A more than 5% rally could be in the cards for the S&P 500 as headwinds from the U.S.-China trade war and Brexit subside, while major central banks keep rates low, Bank of America's Michael Hartnett says.
The bank's chief investment strategist expects that the S&P 500 will hit a target of 3,333 by March 3 in what he calls a "front-loaded" 2020. That represents 5.2% upside from Friday's close of 3,168.80.
The S&P 500 has already had a banner year in 2019, surging more than 26% and reaching record highs. But with the easing of trade tensions and Brexit worries, along with loose monetary policy from the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, the market is "primed for [a] Q1'2020 risk asset melt-up," Hartnett said in a note to clients.
China and the U.S. said Friday that they reached a so-called phase one trade deal. As part of the agreement — which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said will be signed in January — China will increase its purchases of U.S. agricultural products. Meanwhile, the U.S. agreed to roll back some existing tariffs and delay additional levies that were set to take effect Sunday.
Stocks posted solid gains last week in anticipation of the deal's announcement. The S&P 500 also hit a record high.
Brexit, another lingering headwind for capital markets, also appears to be clearing up. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a five-year term last week after the Conservative Party won a sizeable majority in parliamentary elections. The victory means Britain can potentially move forward with an expedient resolution to its yearslong divorce process from the European Union.
The Fed also indicated last week that it does not expect to change its monetary policy stance through 2020, effectively keeping rates at historically low levels. This is a potential boon for stocks as low rates make it cheaper for companies to borrow money to buy back their own stock or grow their businesses.
But the Fed is not the only central bank heading into 2020 in easing mode. On Thursday, the ECB said it will keep rates at current levels or lower until it sees its inflation outlook "robustly converge" to a level close to 0.2%.
"Fed & ECB still adding liquidity, Conservative Party majority (Brexit resolution) & reports of phase one US-China trade deal to resolve main two global macro tail risks & remove lingering … risk premiums," said Hartnett.