Posts tagged earnings
Doubling Down

I am short on time this weekend, so I am doubling down on the story I told last week, with two more charts and some additional comments. The first chart updates picture of the startling spread between price change in S&P 500 and its multiple. As of last week, the U.S. large cap equity index was down 0.2% on the year, but trailing earnings were rising just under 22%. The only way to square these two headlines is to note that the P/E multiple has crashed, from a high of nearly 23 in January to 18 today. The silver lining is easy to spot. The market is now about 20% cheaper than it was at the start of the year, a significant re-rating. 

The flip side is that paying 18 times earnings for the S&P 500 is not egregiously cheap. If growth in earnings roll over, a further decline in multiples would, at best, lead to stagnation; at worst, it would drive prices much lower. That’s certainly a significant risk if you consider that this year’s impressive jump in earnings, at least in part, have been driven by tax cuts, which won’t be repeated next year. It gets even worse if we start to change the assumptions around share buybacks, another important support for earnings growth via its denominator-reducing effect on the share count in the EPS calculation. 

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Competing Narratives

I have two objectives with this week’s missive. I want to contrast what I think are the two prevailing narratives used to explain markets in the first half of the year. And then I want to have a look at the durability of large-cap equity earnings because it seems to be crucial to what happens next. The first story pits the storm chasers against the connectors. The former primarily sees events such as the equity volatility surge in February, the widening LIBOR/OIS spread and the leap in Italian two-year yields as a result of a change in market structure. The ratio of liquidity-providing market makers to crowded trades has shrunk dramatically, creating the condition for face-ripping reversals in consensus and complacent positioning. The storm chasers sees this, and are trying to exploit it. They don’t necessarily ignore the big picture, but they are sufficiently confident in its stability to believe that storms can arise independently of it. Proponents of this view would argue that it is the combination of 15-sigma events and a stable overall environment that is the central story. For example, the fact that the February blow-up of the short vol trade was linked to a bigger story—that the market as a whole would crash—is what makes the initial trade, and the rebound, so attractive.

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