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The stock rally is unfolding so fast investment banks are already raising their 2018 forecasts

  • Strategists for both Credit Suisse and Canaccord Genuity echoed peers in citing the Republican tax bill's 21 percent corporate tax rate in adjusting their S&P 500 targets higher.
  • The optimism comes as the S&P notches daily records: the index closed at an all-time high Monday and fell just short of beating that record Thursday.
  • "We assumed "a 23 percent tax rate, 30 percent interest deductibility and then 50 percent on cap ex expensing. Those were just not aggressive enough," said Wells Fargo strategist Scott Wren.
U.S. supporters celebrate after their loss to Germany after watching the match at FIFA Fan Fest on June 26, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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Credit Suisse and Canaccord Genuity joined a growing list of top Wall Street banks that have raised their 2018 outlooks for U.S. equity markets before the year has even started.

The two echoed peers in citing the Republican tax bill in adjusting their S&P 500 targets higher, with a reduced corporate tax rate expected to buoy earnings for scores of the nation's largest companies more than they expected when hatching their initial 2018 outlooks.

"It's really simple: For the last six months, I've said that my 2,800 target for the S&P target is too low because you had to implement the tax cuts," Canaccord's Tony Dwyer said on CNBC's "Halftime Report" Thursday. "Corporate credit's going to be put to work in buybacks, it's going to be put to work in M&A activity. You've got equity-friendly things in the background on top of this tax cut."

Now the biggest bull on Wall Street, Dwyer adjusted his S&P 500 target to 3,100, implying 15 percent upside for the stock market over the next 12 months. The financial and energy sectors should be the "biggest beneficiaries" of the lower corporate rate, added Dwyer, with earnings set to pop 18.5 percent and 21.3 percent, respectively.

The flood of optimism on equities comes even as the S&P notches daily records: The index closed at an all-time high Monday and fell just short of beating that record Thursday, up more than 20 percent this year. For its part, the Dow Jones industrial average has closed at a record high 70 times this year, the most record closes in a single calendar year. The index added 55 points Thursday.

Jonathan Golub of Credit Suisse also tweaked his models Thursday, writing to clients that "corporate results have surprised, GDP expectations have improved, and tax rates have fallen."

He revised his S&P target to 3,000 while matching Dwyer's earnings per share estimate at $155. Noting that corporations may already have had tax cuts "baked in" to their business strategy, Golub explained that he sees the market's advance coming from underlying profit growth and "modest" multiple expansion.

"In the first half of the year, I think clearly the economy's going to be better and I think the question investors are now asking is how much of an extra kicker do we get on the economy," he told CNBC on Wednesday. "If you look at the tech sector, there's no indication that the sector is showing signs of weakness."

The strategist's comments on technology stem from the sector's remarkable climb over the past 12 months. Though pundits were worried that the Trump administration would take a chillier tone on Silicon Valley, large-cap technology has easily led the market in 2017 with names like Facebook and Amazon dominating financial headlines each earnings season. The S&P sector is up 38 percent since January.

But Dwyer and Golub aren't the only ones returning to the drawing board following the passage of the Republican tax overhaul on Wednesday. Citigroup strategist Tobias Levkovich raised his forecast on Tuesday to 2,800, while Wells Fargo strategist Scott Wren promised updated targets within weeks.

"The assumptions that we initially made which were a 23 percent tax rate, 30 percent interest deductibility and then 50 percent on cap ex expensing. Those were just not aggressive enough," explained Wren.

To be sure, the strategists did note some risks to their estimates in the new year.

With businesses on stronger footing and nearing full employment, analysts widely expect the Federal Reserve to continue to raise interest rates to keep the economy from overheating. Higher rates naturally present a challenge to equities as more competitive debt returns draw money out of stock exchanges or, less frequently, lead to an economic downturn.

The central bank raised rates three times in 2017, with its final hike coming earlier this month.

But barring those concerns, the largest threat to equities targets may be that they're not ambitious enough, added Wren.

"These companies have had a lot of cash. They could have done capital spending all along into this recovery, they chose not to. Now we're expecting them to do more."