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Market On Edge: Anticipating Corporate Forecast Accuracy Amid Profit Beats


Michael Chen

May 4, 2024 - 13:13 pm


Corporate Profit Projections Take Center Stage in Stock Market Outlook

Amid an earnings season that saw a majority of leading companies exceed profit expectations, the minimal subsequent uplift in stock performance raises questions about the importance of strong earnings results. Across the S&P 500 Index, as many companies have disclosed their earnings, a significant 79% outperformed analysts' profit predictions. Despite these favorable numbers, the overall impact on the stock market was underwhelming, as evidenced by Bloomberg Intelligence data pointing out that the median stock barely outshone the index by less than 0.1% on the day of reporting, marking the slimmest advantage recorded since the tail end of 2020.

Clearly, traders are demanding a more substantial vision for the future, opting to place their bets based on the anticipated guidance from these corporations. In this current climate, it seems that past performance no longer guarantees future success, leading to a penalization of stocks with guidance failing to meet investor expectations.

The pattern of firms providing outlooks was somewhat disheartening. A mere 15% of firms in the S&P 500 that issued guidance as of April managed to surpass estimates, a notably poor performance only second to the lowest seen since the outset of the pandemic, according to the numbers from Bloomberg Intelligence. Albeit a modest week-over-week increase was noted, this only bumped the percentage to 18%, with strong forecasts from giants like Apple Inc. playing a part in this small improvement. Nevertheless, this still pales in comparison to historical averages.

Investors witnessed a resilient 20% rally in the S&P 500 from the end of October leading into April. This surge pegged equity valuations at a substantial 20 times projected earnings, marking an 11% hike from the decade's norm. This setting instructs traders to seek solid reasons that would justify the inflated valuations, with an eye out for indicators of significant growth on the horizon.

Keith Buchanan, a seasoned portfolio manager at GLOBALT Investments, emphasizes the critical nature of guidance during this earnings season. The inherent optimism embedded within current valuations carries a weighty potential for disappointment. In light of these high market prices, guidance directly impacts the future direction of the stock market.

With the US economy experiencing a significant slowdown to nearly a two-year low in the last quarter, and the continued presence of inflationary pressure coupled with the uncertainty looming over potential interest rate reductions, the hurdle for corporate earnings growth has been set higher.

According to Quincy Krosby, the chief global strategist at LPL Financial, if the market lacks the expected rate cuts, guidance becomes the lifeline for traders. "In the absence of reduced rates, guidance has to fill in the gap. It seems to be the only element that holds potential for market reassurance," Krosby remarks.

The projections for the semiconductor industry within the S&P 500 are notably buoyant. Experts anticipate a significant expansion, by roughly 40%, in the second quarter, which ranks as the highest expected growth rate amongst all industry groups. Despite this, the Nasdaq 100 Index faltered, failing to maintain its pre-earnings season level, largely due to major chipmakers issuing gloomy future profit warnings.

The largest producer of personal computer processors, Intel Corp., saw its shares plunge following the release of a less-than-optimistic outlook for the second quarter. Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), too, witnessed a decline in its share price after delivering a lackluster forecast for its artificial intelligence processors.

Bloomberg Intelligence Analysis

Reports from notable consumer-driven companies are on the horizon, with Morgan Stanley strategists, guided by Mike Wilson, indicating a growing concern surrounding the low-end consumer market based on recent statements from restaurant earnings. Declines in customer visits were highlighted by McDonald’s Corp. and Darden Restaurants Inc. in their earnings disclosures.

Starbucks Corp. reported a noticeable drop in sales, the first since 2020, as it faced a decline in transactions in every region over the same quarter. This led the company to pare down its full-year revenue growth forecast to a figure within the low single digits.

Mona Mahajan, the senior investment strategist at Edward Jones, underscores the significance of forthcoming guidance from consumer-related companies. As evidenced by a pressured lower-end consumer segment, vigilance is warranted when monitoring these upcoming forecasts.

In the spotlight are impending forecasts from the foremost US retailers, particularly Walmart Inc. and Target Corp., with their reports deferred to later in the month. Additionally, the upcoming consumer sentiment data release next week is keenly awaited by investors.

Matt Maley, the chief market strategist at Miller Tabak + Co., outlines the critical junctures ahead for the market. Either guidance sees a drastic improvement, or interest rates experience a decline. Failing these developments, he warns of another downward movement in the S&P 500, potentially reaching a full market correction.

The remainder of the year presents a pivotal challenge for corporate America and the stock market. Firms have shown strong earnings, but the main focus now is on their future earnings guidance. This metric has become the beacon by which investors gauge the health and potential of their investments. The weeks ahead are critical as guidance from prominent businesses will either affirm the market's confidence or possibly trigger a reassessment of the current high valuations.

Economic dynamics such as slowing growth, persistent inflation, and the enigma around interest rate policies further compound this season’s emphasis on guidance. As traders scrutinize the outlook provided by companies, the reaction in the stock market serves as a telling sign of investor sentiment and the possible trajectory of the market's future.

In a market vested with such expectations, any divergence from anticipated corporate guidance could tilt the scales and lead investors to realign their portfolios. The implications extend beyond individual stocks, potentially affecting sector trends and overall market sentiment.

In conclusion, as traders and strategists pore over the incoming reports and forecast data, the narrative of this earnings season will be not merely about the profit beats, but the resilience and reliability of guidance. These indicators will not only shape company valuations but also dictate the momentum of the market for the remainder of the year.

Disclaimer: This article contains information sourced from Bloomberg L.P. (©2024 Bloomberg L.P.). It is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial advice.

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