Morgan Stanley's Mike Wilson, among Wall Street's most bearish, unconvinced highs here to stay

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Morgan Stanley’s Mike Wilson is sticking by his call for an earnings recession and isn’t changing his price target for the S&P 500 — even though he sees the stock market hitting new highs in the next couple of weeks.

Wilson is among the most bearish strategists on Wall Street. His base case year-end price target for the S&P 500 is 2,750, while his bull case is 3,000 and his bear case is 2,400. Deutsche Bank has a base-case 3,250 price target and Credit Suisse has a price target of 3,025.

“We’re going to go to new highs. We’re there already. We’re going to probably go to 3,000 at some point in the next couple weeks just because they want to touch it,” Wilson, the firm’s chief U.S. equity strategist, told CNBC on Tuesday.

The S&P 500 was headed for a record close Tuesday. It was 0.8% higher at 2,932.09 in afternoon trading, above an all-time closing high of 2,930.75 set on Sept. 20. It was still below its intraday record of 2,940.91.

Even if the broad index does break above 3,000, Wilson said he sees no reason to raise his bull case target.

“Price does not make us more bullish alone in the absence of fundamentals that can support a higher price target,” he said on “Fast Money: Halftime Report.”

In fact, he believes 100% of the move this year has been multiple expansion, pointing out that forward 12-month earnings estimates for the S&P 500 “have not budged.”

“The question is: What do we have to look forward to in the second half of the year? To me, that means you’re going to chop around,” he said

When asked about his prediction of an earnings recession in light of stronger-than-expected first-quarter earnings, Wilson said, “We stand by that call.”

“I’m not going to deviate from my models and things that have helped us throughout the last 30 years to say, ‘the market is breaking out so I have the change my fundamental view,'” he said.

Those models are still suggesting the forward 12-month earnings estimates are about 8% too high.

“The second-half expectations now are too high and they need to come down,” he said. “They probably won’t come down until the second or third quarter because companies now are feeling better too. The market’s up and they’re human beings. They’re not going to want to guide down now.”

That said, Wilson did concede that he was a bit too conservative the first few months of this year and that he overestimated the impact of the Federal Reserve‘s pivot from raising interest rates to pausing.

“The range this year doesn’t surprise me, 2,400 to 3,000 has been our range forever, for the last 18 months,” Wilson noted. “However, I did not expect us to be at all-time highs by April. I thought it would come later in the year, after we got the earnings revisions to a point where I thought they could be.”

Wilson was the most accurate Wall Street strategist tracked by CNBC in 2018 and has issued a streak of bearish calls about the S&P 500 and earnings performance over the past year.

— CNBC’s Fred Imbert and Thomas Franck contributed to this report.


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