Investors Say ‘Meh’ to Blockbuster Earnings of the Decade
(Bloomberg) -- With stock benchmarks near records and valuations elevated, the boardrooms of corporate America are having their work cut out to impress an already jubilant Wall Street.
Here’s how high the bar is: S&P 500 companies reporting revenues and profits that either met or bested forecasts rose just 0.9% on the news, while those that disappointed dropped 2.6%, Sanford C. Bernstein data show.
In short, stocks aren’t popping on good news, but they’re being punished if it’s bad.
The muted market reaction to earnings beats comes despite a blowout season so far, with 92% of firms fulfilling or exceeding estimates -- the most in data going back to early 2008.
The upshot: Businesses are finding it ever-harder to please money managers who’ve already funneled cash like never before into U.S. stocks this year to propel a bumper 17% rally.
“Strong earnings growth rates were expected given that the second quarter of last year was the trough,” Ann Larson, head of U.S. quantitative research at Bernstein, wrote in an email. “A lot of that good news was likely priced in.”
By various measures, there’s plenty to love. Among U.S. firms, 78% raised their profit guidance, the most in data going back to 2012, JPMorgan Chase & Co. strategists noted on Friday. Analysts’ earnings forecasts have kept rising, extending a steady uptrend since last summer, a Citigroup index shows.
And the recovery is global. In the Stoxx Europe 600, 70% beat sales estimates, the most in about three years, while the percentage that exceeded profit forecasts dropped slightly from last quarter to 62%, JPMorgan strategists led by Mislav Matejka wrote.
Even then, much of the profit rebound looks priced in. Among the Big Tech stocks that have powered American equities to dizzying highs in the bull market, Facebook Inc., Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. all declined last month even after posting earnings that beat estimates.
Wells Fargo strategist Christopher Harvey posits two theories for all this. First, sell-side forecasts have been especially off the mark this year after a lack of corporate guidance amid the pandemic in 2020. Secondly, strong results across a slew of companies and sectors have desensitized investors to this remarkable quarter.
At Blueshift Asset Management, a quantitative hedge fund, chief investment officer Mani Mahjouri observes that the muted reaction to earnings beats is playing out across high-volume stocks -- among the biggest beneficiaries of the global risk rally on vaccine optimism since November.
That may be a tell-tale sign that Wall Street remains in the thrall of pandemic-fueled rallies and reversals, curbing the propensity of money managers to allocate on the basis of corporate news.
“Current fundamentals aren’t driving equity returns the way they have,” Mahjouri said.
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