Sorry QEasy Momentum Chasers: The Economy Still Matters (A Lot)

Tyler Durden's picture

Watching as the market responds to every piece of bad economic news as if a brand new golden age had just been announced, can sure leave one dazed and confused with nauseating amazement at the success of central planning. Unfortunately for the central planners, and as demonstrated in the previous "Godfather" post, central planning can only do so much (as confirmed holistically by the empirical example of the USSR: no, Benny and the Inkjets are not the first to come up with the brilliant idea of having 13 people run $15 trillion out of a small room). As the following example from John Lohman vividly demonstrates, GDP does and always will impact stocks. Granted it may take them a little longer to respond, especially when prodded by the central printer, but ultimately what has to happen happens. And paritcularly when reaching key inflection points. Such as now. As Lohman notes, "As shown, the growth rate in S&P 500 earnings estimates, and hence expected earnings, has always peaked when the spread between estimates and GDP is more than 1 standard deviation from the mean.  In the most recent cycle the spread between profit expectations and economic reality has gone to all-time highs, but has now reversed.  As further empirical evidence of this phenomenon, the right side of the table at the bottom highlights the change to expectations in subsequent quarters.  Note that they are negative in every instance." Unfortunately, Bernanke can push stocks by promising the moon and the stars, but unless he succeeds in actually pushing GDP up, all his efforts to create a wealth effect will be very soon undone. And with fiscal stimulus still a kneeslapping joke (we won't dwell on the topic of the latest fiasco between Obama and Boehner, suffice to say that if the two can't come up with a decision on how to meet, how on earth will they agree on trillions in fiscal stimulus, especially at a time when America is under "austerity"), we remind readers that according to economists, when using monetary policy to boost GDP, every trillion in LSAPs is equivalent to 0.50% in GDP. Which means a whole lots of LSAPs are coming our way sooner or later.

S&P Earnings Estimates vs GDP, from John Lohman

As is well known, the profits of the 500 largest corporations rise at the same rate as gross domestic product over time.  In fact, the 80 year average of S&P 500 reported earnings growth and that of nominal GDP is a nearly identical 7.0%.  The only real difference between the two is volatility, as S&P earnings growth tends to outpace the economy during expansions and lag during downturns.  As such, the spread between the two offers insight into cyclical turning points.  This is particularly true near peaks, given the inherent incentive of analysts to be optimistic.
 
The chart below plots earnings estimates (a more forward looking measure than reported earnings, but in reality just a proxy) against GDP growth.  The bottom panel plots the spread between the two.  As shown, the growth rate in S&P 500 earnings estimates, and hence expected earnings, has always peaked when the spread between estimates and GDP is more than 1 standard deviation from the mean.  In the most recent cycle the spread between profit expectations and economic reality has gone to all-time highs, but has now reversed.  As further empirical evidence of this phenomenon, the right side of the table at the bottom highlights the change to expectations in subsequent quarters.  Note that they are negative in every instance.

The typical response to the chart above is that “the market is forward looking” and that it “sees through earnings estimates and future GDP growth”.  The chart below, which plots the same S&P earnings estimates only this time against S&P 500 returns, would beg to differ.