Stocks continue to defy the skeptics, pushing the broad indexes into record territory. But persistent 'correction' chatter isn't going away either, keeping alive questions about the market's next move.
I am adding to that debate in this piece by pointing out a source of support for the market that will help the rally gain strength and longevity.
Stocks need power to push higher, just as humans and machines do. For stocks, this 'power' comes from a variety of sources, but interest rates and corporate profits are the biggest drivers.
Interest rates have been market-friendly for the last many years, with forceful Fed action during the pandemic cementing that role. Some inflation worries entered the discourse this year as the Biden administration’s expansive policy platform took shape. This caused long-term treasury yields to modestly move up recently, though they still remain extremely low by historical standards.
Inflation fears aren’t new; they have come and gone regularly over the last many years, particularly since the global financial crisis. There are valid fundamental arguments that suggest that the ongoing version will likely be no different.
This doesn’t mean that we outright dismiss all inflation talk, but it does mean that we can have full confidence in the Fed’s ‘pricing-pressures-are-transitory’ outlook, which should keep interest rates low for an extended period.
Unlike interest rates, the earnings picture took a severe beating as a result of the pandemic, with activities related to the broader leisure, hospitality and travel spaces particularly hard hit.
Widespread vaccinations have materially brightened the outlook for these activities domestically, though our recent experience with the Delta variant has added some uncertainty to the outlook.
The much bigger uncertainty is about regions beyond the U.S. borders that have far smaller proportions of their populations immunized and are forced to institute fresh restrictions in the face of new outbreaks. The concern is that these outbreaks come in the way of the expected global economic rebound and serve as a brake on the accelerating earnings growth outlook.
Earnings growth remains very strong, with the ongoing 2021 Q3 earnings season on track to show growth in excess +35%, with the last quarter of the year expected to show growth in excess of +21%. This growth pace represents a deceleration from the first half’s breakneck speed, but it is still very strong by historical standards. This would come after the COVID-19-driven declines of 2020 when earnings dropped by -13%.
Continued . . .
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1) Analysts are predicting earnings jumping by 10,050% through year’s end for this well-run oil mid-cap. It’s positioned to take advantage of high demand and rising prices.
2) Gene editing aims to cure a multitude of diseases, and this company is poised to gain the most in the months to come.
3) This small pop culture consumer company plans to “completely disrupt its space,” and its earnings beats are averaging 160% per quarter already over the past year.
4) This consumer electronics company has blasted past forecasts for 15 years straight. Now it’s coming off a patent win over a tech giant and a record week for new product registrations.
5) Riding not 1 but 2 booming industries, this tech stock has skyrocketed +1,200% since late 2017. Experts believe that some recent profit taking has set the stage for more stratospheric gains.
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Many skeptics have been discounting this favorable turn in the earnings growth picture, citing the outsized contribution of easy comparisons for the elevated growth pace this year, with the hard-hit sectors still expected to earn below their pre-COVID-19 levels.
This skeptical narrative also refers to the market’s outsized gains during the pandemic as having already discounted this year’s earnings growth. This view argues that given the already stretched level of aggregate valuation metrics, we would need the incremental developments on the earnings front to remain positive to help sustain the rally.
These are all reasonable points – earnings growth this year is benefiting from easy comparisons and the market’s gains thus far anticipated the growth rebound. But that doesn't mean that the earnings picture hasn't improved at all; it has improved in meaningful ways already and the trend will only accelerate as the full extent of the economic reopening takes hold.
Here are the three points in support of this view:
First: The revisions trend is positive and represents a notable improvement over historical periods. Earnings estimates for the fourth quarter of 2021 have been steadily going up, with the current +21.1% earnings growth rate up from +20% on September 1st and +17.4% at the end of June.
Granted, the positive revisions to 2021 Q4 estimates isn’t the first instance of such favorable revisions, as this trend has been in place since last summer. But this revisions trend is nevertheless in contrast to comparable periods over the last many years when estimates would actually be going down at this stage.
