Valuation Update (Better, But Not Good)

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • Equity Risk Premium Update – Better, But Not Good
  • Updated Oil Outlook

Futures are marginally weaker following a quiet night as markets as markets further digest the 2019 rally.

Economic data was sparse although Euro Zone Core HICP (their CPI) met expectations at 1.0%, which remains near multi-month lows.

Today focus will remain on earning and we get some notable consumer companies reporting (in addition to more banks).  Some reports we’ll be watching include:  MS ($0.90), PPG ($1.10), NFLX ($0.25),and AXP ($1.79).  As has been the case so far in earnings season, the commentary on the economy will be just as important as the actual results.

We also get two notable economic reports, including Jobless Claims (E: 216K) and the Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Survey (E: 10.0) plus one Fed speaker: Quarles (10:45 p.m. ET). Bottom line, if earnings continue to beat low expectations, stocks can grind higher for now.

Brexit Vote Preview

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • Citi Earnings: Not a Bad Start to the Season
  • Brexit “Meaningful Vote” Preview

U.S. futures are modestly higher this morning, tracking gains in Asian shares thanks to chatter of further stimulus measures by the Chinese government.

EU markets are underperforming however as focus remains on today’s Brexit vote and more key bank earnings.

Looking to the Wall Street session, the major focus will be on earnings as JPM ($2.20), WFC ($1.17), and DAL ($1.27) all report before the bell. The banks will be the main focus after C’s results were received well yesterday.

Economically, PPI (E: 0.2%) is due out ahead of the bell while the Empire State Manufacturing Survey (E: 12.0) will print at the top of the 10 o’clock hour. The Empire number could potentially move markets as survey-based data badly underwhelmed in December, contributing to the last wave of significant volatility in 2018.

Lastly, there are three Fed speakers today: Kashkari (11:30 a.m. ET),  Kaplan (1:00 p.m. ET), and George (1:00 p.m. ET) but their comments should not materially move markets as they are expected to reiterate a more dovish stance on future policy.

Market Outlook (After the Bounce)

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • Market Outlook (After the Bounce)
  • Weekly Economic Cheat Sheet (Important First Looks at January Data)
  • Weekly Market Preview (All About Earnings)

Futures are sharply lower following more disappointing global economic data.

Chinese exports badly missed expectations falling –4.4% vs. (E) 4.8%, further stoking fears of a Chinese economic slowdown.  Data in Europe wasn’t much better, as Euro Zone Industrial Production fell –1.7% vs. (E) 0.5%.

Geopolitically, it was a generally quiet weekend as markets are looking past Trump’s economic threat to Turkey.

There are no notable economic reports today so focus will be on earnings, as the Q4 season officially kicks off with C ($1.55).  The key for this report (and all reports this season) will be the guidance and management commentary – and anything that downplays a slowing global economy will be welcomed by markets.

Rebound Update

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • Bottom Line: Rebound Update
  • Jobs Report Preview (Abbreviated Version)

Futures are decidedly higher this morning after Chinese shares led global equities higher overnight thanks to continued optimism about a US-China trade deal.

A Bloomberg article released early this morning reported that the Trump Administration has begun working on the terms of a trade agreement to present to President Xi at the G20 spurring sizeable risk-on money flows overnight.

Looking ahead to today’s session, focus will be on economic data early with the Employment Situation (E: 190K), International Trade (E: -$53.3B), and Factory Orders (E: 0.4%) figures all due out within an hour of the open. There are no Fed officials scheduled to speak today.

On the earnings front, there are several notable releases to watch ahead of the bell: BABA ($1.09), XOM ($1.21) and STX ($1.55).

Once earnings and economic data are digested, focus will likely return to momentum, technicals, and any incremental news on trade. On the charts, the S&P’s 200 day moving average is sitting at 2765 which will be an initial upside target if the bullish momentum continues today.

Was Yesterday an “All Clear?”

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • Dusting Off An Old Leading Indicator for Recessions
  • Was Yesterday an “All Clear?”

Futures are extending Tuesday’s rally thanks to decent overnight earnings and despite universally disappointing economic data.

FB earnings beat after the bell yesterday and the stock rallied 3% after hours, capping a decent day of earnings.

Economically, Chinese Oct. Manufacturing PMI declined to 50.2 vs. (E) 50.6.  Japanese IP and German Retail Sales also missed expectations.

