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Eleanor Pringle

Morgan Stanley analyst predicts S&P 500 could leap another 11% this year

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, US, on Friday, June 9, 2023. (Credit: Michael Nagle—Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Despite a nightmarish cocktail of economic headwinds, the S&P 500 has enjoyed a surprisingly strong 2023—up 18% for the year to date.

And according to one expert that tally could go even higher, spiking again by as much as 11% as the summer season comes to a close.

Morgan Stanley analyst Andrew Slimmon believes there's more growth to be had in the S&P 500, boosted largely by 'Magnificent Seven' stocks.

This is a group that includes Apple, Microsoft, Google owner Alphabet, Amazon, Nvidia, Tesla and Meta.

"One of the things I would point out is that—I know it's hard to believe—as much as these companies have had a very good year to date, they're still below where they ended in 2021—Nvidia's the exception," Slimmon told CNBC's 'Street Signs'.

"It's very easy to be bearish on companies that have done well but with companies that have improving fundamentals calling a top on those stocks, to me, is as naive or dangerous as trying to call a bottom to a stock with deteriorating fundamentals."

For the year to date, Apple is up 50%, Microsoft is up 37%, Alphabet is up 52%, Amazon is up 57%, Nvidia is up 244%, Tesla is up 138% and Meta is up 137%.

The majority of the 'Magnificent Seven' stocks are indeed down compared to the peaks of 2021—though Apple has now surpassed its high in 2021 and Microsoft is edging closer to its COVID-era summit.

Slimmon continued he expects the share price of these stocks to be pushed up further by investors piling in during the fast-paced Q4.

He predicts investors will jump on stocks that are not only liquid but "largely" reporting strong numbers, thus presenting an "opportunity" to portfolio managers who want to boost their investments before the year is out.

"I suspect these stocks will catch, certainly in the fourth quarter," Slimmon predicted.

The managing director and senior portfolio manager added he predicts the S&P 500 to reach a benchmark "closer" to 5,000 by the end of the year.

At the time of writing the S&P 500 sits at approximately 4,514—with a leap to the 5,000 mark representing a near 11% increase.

Slimmon justified: "As we get closer to the end of the year, the pain of being underweight equities and the resultant lack of performance is going to intensify forcing positive fund flows.

"Year-over-year quarterly earnings are going to inflect from negative to positive after Q3. Historically, this is greeted positively by equities."

Some analysts strongly disagree

This optimism has previously caught the attention of fellow analysts who strongly oppose Slimmon's optimism—with the critique coming from close to home.

In February, fellow Morgan Stanley stalwart and Wall Street favorite, Mike Wilson, wrote in an analysts' note that bearish outlooks were pushing share prices into the "death zone."

Wilson, voted the No. 1 stock strategist in an October survey by Institutional Investor, argued the S&P 500 had found itself in the financial equivalent of the “death zone”, a term mountaineers use to refer to altitudes where oxygen is no longer sufficient to sustain human life for an extended period of time.

“Either by choice or out of necessity, investors have followed stock prices to dizzying heights once again as liquidity (bottled oxygen) allows them to climb into a region where they know they shouldn’t go and cannot live very long,” the staunch bear wrote. “They climb in pursuit of the ultimate topping out of greed, assuming they will be able to ascend without catastrophic consequences. But the oxygen eventually runs out and those who ignore the risks get hurt.”

As the benchmark index continued to fly throughout the summer, Wilson admitted in July he was "wrong," but added: “We remain pessimistic on 2023 earnings."

Wilson's gloomy outlook is an outcome Michael Burry—the inspiration for the central protagonist in The Big Short movie—is hoping to capitalize on, having made a bet worth $1.6 billion against the index.

Earlier in August the famed financier bought put options worth $739 million against the Invesco QQQ Trust ETF—a fund made up of popular Nasdaq 100 companies. On top of that, he has also hedged $886 million against the S&P 500—also in put options. 

Put options are an agreement to sell assets at a fixed price on or before a certain date—usually indicating the seller has a defensive or pessimistic outlook on the market.

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