We are seeing a similar favorable revisions trend for estimates for full-year 2022 as well.
Second: The favorable revisions trend is broad-based and not concentrated in one or just a few sectors. Looking at full-year 2022 earnings estimates, estimates have gone up by more than +25% since the start of the year and more than +14% since June 30th. Estimates have gone up for 16 Zacks sectors, with the biggest gains in the Energy, Basic Materials, Construction and Finance sectors.
The next point will make the case for the revisions trend to accelerate meaningfully in the coming months as the vaccines help us put the pandemic behind us, even as the pathogen continues to circulate among us.
The fact is that there is no fundamental reason for the rally to lose ground as long as interest rates remain stable and earnings estimates maintain their current uptrend.
Third: Current 2022 consensus earnings growth expectation for the S&P 500 index of +8.5% on top of the +44.4% gain expected this year reflect a macroeconomic view that has lately come under pressure as a result of the Delta outbreak and supply chain disruptions. The Q3 GDP growth deceleration notwithstanding, full-year 2021 GDP growth is expected to be around the +6% level and around +4% next year.
These economic growth estimates largely reflect how the U.S. economy has historically behaved in coming out of economic downturns. Traditional economic downturns that originate in the financial markets tend to weigh on business and household sentiment for much longer than can reasonably be expected to be the case this time around given its medical/health origins.
While full-year earnings estimates have gone up, they have yet to reflect the full extent of the post-Covid economic rebound.
The Delta variant remains a hurdle for the broader global economy, but it will most likely be not even a speed bump for the U.S. economy. Some economists have recently trimmed their GDP growth forecasts, but the cuts are very small and will most likely get reversed as they move forward.
The bottom line is that there is significant upside to current consensus earnings estimates. And an environment of rising earnings estimates and stable interest rates should keep stocks on an upward trajectory.
Putting It All Together
In the ongoing Q3 earnings season, companies are not only coming out with impressive results, but also providing positive guidance for Q4 and beyond.
Current estimates for this year and next represent strong earnings growth, but we remain very confident that the growth pace should continue to go up as a result of favorable estimate revisions. In fact, there is a strong likelihood that the outlook for economic and earnings growth will turn out to be a lot stronger than currently reflected in consensus estimates.
The stock market’s positive momentum is grounded in the fundamental reality of an improving earnings outlook and a very favorable interest rate environment. We see no reasons for this trend to stall or reverse as long as these fundamental drivers remain in place.
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Stock #1: Earnings Jumping by 10,050%???
That’s what analysts are predicting through year’s end for this well-run oil mid-cap! It has one of the best balance sheets in the industry and is positioned to take advantage of high demand and rising prices.
Stock #2: Profiting from Modern Medicine’s Great Discovery
Gene editing aims to cure a multitude of diseases, and Zacks names one company to gain the most in months to come. Its upcoming data release and superior patent profile offers a huge opportunity for investors.
Stock #3: Stunning Gap Between Earnings and Stock Price
This divergence always presents an opportunity, and a small pop culture consumer company plans to “completely disrupt its space.” Already, over the past year, its earnings beats are averaging 160% per quarter.
Stock #4: Unheard of Record for New Product Launch
Audiophiles love this consumer electronics company that blasted past forecasts for 15 years straight. Now it’s coming off a patent win over a tech giant and a record week for new product registrations.
Stock #5: Riding Not 1 but 2 Booming Industries
An ascending star in streaming TV and digital advertising, this tech stock has skyrocketed +1,200% since late 2017. Experts believe that some recent profit taking has set the stage for more stratospheric gains.
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Thanks and good trading,
Sheraz Mian serves as the Director of Research and manages the entire research department. He also manages the Zacks Focus List and Zacks Top 10 Stocks portfolios. He invites you to access Zacks Investor Collection.
¹ The results listed above are not (or may not be) representative of the performance of all selections made by Zacks Investment Research's newsletter editors and may represent the partial close of a position.