Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Head of Corporate Credit Research at Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Friday, January 5th at 2 p.m. in London.
2023 saw a strong finish to a strong year, with stocks higher, spreads and yields lower and minimal market volatility. That strength in turn flowed from three converging hopeful factors.
First, there was great economic data, which generally pointed to a US economy that was growing with inflation moderating. Second, we had helpful so-called technical factors such as depressed investor sentiment and the historical tendency for markets, especially credit markets, to do well in the last two months of the year. And third, we had reasonable valuations which had cheapened up quite a bit in October.
Even more broadly, 2024 offered and still offers a lot to look forward to. Morgan Stanley's economists see global growth holding up as inflation in the U.S. and Europe come down. Major central banks from the US to Europe to Latin America should start cutting rates in 2024, while so-called quantitative tightening or the shrinking of central bank balance sheets should begin to wind down. And more specifically, for credit, we see 2024 as a year of strong demand for corporate bonds, against more modest levels of bond issuance, a positive balance of supply versus demand.
So why, given all of these positives, has January gotten off to a rocky, sluggish start? It's perhaps because those good things don't necessarily arrive right away.
Starting with the economic data, Morgan Stanley's economists forecast that the recent decline in inflation, so helpful to the rally over November and December, will see a bumpier path over the next several months, leaving the Fed to wait until June to make their first rate cut. The overall trend is still for lower, better inflation in 2024, but the near-term picture may be a little murky.
Moving to those so-called technical factors, investor sentiment now is substantially higher than where it was in October, making it harder for events to positively surprise. And for credit, seasonally strong performance in November and December often gives way to somewhat weaker January and February returns. At least if we look at the performance over the last ten years.
And finally, valuations where the cheapening in October was so helpful to the recent rally, have entered the year richer, across stocks, bonds and credit.
None of these, in our view, are insurmountable problems, and the base case expectation from Morgan Stanley's economists means there is still a lot to look forward to in 2024. From better growth, to lower inflation, to easier monetary policy. The strong end of 2023 may just mean that some extra patience is required to get there.
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