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Can anything derail the ‘Goldilocks’ economy?


America’s economy could be heading for a golden era of growth. But higher prices and the coronavirus pandemic still present risks.

What’s happening: “It is possible that we will have a Goldilocks moment — fast and sustained growth, inflation that moves up gently (but not too much) and interest rates that rise (but not too much),” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said in his widely-read annual letter to shareholders this week.

Dimon’s optimism comes after the International Monetary Fund said that President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package will boost the US economy to 6.4% growth this year. That would be the fastest annual growth rate in the United States since 1984 under President Ronald Reagan.

Economic data continues to support rosy predictions.

This week, the Institute for Supply Management published its monthly report on the US services sector, which accounts for 88% of America’s gross domestic product. The group’s services index for March jumped to 63.7, the highest level ever recorded.

“There is clearly a big surge in activity underway,” said Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics.

This data has helped keep US stocks near record highs. But an undercurrent of anxiety remains. CNN Business’ Fear & Greed Index shows that market sentiment is in “greedy” territory, up from a neutral reading one week ago. But investors aren’t throwing caution to the wind.

In a recent note to clients, Tobias Levkovich, Citigroup’s chief U.S. equity strategist, warned that the fear of missing out appears to be dominating.

“There’s a 1999 perspective being noted with pressure for fund managers to participate in rising share prices even if there’s also a recognition that it could end badly,” Levkovich wrote, referring to the dot-com bubble that popped at the turn of the millennium.

He worries that investors are overlooking the risk that the Federal Reserve could change course and take some stimulus measures off the table, as well as the impact of “plausible tax increases being proposed by the Biden administration.”

“Indeed, all developments are perceived as positive news,” Levkovich said.

He’s not the only one suggesting caution. On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the number of new Covid-19 cases has plateaued at a “disturbingly high level,” and that the country could face yet another spike in infections.

“It’s almost a race between getting people vaccinated and this surge that seems to want to increase,” Fauci said.

The United States is vaccinating people quickly, with just over 33% of the population, or more than 109 million people, having received at least one dose. Yet the pace needs to increase now that that the virus variant first identified in the United Kingdom — known to be more transmissible and believed to be more deadly — is the country’s most common strain.

That’s one big stock sale

Tencent’s biggest shareholder has sold $14.7 billion worth of shares in the Chinese social media and gaming giant, creating a massive war chest to invest in other ventures.

The latest: Prosus, a spin-off by South African media and internet investment firm Naspers, sold a 2% stake in Tencent, the Chinese tech giant said in a Hong Kong Stock Exchange filing on Thursday.

Tencent, which reported a strong financial year during the pandemic, is by far Nasper’s most successful investment, my CNN Business colleague Laura He reports.

The deal is the biggest block trade ever, according to data provider Refinitiv. Block trades are typically arranged directly between big institutional investors rather than on public stock exchanges.

Investor insight: Tencent’s stock dropped 1.5% on Thursday in Hong Kong after the news. It has gained about 80% since Prosus was listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange in 2019.

After completion of the deal, Prosus will remain Tencent’s single largest shareholder, with a 28.9% stake. But it will lose its controlling shareholder status, which under Hong Kong listing rules is granted to investors who hold at least 30% of voting rights.

What’s next: The question now is what Prosus will do with all its cash. So far, the company isn’t providing many details; in a statement, it said it plans to “use the proceeds of the sale to increase its financial flexibility to invest in growth, plus for general corporate purposes.”

Investing small has been a winning strategy

The S&P 500 and the Dow keep hitting record highs as blue-chip companies like Caterpillar, Chevron and GM soar.

But investors shouldn’t ignore smaller stocks, my CNN Business colleague Paul R. La Monica reports.

The Russell 2000, an index that’s home to many small cap US stocks, is up about 13% so far in 2021. That’s better than the gains for the Dow, S&P 500 and the Mega Tech-dominated Nasdaq, which are up between 6% and 10% this year.

Smaller stocks began to rally at the end of 2020 after getting hit hard during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States a year ago. They’ve continued to surge ever since.

“The Russell 2000 has had its best back-to-back quarterly gains in history,” Megan Horneman, director of portfolio strategy at Verdence Capital Advisors, said in a recent report.

The backstory: Stimulus checks are lifting consumer spending and the domestic economy. Many Russell 2000 companies have a bigger chunk of their sales coming from the United States than from international markets.

“Even after a rotation towards value and small cap stocks in recent months, relative to history they still look cheap compared to large-cap growth stocks and should benefit from a very strong economic surge,” said David Kelly, chief global strategist with JPMorgan Funds.

Up next

Conagra and Constellation Brands report results before US markets open. Levi Strauss follows after the close.

Also today:

  • US initial unemployment claims for last week post at 8:30 a.m. ET.
  • Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell gives a speech on the global economy at 12 p.m. ET.

Coming tomorrow: The Producer Price Index will provide a fresh look at US inflation trends.

Article Topic Follows: Business

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