World's Largest Asset Manager Issues Big Upgrade for US Equities

24/7 Wall St. reviews dozens of analyst upgrades, downgrades, initiations and other sorts of stock calls each day of the week. Major strategy calls out of larger firms are far less frequent than upgrades or downgrades on major stocks. After all, the key strategy calls are effectively a large change in how the entire equity market can be viewed.

So what happens when the world’s largest asset management firm issues an upgrade to its exposure on U.S. equities as a whole? That’s what has happened. BlackRock has effectively issued an upgrade to its U.S. equity views.

BlackRock, which manages some $6.3 trillion in mutual funds, exchange traded funds and other assets, has upgraded U.S. equities because of very strong earnings momentum. The firm is now neutral on European stocks. It has noted that global equity markets recovered some ground after their early February swoon and the VIX declined, and even as U.S. inflation came in higher than expected.

The new rating for U.S. equities is Overweight, up from Neutral, and is tied to the impending fiscal stimulus supercharging U.S. earnings growth expectations. The reason for the Neutral view on European stocks is that earnings momentum may look solid but actually lags that of other regions.

A secondary reason for the boost is that stocks finally sold off. BlackRock noted that U.S. equity valuations now look slightly more attractive after the major equity sell-off that has been seen. BlackRock’s upgrade noted:

Economic strength was already changing the tone of earnings momentum, but U.S. tax cuts and government spending plans lit a fire under the trend. The chart above illustrates the sharp acceleration in U.S. earnings upgrades as analysts factored in the stimulus. The ratio of upgrades to downgrades for U.S. large caps (the orange line) stands at the highest level since the data series started in 1988. Upward revisions are solid globally, but the U.S. strength is unmatched.

BlackRock does note that stocks have already retraced a large part of their early February losses. It still views the coming positive effects of new U.S. tax and spending plans as underappreciated by the markets. Their view went on to show that earnings growth matters more than valuations at this stage of the bull market, which still has room to run despite gradually rising rates and modestly higher inflation ahead.

Some investors may find individual stock upgrades and downgrades more than overall strategy calls. After all, the moves can be more exaggerated and more easily seen. That being said, it’s easy to imagine what might happen when a firm managing more than $6.3 trillion in global assets tells its clients it now wants to be overweight U.S. equities compared with other markets. That likely means new funds going into the markets are going to pile into U.S. equities more than they will into other asset classes.

A separate strategy call on Monday was seen from Credit Suisse. Its strategy team noted how equities have been very rate sensitive, and it lowered its “neutral rate” to 3.5% from 5.0% on the 10-year Treasury. That being said, the firm is actually of the opinion that investors incorrectly view 3.5% as a cliff when the reality (using historics) shows that stocks are the least sensitive to rates at this point. And last week, Merrill Lynch’s key RIC Report called equities as “Down, but Not Out!”

In our regular equity coverage, Tuesday’s top analyst upgrades and downgrades included Chipotle Mexican Grill, Etsy, Home Depot, PagSeguro, Snap, Walmart, Wingstop and roughly a dozen more.

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