Today focus will remain on earnings.  GM ($1.26) is the highlight but if the broad number of results are “ok” that should continue to help sentiment.  Economically the ADP Employment Report (E: 178K) and Employment Cost Index (E: 0.7%) are the two key reports, and both need to show “Goldilocks” readings (firm but not strong enough to make the Fed hawkish) for this bounce to continue.

What If It Is Peak Earnings? (Market Outlook)

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • What If It Is Peak Earnings? (It Hasn’t Been That Bad in the Past)

Futures are bouncing from yesterday’s carnage following good earnings reports overnight.

MSFT, F, V, XLNX, TSLA and WHR all posted solid earnings and that is helping stocks to bounce moderately.

Economic data was sparse as German IFO Business Expectations was the only report and it slightly missed estimates.

Today there are actually multiple macro events including an ECB Decision (No Change is expected to rates or QE but we’ll be watching to see if Draghi notes equity market volatility), Durable Goods Orders (E: -1.4%), Jobless Claims (E: 212K) and Pending Home Sales (E: 0.0%) plus there are two Fed speakers:  Clarida (12:15 p.m. ET), Mester (7:00 p.m. ET).

But, despite that busy calendar, barring dovish commentary from the ECB or Fed speakers (which isn’t expected) focus will remain on earnings, and this market needs more solid results to break the current negative feedback loop.

Is the Earnings Rally Losing Steam?

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Earnings have been an unsung hero of the 2017 rally, but there are some anecdotal signs that strong earnings may already be fully priced into stocks, leaving a lack of potential positive catalysts given the macro environment.

Now, to be clear, earnings season has been (on the surface) good. From a broad standpoint, the results have pushed expected 2018 S&P 500 EPS slightly higher (to $139) and that’s enough to justify current valuations, taken in the context of a calm macro horizon and still-low bond yields.

However, the market’s reaction to strong earnings is sending some caution signals throughout the investor
community. Specifically, according to a BAML report I read earlier this week, the vast majority of companies who reported a beat on the top line (revenues) and bottom line (earnings) saw virtually no post-earnings rally this quarter. Getting specific, by the published date of the report (earlier this week) 174 S&P 500 companies had beat on the top and bottom line, yet the average gain for those stocks 24 hours after the announcement was… 0%. They were flat. To boot, five days after the results, on average these 174 companies had underperformed the market!

That’s in stark contrast to the 1.6%, 24-hour gain that companies who beat on the revenues and earnings have enjoyed, on average, since 2000.

In fact, the last time we saw this type of post earnings/sales beat non-reaction was Q2 of 2000. It could be random, but that’s not exactly the best reference point.

So, if we’re facing a market that’s fully priced in strong earnings, the important question then becomes, what will spur even more earnings growth?

Potential answers are: 1) A rising tide of economic activity, although that’s not currently happening. Another is 2) A surge in productivity that increases the bottom line. But, productivity growth has been elusive for nearly a decade, and it’s unclear what would suddenly spark a revival. Finally, another candidate is 3) Rising inflation that would allow for price and margin increases. Yet as we know, that’s not exactly threatening right now, either.

Bottom line, earnings have been the unsung hero of this market throughout 2017, but this is a, “What Have You Don’t For Me Lately” market, especially at nearly 18X next year’s earnings. If earnings growth begins to slow and we don’t get any uptick in economic growth or pro-growth policies from Washington, then it’s hard to see what will push this market higher beyond just general momentum (and general momentum may be fading, at least according to the price action in tech). To be clear, the trend in stocks is still higher, but the environment isn’t as benign as sentiment, the VIX or the financial media would have you believe.

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Earnings Season Preview, July 13, 2017

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Earnings remain an unsung, but very important tailwind on the markets, in part because both 2017 and 2018 earnings keep getting revised upward. And since stock prices are just a total of future expected earnings, those higher earnings are resulting in higher stock prices.

Given Q2 earnings season begins today, I want to take a moment and cover 1) What’s expected, and 2) How earnings can be a catalyst for a pullback, or 3) Spark a new rally.

First, to give some perspective, what’s important here is to look at the aggregate S&P 500 calendar-year earnings. Think of it as if you got the full-year earnings estimates for all 500 companies, and then added them up.

For 2017, that number (and this is an average between FactSet and Bloomberg consensus) is $131.00/share. So, on a current-year basis, the S&P 500 is trading at about 18.7X earnings (2450/131.00). That is a very historically high multiple, but not, by itself, prohibitively expensive.

