Citigroup says the global bull market isn't nearing an end: 'So keep buying the dips'

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The historic bull market in stocks still has room to run, according to Citigroup’s equity strategy team, which advised clients Wednesday to continue to buy.

The historic bull market in global equities still has room to run, according to Citigroup’s equity strategy team, which advised clients Wednesday to continue to buy.

The firm’s analysts wrote that Citi’s bear market checklist — a diagnostic used to monitor symptoms of a downturn in equities — suggests than only three of 18 “red flags” have been raised thus far. The brokerage’s equity strategists still see a 9 percent climb in stocks worldwide over the next 12 months.

“It is still too early to call the end of this bull market,” the Citi researchers said in a note. “So keep buying the dips. Late cycle bull markets typically narrow into growth and momentum trades. This should favor U.S. equities and information technology stocks. Emerging markets remain our favorite value trade.”

While 2018 has been a more challenging year for investors, the first-half shake-up in sentiment may be just the trick needed to goad stocks further. A return of volatility and rising interest rates, as well as uncertainty surrounding a global trade dispute, have led some market watchers to wonder whether the unprecedented, nine-year run in equities may be nearing its peak.

Institutional investors weren't as confident going into the second half, but 70 percent believe the market has seen the lows of the year, according to a recent poll of 500 investors by Strategas Research. Investors forecast that the U.S. will be the best-performing equity market through year-end with strategists across Wall Street seeing an average S&P 500 target of 2,959 .

U.S. chief strategist at Citigroup Tobias Levkovich upgraded his rating on domestic equities to overweight from neutral despite extended valuations, citing a shift in market sentiment back into neutral territory. The strategist now sees 15 percent earnings per share upside in 2018 for the S&P 500 (or $153) and set a mid-2019 target of 2,865 for the index. It closed Tuesday at 2,713.

“The U.S. growth outlook remains strong given attractive lending standards, tax cuts, and a fiscal spending stimulus that carries well into 2019,” the analysts wrote in the note. “Notwithstanding protectionist concerns, the underlying dynamics support earnings, which in turn should help equities.”

Levkovich’s team is overweight energy, materials, industrials, health care and financials in the U.S., while underweight technology, utilities, telecommunications, consumer staples and discretionary stocks.

To be sure, both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 have yet to rebound to their all-time highs notched in January, rattled by a 10 percent correction in February and modest-to-flat performance since.

“We think markets entered Phase 3 of the Credit/Equity clock in February. This is the last part of a bull market,” the researchers wrote. “Yield curves flatten while equity market leadership typically narrows into growth and momentum trades. Expensive stocks get more expensive. Indeed, all the great stock market bubbles of the past 30 years have inflated during this phase in the cycle.”

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