’s the thing I’m looking for.”
While small- and mid-cap stocks have lagged far behind the largest companies, “the bigger story is in the S&P 1,000,” Wilson said.
“Mid-, small-cap (stocks) are down almost double digits three quarters in a row,” he said. “And we can agree that the engine of jobs growth in this country is small and medium businesses. My concern continues to be if this doesn’t improve for small/mid companies, then they are going to have to start laying people off.
“To say that risk is behind us is premature.”
Positive Brexit news, a U.S.-China trade war ceasefire (for now) and interest rate cuts have helped buoy the market in recent weeks, but Wilson said you should expect the S&P 500 to remain in its current range for the time being. The S&P is currently is at 3,004 as of 11 a.m. today on the East Coast, and 3,000 is Morgan Stanley’s top range of the ongoing, record-long bull market.
“It’s the same set up we had this summer,” Wilson said. “Earnings season is going to be mixed … and until that mid-small-cap area in particular shows improvement, I think the risk of an employment cycle is elevated.”