The S&P 500 is within a few points of an all-time high.
However, earnings growth estimates and forecasts continue to come down.
“The estimated earnings growth rate for Q1 2013 is -0.6%,” wrote FactSet’s John Butters in a note on Friday. “On December 31,the earnings growth rate for Q1 2013 was 2.2%.
“Since the start of the first quarter (December 31), analysts have also reduced earnings growth expectations for Q2 2013 (to 4.9% from 6.3%), Q3 2013 (to 10.1% from 10.4%), and Q4 2013 (to 15.7% from 17.3%).”
Earnings growth is the most important driver of stock market returns. So, it can be a bit jarring to see stocks rise as earnings expectations fall.
The technical term for this phenomenon is “multiples expansion” as the price-to-earnings ratio is increasing. When multiples are expanding, stocks are getting more expensive.
Some stock market bulls argue that valuations should justifiably be higher.
But the bears will warn that eventually, these cracks in earnings expectations will catch up to the market and manifest in a sell-off.
For now, the bears who have been banking on earnings expectations falling are looking pretty stupid.
Here’s the chart from Factset:
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