Nothing much to see here.
That’s the position of Byron Wien, the famed market strategist and vice chairman of Blackstone Group L.P. BX, -0.56% , on the recent weakness in the stock market, which has seen the S&P 500 SPX, +0.21% lose roughly 5.5% during the month of May. The pullback is little more than a “normal correction in an ongoing positive trend,” Wien said, during an interview with CNBC.
Wien added that he thinks “the Chinese conflict on the trade issues is serious, and I think it’s going to be prolonged, but I don’t think it’s going to create a recession or a bear market.”
One reason for his optimism is economic fundamentals, which in his view remain strong enough that the U.S. economy is in “very good shape,” despite recent declines in yields on U.S. government debt, which typically signal unease as investors flee riskier assets for safer, fixed-income securities.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note TMUBMUSD10Y, -1.57% has fallen nearly 11% in May, so much that it sunk below the yield on 3-month Treasury bill, a phenomenon called an “inversion” in the yield curve, because longer maturity bonds typically yield more than shorter-maturity securities.
An inverted yield curve is often a reliable predictor of a recession in one to two years’ time, as it signals bond investors believe economic growth will be lower in the future than today.
But Wien said the inversion doesn’t scare him, because the yield curve was inverted as a result of the 10-year Treasury note’s yield falling below the 3-month return, rather than the short-maturity bond’s yield rising above the yield on long-term notes. “That’s a very different situation,” Wien said. “It decreased because people think the economy is in real trouble, but I don’t think it is.”
His position echoed that of Thomas Lee, head of head of Fundstrat Global Advisors, who argued in a Wednesday research note that falling long-term yields signal investor worry over risk, not a looming recession. He compared today’s inverted curve to one that occurred in September 1998, which was also driven by perceived risks resulting from that year’s Russian debt crisis. It did not, however, presage an imminent recession, as the U.S. economy continued to grow for another 2½ years.
Wien predicted at the beginning of the year that the S&P 500 would rise 15% to reach between 2,850 and 2,875, which would put it about 2.5% below present levels, and he stuck by that prediction in the interview. As for the Federal Reserve, Wien said, “I think the Fed is exactly in the right place and should stay neutral.”