Goldman Sachs warns of 'peak growth,' falling stock prices in 3 to 6 months

Sam Ro
Managing Editor

The economy is growing at a healthy clip, which has helped propel the stock market to record highs. In a new research note, Goldman Sachs’ David Kostin acknowledges that “a synchronized upswing in global economic activity has helped lift stocks.”

But now, Kostin warns that this could be as good as it gets. He points to the ISM Manufacturing Index, which jumped to a 13-1/2-year high of 60.8 in September. Any reading above 50 signals growth.

“Although economic data are extremely strong now, an ISM reading above 60 typically marks the peak of growth and presages economic and equity deceleration,” he said. “Since 1980, the ISM has exceeded 60 in eight separate episodes; four of those lasted only one month.”

An ISM above 60 is very strong, but is it signaling peak growth?

“Investors buying the S&P 500 at ISM readings of 60 or higher have gone on to suffer negative three- and six-month returns on average as economic activity slowed,” Kostin observed. “In other words, an environment of synchronized global growth acceleration today raises the risk of coordinated global slowdown tomorrow.”

All of this is theoretically sound. Economic growth is most likely to inflect when activity is very strong. And that pace of growth is critical for stocks, which are quick to discount information like this.

“Economic growth is the most important driver of corporate earnings and equity performance,” Kostin said.

Stocks haven’t faired well in the months following very strong economic reports.

Kostin expects the S&P 500 (^GSPC) to slide to 2,400 by the end of the year. Though with all this in mind, he likes growth stocks.

“Companies generating their own earnings growth, such as Information Technology firms and our basket of stocks with the highest Growth Investment Ratios, should continue to be rewarded in an environment of modest economic activity.”

Sam Ro is managing editor at Yahoo Finance.

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