Goldman Sachs: If you missed the January rally, you likely missed the 2019 gain

Key Points
  • Goldman Sachs is forecasting slower growth and profits for the rest of the year — which could be bad news for investors who missed January’s rally.
  • “The rally we expected has happened swiftly, and given this we see relatively modest returns on equities from here," Goldman Sachs analyst Sharon Bell says.
Traders and financial professionals work ahead of the opening bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Markets started out the year with a significant bounce, but investors who missed out on it might not get a second chance, according to Goldman Sachs.

The firm is predicting lower returns after the best January in 30 years, and warned that those who missed it risk "missing the bulk of the returns for the year."

"The rally we expected has happened swiftly, and given this we see relatively modest returns on equities from here," Goldman analyst Sharon Bell said in a note to clients Tuesday.

Markets have rallied after their worst December since the Great Depression. The is up roughly 9 percent this year, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average has rallied 8.7 percent. Bell isn't predicting a return to December lows but is forecasting overall slower growth and lower profits for the remainder of the year.

Goldman's official S&P price target for year-end is 3,000, a gain of 10.9 percent, according to David Kostin, the bank's chief U.S. equity strategist.

Earnings in recent weeks have been better than investors feared, but estimates are still falling for future quarters. Wall Street expectations for earnings growth for the first quarter of 2019 have now turned negative, which would mark the first decline in more than two years, according to FactSet.

Bell said there is still a slight disconnect between market returns and overall economic performance, but the "over-shot on the downside" that was evident at the beginning of the year isn't nearly as big.

"While we saw a bounce in equity markets in 2019, we also argued that this would be followed by the resumption of a 'flat & skinny' trading range, with relatively low equity returns," said the Goldman global investment research equity strategist and co-head of Europe Middle East Asia global investment research women's network.

The "flat and skinny range" will likely be more felt more in Europe, where Bell predicts "very little" earnings growth for 2019 based on high margins, a weak economic backdrop and various structural problems facing large European sectors.

Goldman is forecasting 4 percent earnings growth in 2018, and 2 percent in 2020. Bell said it's difficult to argue for either cyclical or defensive stocks and instead takes an "idiosyncratic approach" to sectors and basket picks.

Correction: This story was revised to correct the year-to-date performance of the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average.