The bulls are still fighting for control as evidenced by persistent profit-taking pressures and price volatility.
Noisy corporate quarterly results and mounting recession risk fears aren’t exactly helping to restore investors’ confidence either.
Quarterly Season Results Are Lackluster
This earnings season has proven to be a mixed bag; big surprises to the upside in some areas matched with sharp declines in others. Consider the chart below and the latest weekly insights (as of February 19, 2016) from the authority on earnings data, FactSet:
Key takeaways from this chart:
- EPS growth continues to trade sideways.
- In hindsight, stagnating EPS growth (blue line) in the past appears to have been a solid predictor of more recent price volatility (dotted green).
Other data points and insights include:
- Of the 87% of the S&P 500 companies that have reported quarterly results thus far, 68% have beaten analyst earnings estimates.
- Currently, the blended earnings figure for the S&P 500 is showing a year-over-year decline of 3.6%; with energy companies excluded, the earnings growth figure jumps to a positive 2.5%.
- S&P 500 companies that generate more than 50% of their sales inside the U.S are posting blended earnings growth of 2.7%; companies that generate less than 50% of sales inside the U.S. are posting an earnings decline of -11.2%.
Perhaps most notably, according to FactSet: If the S&P 500 reports a decline in earnings for the quarter, it will mark the first time the index has seen three consecutive quarters of year-over-year declines in earnings since Q1 2009 through Q3 2009.
Recession Risks Priced in…or Not
The other clouds of uncertainty looming over Wall Street are the mounting fears that a recession will hit. Experts and media talking heads of all stripes have undeniably talked up rising risks of a recession in recent weeks.
The bears are saying that:
- The recession has already started, as evidenced by falling stock and commodity prices.
- China and emerging-market weakness will be a bigger drag on growth than expected.
- Central bankers are “running out of bullets.”
The bulls contest that:
- Key economic indicators with reliable track records are not flashing recessionary warning signs.
- The U.S. economy can still grow modestly, despite global weakness.
- The market is pricing in a recession when there is only modest growth in sight.
Do your own research and be sure to consider the sources’ agenda before their opinion. With that said, respected blogger Jeff Miller points out, “In sharp contrast, the best sources see recession odds of 10% or lower.”
S&P 500 ETF Chart Still Broken
The key technical takeaway regarding the state of the market is this:
- The recent rebound, albeit encouraging, remains constrained in a directionless range; since the February 11 lows, SPY has rallied higher on very weak volume, which generally (although not always) does not coincide with major bottoms
Much to the bull’s frustration, there is still no clear trend at hand.
The Bottom Line
The market remains choppy and the fundamentals are deceiving in many ways. For short-term traders, “risk off” plays will likely come into favor once again. For investors, now appears to be an opportune time to consider scaling into ex-energy bargains with minimal global exposure amid rising, although likely overblown, recession fears. With that being said – bottom pickers swim at your own risk.
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