As investors brace for the kickoff of the Q1 earnings season next week, there are plenty of signs that returns will be particularly hard to come by for the rest of the year.
Over the weekend, Goldman Sachs gave clients a best-case, worst-case scenario for stocks—and even the glass-half-full take looks pretty lousy. The Goldman team, led by chief U.S. equity strategist David J. Kostin, reiterates it sees the benchmark S&P 500 closing at 4,700 at year-end. That would imply stocks are set to rise only a further 4% this year.
A 4,700 handle would be a bit of a jolt to investors, as the S&P closed out 2021 at 4,766.18.
Remember: That's Goldman's best case.
And its worst?
The investment bank reckons equities could tumble a further 21% to finish 2022 at 3,600. That would be Goldman's "recession scenario."
To be sure, the R-word is getting tossed around Wall Street with much more frequency these days after a somewhat uncommon occurrence last week—the yields on the two-year and 10-year Treasuries inverted, a sign that investors have deep concerns about the strength of the economy in the years to come. Goldman forecasts the 2s10s inversion will exacerbate throughout the year. Ultimately, Goldman concludes, that puts the odds of a U.S. recession at a 38% probability within the next 24 months.
Paradoxically, inversions on their own don't typically sink stock portfolios, Kostin notes. But high inflation plus an inversion could prove too much for stocks, pushing them into bear territory. That's what happened in the 1970s, the last time investors saw an inversion coincide with stagflationary conditions like this.
"The 2s10s yield curve inverted in 1973, a more comparable period of high inflation [to today]," Kostin writes. "The S&P 500 return was negative during the subsequent three, six, and 12 months [back then in the 1970s], and ultimately entered a bear market, falling by 48% in nominal terms and 57% in real terms."
With that in mind, a worst-case scenario of a 21% drop would feel as if investors had dodged a bullet. And a 4% gain would be nothing short of a blessing.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com