If the data holds, companies in the S&P 500 will see their fourth straight quarter of declining earnings, according to FactSet and The Wall Street Journal, but investors are hopeful that 2020 will bring about a change in earnings fortunes.
The projected 2% decline in earnings will cap the longest streak of quarterly earnings declines since 2015-16.
Despite the lack of earnings growth, U.S. markets have continued their meteoric climb into the new year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a little more than 1,000 points off of 30,000 while the Nasdaq and S&P 500 are floating around all-time high levels.
That is a reversal of a trend the markets have experienced since 2009 where equities growth was primarily driven by earnings — to the tune of 67% of S&P 500 returns tied to earnings.
Analysts are expecting earnings to grow by 4.6% in the first quarter of 2020 and as much as 9.4% on a year-over-year basis.
“The confidence that investors have in the re-acceleration of the economy and profits hasn’t been shaken, and you need that to justify prices where they are and to continue to see positive performance in 2020,” Thomas Hainlin, global investment strategist at Ascent Private Capital Management at U.S. Bank, told The Wall Street Journal.
Forward price-to-earnings jumped to 19 — meaning investors are paying 19 times for every dollar of company earnings — while the five-year average is 16.7 and the 10-year average is 14.9, according to FactSet.
The sectors expected to have double-digit growth earnings growth are energy, industrial and material. But some growth is expected across all 11 S&P 500 sectors in 2020.
Tom Essaye, president of the Sevens Report, said in a note to clients that the near 10% rally the S&P 500 pulled off in the fourth quarter of last year was driven by the idea that “the U.S.-China trade truce combined with global central bank easing (and specifically the Fed being very dovish) will result in a rebound in global growth and U.S. corporate earnings early in 2020,” as reported by MarketWatch.
However, it is possible that companies experience slim earnings growth, which could leave markets with room to fall, rather than grow. The S&P 500 is only about 4% away from where some analysts projected it would end in 2020.
“To us, it looks like quite a bit of the rebound is priced in already,” Hainlin said.