Steve Eisman shares his insights on market fundamentals versus investor sentiment, the banking sector's investability, the impact of generative AI on the stock market, and the looming concerns of US debt.
As we kick off 2024, renowned investor Steve Eisman, Senior Portfolio Manager at Neuberger Berman and famed for his "Big Short" during the 2008 financial crisis, shares his insights on market fundamentals versus investor sentiment, the banking sector's investability, the impact of generative AI on the stock market, and the looming concerns of US debt.
A year ago, the consensus was bearish, with expectations of a recession and a decline in S&P earnings. Yet, the market climbed the wall of worry, defying the gloomy predictions – the recession that never occurred. Fast forward to the present, and the sentiment has done a 180-degree turn; investors, including Eisman, have a benign view of the economy. However, Eisman cautions that the unanimous bullishness could be problematic if unexpected events arise, given that the market might lack a catalyst to sustain its upward trajectory. Analyzing the past years' performance, he points out that despite the positive outlook, the market needs to remain vigilant and discriminating, especially within big-cap technology stocks.
Eisman emphasizes the importance of investing in the "Magnificent Seven," the major tech giants that dominate the market, while also advocating for diversification into other themes, like infrastructure. The United States is set to spend 1.2 trillion dollars over the next decade, a significant boon for the sector and a reason for optimism. However, Eisman's approach is tempered by caution, suggesting that the euphoric sentiment at the start of the year might be overdone.
When it comes to banks, Eisman's perspective is more reserved. He describes how even well-managed institutions like Bank of America face challenges tied to macroeconomic factors, such as the Federal Reserve's interest rate decisions and the potential for a recession. He argues that making money in major money center banks could be difficult without rate cuts and a benign credit environment, which he doesn't foresee happening as aggressively as the market anticipates.
Addressing concerns about the staggering US debt, which just surpassed 34 trillion dollars, Eisman is unequivocally dismissive of any immediate threat to the economy or the dollar's reserve currency status. He argues that alarmists predicting a debt crisis have been wrong for decades and should approach the issue with humility. Until tangible problems arise in the US bond market, Eisman believes worries about debt are unfounded.
Generative AI has captured the market's imagination, and its influence extends beyond the tech sector. Eisman notes that while the technology has affected stock prices, its impact on actual earnings across various industries might be more limited in the short term. He's keen to see if any companies outside the tech behemoths will emerge with compelling AI narratives.
Eisman challenges the market consensus that the Fed will cut rates three times this year. Drawing lessons from the past, he suggests that the Fed might adopt a more cautious stance, cutting rates only once unless a recession occurs. He posits that even with inflation easing, the Fed has little incentive to be aggressive, preferring to wait and see how the data evolves.
Eisman expresses skepticism about the residential solar sector, anticipating a down year despite the market's enthusiasm. On the other hand, he believes housing stocks are justified due to homebuilders' strong balance sheets and the ongoing shortage of new homes. Utilities, hammered last year mainly due to rate concerns, could be a more attractive investment in a benign rate environment compared to staples.
In conclusion, Steve Eisman's take on 2024 presents a nuanced view of an economy with strong fundamentals but overshadowed by overly bullish sentiment. His advice is to seek a balance between optimism and caution, focusing on sectors with strong underlying themes while being mindful of macroeconomic headwinds.