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Investors can’t afford to miss the AI rally: Morning Brief

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This is The Takeaway from today’s Morning Brief, which you can sign up to receive in your inbox every morning along with:

Wall Street strategists continue to chase the S&P 500 higher.

The latest? Julian Emanuel at Evercore ISI, who now sees the index rising to 6,000 by the end of this year amid an AI revolution still in its “early innings.”

Emanuel sees earnings returning to growth this year and next, alongside stock market history that suggests valuations can remain elevated longer than investors expect, driving the index another 11% higher this year.

But the price targets and the market’s path to them — in Evercore’s bull scenario, the S&P 500 might reach 7,000 by the end of next year; in a bear scenario, we’re back down to 4,750 — are less significant than the nudge this piece of research gives to all clients: You must have an answer when asked about your AI strategy.

For the last year, AI has been cited across the Street as the most important catalyst pushing markets higher. This came as the Federal Reserve delayed rate cuts, inflation has been slow to return to 2%, and the US economy outperformed expectations.

And as this bull market continues, Emanuel expects volatility to increase as AI becomes an even larger thematic driver for stocks.

“Convexity is a ‘must own’ in a Tech driven Bull Market that is going to get more volatile,” Emanuel wrote. As a result, his team recommends a “strangle” options position on the Nasdaq, buying calls and puts at prices higher and lower than current prices, respectively.

Yet the details of this trade are less important than the thrust of Emanuel’s reminder to clients.

Which is that you must have an AI trade.

The trade can be as simple as an options position that offers some upside reward and downside protection. Elsewhere, Emanuel’s team mentions “AI Revolutionaries” and “Small Cap Standouts” as other possible portfolio tilts for the current environment.

As always, portfolio managers will work within their mandate to make the best decisions for clients. What any one strategist thinks about the S&P 500’s direction in the next six months is just part of that calculation, now or at any other time.

What isn’t practical, however, is to see yourself out of the AI discussion — to tell your stakeholders we’re not interested, or not prepared, or not ready to find a way to bring AI into our process. For investors and everyone else.

When 2023 began, investors were bracing for recession and Wall Street was less than excited about the stock market’s prospects. The surprising consensus that congealed among the investor class in late 2022 was that stocks would keep dropping in early ’23 as the economy contracted. In the second half of the year, investors expected the market to rebound as the economy returned to growth.

Instead, the market ripped higher right from the get-go. AI took over the Street, while earnings, the lifeblood of long-term stock market returns, were flat.

Investors caught flat-footed in a rally fueled by the unexpected mania for chatbots, cloud storage, and massive amounts of computing power had some leeway to explain to clients why they hadn’t foreseen the Nasdaq gaining 40%.

In June 2024, those excuses have worn thin.

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