It’s official: Wall Street thinks earnings growth in 2016 will be negative.
And if this forecast comes to bear, it will mark the first time since 2008-2009 that earnings for the S&P 500 declined in two straight years.
This time around, however, the year-on-year declines would be far less than the cratering of profits we saw during the crisis, with 2015 earnings dropping 0.8% and 2016 earnings now forecast to fall 0.3%.
In contrast, earnings in 2008 and 2009 dropped 25.4% and 8%, respectively, during the heart of the crisis.
Additionally, most of this decline is coming from one sector: energy.
Earnings in the energy sector are now forecast to fall 72% in 2016 after a 98% decline in 2015. Excluding energy, earnings for the benchmark stock index should rise 2.8% in 2016. Still not great, but not negative.
The continued decline in oil prices — which recently re-entered a bear market — is putting pressure on the sector’s profitability, which of course was dinged hard in 2015 amid a roughly 70% decline in oil prices.
And while earnings are in theory the driver of the stock market, the behaviour we’ve seen over the last couple years has frustrated investors of all stripes.
Earnings have been flat since basically 2014 with the corporate sector effectively entering recession last year. Meanwhile, despite the jarring Brexit vote and other bouts of market volatility, the S&P 500 has been grinding to new highs. The market, in short, isn’t really moving up enough to get a new crop of bulls excited, though it’s experiencing just enough of a positive bump to make market bears frustrated.
Or as David Rosenberg, strategist at Gluskin Sheff, wrote in a note to clients on Thursday:
“We have a situation here where the US major average manged to rally 20% in a five-quarter earnings recession that saw corporate profits decline 20%. Three quarters in a row of 1% GDP growth, declining productivity, and a recession in business capital spending. Earnings-per-share revisions are back on the downslope. Bank credit guidelines are tightening up. The credit cycle is looking extended. Surreal.”
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