Economic and Earnings Concerns Begin to Weigh on Stocks

“There is complacency in a lot of things,” said Luca Paolini, chief strategist at Pictet Asset Management. He enumerated some of his worries: “‘Inflation is temporary.’ Maybe. Maybe not. Six months ago, consumption was booming. People had money and time. Now they have less money and less time. Earnings momentum has peaked, clearly, relative to six months ago. I’m concerned the market isn’t pricing in deterioration in the economic outlook.”

By some measures, stocks are as expensive as at almost any time in history. The S&P 500 trades at about 34 times the last 12 months of earnings. Sarah Ketterer, chief executive of Causeway Capital Management, worries that corporate profits face numerous headwinds and that their impact on stocks could be especially high with valuations so rich.

“Inflation is up, economic growth is down,” she said. “The supply chain disruption phenomenon is global, creating cost increases and margin pressure.” Companies in many industries have reported trouble sourcing some commodities and important components of manufactured goods, such as semiconductors, hindering production and making what they do produce more expensive.

Rising prices have sent interest rates in the bond market higher, driving down bond prices and keeping a lid on bond funds in the third quarter. The average one rose 0.2 percent, dragged down by a 2.9 percent decline in emerging-market portfolios.

“I’m hard pressed to find an area of costs that haven’t gone up, and this may continue for some time,” Ms. Ketterer said. “No one knows how long it will take to unravel the tangled supply chain situation.”

The situation seems most tangled in Asia, where many raw and intermediate materials originate. China has been the source of several worrying recent events, including power cuts that have impeded manufacturing, and financial instability at the China Evergrande Group, a giant, heavily indebted developer.

Some specialists in Asian markets see little chance of Evergrande’s woes spilling over to the wider Chinese financial system, let alone beyond. Matthews Asia, a mutual fund manager, said in a note to investors that mortgage lending standards in China are fairly tight, with large down payments required and the packaging of loans into securities sold to investors minimal.

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