For 2018, the consensus headline earnings (again an average of FactSet and Bloomberg) is $146.46. However, you have to take next year’s earnings estimates with a grain of salt, as they almost always come down throughout the year by around 5%-10%. There are multiple and varied reasons for this, but just trust me that is what happens.

So, if we reduce the $146.46 by 5%, we get $139.13. (I’m reducing it by just 5%, because corporate performance has been strong and my general caution aside, there aren’t any specific events looming out there, at this point, that should really hit corporate earnings).

At $139.13, the S&P 500 is trading at 17.6X next year’s earnings (2018). Most analysts (including me) consider 18X the “ceiling” for a next year P/E multiple. So, the markets is trading close to what most would consider a valuation “ceiling,” but it’s not there quite yet. And, given this set up, I think there are a few notable conclusions that need to be drawn from this analysis.

First, in order for this market to move higher, we must not see that $139ish 2018 S&P 500 number go down following this earning’s season. If it does, this market instantly becomes too expensive (for instance, if the expected 2018 EPS drops to $135, then the market is trading 18.15X earnings, which in my view would be too expensive).

Second, if that 2018 number moves higher following Q2 earnings season, then stocks can rally further and potentially materially so. And, we’ve seen that throughout 2017. Expected earnings for 2018 in January were in the mid $130s; however, corporate results have been stronger than expected, so that number has moved steadily higher, and that’s helped underpin the rally in stocks. If Q2 earnings season is stronger than expected and 2018 EPS get revised higher, this market can rally further and still not break above that 18X valuation ceiling.

Bottom line, for all the focus on politics, the Fed and macro factors, the real push behind the 2017 rally has been earnings growth. In 2017, the S&P 500 is expected to earn $131/share. In 2018, it’s expected to earn $139/ share. That’s at least 6% earnings growth with upside risks. So, until something in the macro economy puts that earnings growth at risk (like materially higher yields, geopolitical scare, turn in US & global economic data) the fact remains that while the stock market is historically expensive, it’s not prohibitively so.

Getting this earnings season “right” from a valuation standpoint will be an important signal on whether we need to reduce exposure, or allocate more to equities. We will be watching, and as soon as we get enough numbers to get some confidence on 2018 earnings, we will let you know.

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Earnings Season Post Mortem & Valuation Update, May 9, 2017

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The S&P 500 has been largely “stuck” in the 2300-2400 trading range for nearly 10 weeks, despite a big non-confirmation from 10-year yields, modestly slowing economic data and political disappointment. Given that less-than-ideal context, the market has been downright resilient as the S&P 500 only fell to around 2320ish. The main reason for that resilience is earnings and valuation.

While it’s true that stocks are at a valuation “ceiling” right now, and need a new macro catalyst to materially breakout, it’s also true that given the current macro environment the downside risk on a valuation basis for the market is somewhat limited. That’s why we’re seeing such aggressive buying on dips.

Here’s the reason I say that. The Q1 earnings season was better than expected, and it’s resulted in 2018 S&P 500 EPS bumping up $1 from $135-$137 to $136-$138. At the higher end of that range, the S&P 500 is trading at 17.4X next year’s earnings. That’s high historically to be sure, but it’s not crazy given Treasury yield levels and expected macro-economic fundamentals.

However, if the S&P 500 were to drop to 2300 on a macro surprise, then the market would be trading at 16.67X 2018 earnings. In this environment (low yields, stable macro environment), that could easily be considered fairly valued.

Additionally, most analysts pencil in any help from Washington (including even a small corporate tax cut and/or a foreign profit repatriation holiday) adding a minimum of $5 to 2018 S&P 500 EPS. So, if they pass the bare minimum of expectations, it’s likely worth about $5 in earnings, and that puts 2018 earnings at $143.

At 2400, and with $143 expected earnings, the S&P 500 is trading at 16.8X 2018 earnings. Again, that is high historically, but for this market anything sub 17X will elicit buying in equities (whether it should is an open question, but that is the reality).

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Tom Essaye on “The Bell” Podcast with Paul Sweeney and Adam Johnson

Bullseye Brief with Adam Johnson, Paul Sweeney and Tom Essaye

I was a guest on Adam Johnson’s podcast “The Bell” last week. We talk with Paul Sweeney of Bloomberg Intelligence, “the man who’s turning Wall Street research upside down”. There are big changes in the research industry and Sweeney is on the leading edge of those changes. We also talk about “Animal Spirits” vs Hard Economic Data, Earnings and Employment, Mortgages being back under 4% here in Fed Week.

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