Wall Street’s main stock indexes on Friday suffered their worst week in two years as bond yields soared and renewed fears of inflation gripped investors, Reuters reports.
But amid the selloff, corporate earnings forecasts keep improving.
Forecasts for earnings, one of the fundamental factors that drive stock prices, are rising fast as analysts factor in benefits from the US tax overhaul, the news agency said.
Optimism over forecasts has caught the attention of anxious investors, who hope that strong earnings can support lofty stock valuations and offset the concerns over rising bond yields and the pace of Federal Reserve rate hikes. Rising interest rates in general mean higher borrowing costs for companies.
Last week, fears of higher rates overwhelmed the upbeat profit picture as the benchmark S&P 500 stock index fell 3.9 percent and raised some concern about a deeper pullback.
“This uptick in bond rates has everybody nervous obviously,” said Gary Bradshaw, portfolio manager at Hodges Capital Management in Dallas, Texas.
“But we step back and look, and so far earnings have been awful good. Even though you have seen rates move up some here, they are still very low, inflation is still low,” he said.
With half of the S&P 500 index companies still to report fourth-quarter results and potentially give guidance on 2018, profit estimates are likely to increase further.
Still, the S&P 500 is up 3.3 percent for this year and that is on top of a 19.4 percent gain for 2017. Whether last week’s downturn in global equity markets continues will depend in part on upcoming earnings reports.
Reports from both Apple and Google parent Alphabet late Thursday disappointed investors, as did Friday’s results from ExxonMobil and Chevron, but fourth-quarter S&P 500 company results overall have been much stronger than expected.
Among changes to the tax law, the corporate income tax rate drops to 21 percent from 35 percent, so earnings estimates for the first quarter and all of 2018 have jumped.
First-quarter profit growth for S&P 500 companies is now estimated at 17.7 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data, up from 11.7 percent on Dec. 20, when both houses of Congress approved the tax revamp.
Earnings growth for 2018 is now forecast at 18.2 percent, up from 11.5 percent on Dec. 20.
Typically, expectations decline as the earnings reporting season for the quarter approaches. On average, profit growth expectations fall by four percentage points from the start of the quarter to the start of earnings season, said David Aurelio, senior research analyst at Thomson Reuters.
This January, revisions to S&P 500 2018 earnings estimates were 4.3 times more positive than negative, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The one-month ratio of upward to downward revisions was the highest since at least 1986, as far back as the bank’s data goes.
In addition to the tax law, US companies’ earnings are benefiting from improving global economic growth and the weaker US dollar, which helps US multinationals exports sales, said Jill Carey Hall, equity and quant strategist at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch.
Meanwhile, outgoing Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said US stocks and commercial real estate prices are elevated but stopped short of saying those markets are in a bubble, Bloomberg reported.
“Well, I don’t want to say too high. But I do want to say high,” Yellen said on CBS’s Sunday Morning in an interview recorded Friday as she prepared to leave the central bank. “Price-earnings ratios are near the high end of their historical ranges.”
Commercial real estate prices are now “quite high relative to rents”, Yellen said. “Now, is that a bubble or is it too high? And there it’s very hard to tell. But it is a source of some concern that asset valuations are so high.”
Yellen, 71, stepped down as Fed chief on Saturday after one term, after President Donald Trump opted to replace her with Republican Jerome Powell, who’s been a Fed governor since 2012.
Separately, San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank president John Williams said the US central bank could raise rates three or four times this year, noting that a pickup in wage growth and inflation are signs of a healthy economy, Reuters reported.
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