The earnings season is all over except for the shouting, but the outcome doesn’t remotely validate Wall Street’s happy times narrative. Reported Q4 earnings for the S&P 500 companies (with about two-thirds reporting) stand at $25.02 per share compared to $26.48 in the year ago quarter. That’s right. So far Q4 profits are down 5% but shrinking corporate profits is something that you most definitely have not heard about on bubble vision. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We have had a tremendous inflation of PE multiples during the last three years in anticipation, apparently, of the US economy hitting escape velocity and the overall global economy continuing to power onwards and upwards. As is evident from the financial news and “incoming” data, however, that presumption is not remotely correct.
It was less than 24 hours after we posted that either oil will double from here allowing energy companies to grow into a normal P/E multiple, or energy stocks will have to crash by over 40% for the ridiculous 23x to return to its normal, long-term average of 13.6x. Moments ago energy giant Chevron admitted that not only does it not see oil doubling any time soon, but that energy prices are almost certain to go far lower from here, and as a result the company decided that after buying back $5 billion of its shares in 2014, i.e., buying high and higher before the stock crashes may not be the best use of dwindling cash flow, and as a result has just suspended its stock buyback program of the rest of 2015. Yes, energy giant Chevron just ended its buyback!
The energy market in a nutshell: Either energy sector earnings have to surge by 70%, implying a near doubling of oil prices to $88, for the forward P/E multiple to return to normal, or the Energy sector prices have to crash from 549 today to 323, where it would trade down to its historic forward P/E multiple, suggesting a price drop of over 40%!
The global financial system has come unglued. Everywhere the real world evidence points to cooling growth, faltering investment, slowing trade, vast excess industrial capacity, peak private debt, public fiscal exhaustion, currency wars, intensified politico-military conflict and an unprecedented disconnect between debt-saturated real economies and irrationally exuberant financial markets.
"The decline in asset yields especially during QE3 created large wealth effects. Since the Fed's QE started at the end of 2008 the PE multiple of the S&P500 index (12-month forward) went up by five points, from 10.5 at the end of 2008 to 15.5 currently. This PE multiple expansion is responsible for around 650 index points or 32% of the current S&P500 index level. Extending that to the total stock of US corporate equities ($29tr currently), it implies an equity wealth boost of $9tr."
The last time the stock market reached a fevered peak and began to wobble unexpectedly was August 2007. Markets were most definitely not in the classic “price discovery” business. Instead, the stock market had discovered the “goldilocks economy." But what is profoundly different this time is that the Fed is out of dry powder. Its can’t slash the discount rate as Bernanke did in August 2007 or continuously reduce it federal funds target on a trip from 6% all the way down to zero. Nor can it resort to massive balance sheet expansion. That card has been played and a replay would only spook the market even more. So this time is different. The gamblers are scampering around the casino fixing to buy the dip as soon as white smoke wafts from the Eccles Building. But none is coming. For the first time in 25- years, the Wall Street gamblers are home alone.
Is there something particularly notable about a 17x trailing PE multiple on the S&P 500? According to Deustche's David Bianco, there is especially during mid to late cycle expansions, i.e., after three (or much more in this case with the S&P 500 now repoting 5+ years of EPS growth) years of rising earnings. In fact, as DB calculates, the only two periods of a PE over 17 after 3 years from the last EPS decline are 1965-66 and 1996-98 (Figure 2) below. And right now. It should be self-explanatory that both of those historic periods ended with a sharp equity correction.
During the last 64 months “buying the dips” has been a fabulously successful proposition. So yesterday’s 2% dip will undoubtedly be construed as still another buying opportunity by the well-trained seals and computerized algos which populate the Wall Street casino. But that could be a fatal mistake for one overpowering reason: The radical monetary policy experiment behind this parabolic graph is in the final stages of its appointed path toward self-destruction.
The attached Barron’s article appeared in December 2007 as an outlook for the year ahead, and Wall Street strategists were waxing bullish. Notwithstanding the advanced state of disarray in the housing and mortgage markets, soaring global oil prices and a domestic economic expansion cycle that was faltering and getting long in the tooth, Wall Street strategists were still hitting the “buy” key. In fact, the Great Recession had already started but they didn’t have a clue: "Against this troubling backdrop, it’s no wonder investors are worried that the bull market might end in 2008. But Wall Street’s top equity strategists are quick to dismiss such fears."
The overpowering and incessant statist economic management of the American economy, as reflected in the Ex-Im extension mobilization now underway, is causing the engines of capitalist prosperity to shutdown. The main culprit, of course, is our monetary central planners in the Eccles Building. But they are only the leading edge - the exemplar that tells Washington day in and day out that without constant ministrations by agencies of the state, our capitalist economy would continuously under-preform and tumble into the ditch. So what is at stake in the Ex-Im battle is the future of market capitalism itself. If Washington lacks the capacity to say no to the shareholders of a few big US corporations that can be counted on one hand, then the statist predicate will triumph finally and for ever more.
According to a recent analysis by Goldman, in 2014 the US household is on track to withdraw a whopping $430 billion from US corporate stocks. i.e., sell. This will be the biggest net outflow by the Household group, which has constantly withdrawn cash from equities over the past decade, since the last market peak.
Who says Amazon is only good for putting other retailers out of business with its 1% margins: in the aftermath of Jeff Bezos' announcement that the online retailer is considering launching drone delivery, one company took the concept from merely the theoretical stage to practical implication. The company in question is a Minnesota Micro Brewery called Lakemaid Brewery and the product it had hoped to deliver by remote control airplane to ice fishermen is beer. However, before beer fans around the country rejoice at the prospect of having a buzzing airborne beer delivery, we have some sad news: less than a week after the company posted a promotional YouTube video showcasing the first test flights across mid-sized lakes, the Federal Aviation Administration called Lakemaid Beer to immediately pull the unmanned beer from the skies.
It was all looking so good. NASDAQ was green for the year (so were Trannies), stocks in general were rising and everyone on TV could proclaim how well the 'market' was handling the taper. Then Dennis Lockhart spoke...
*LOCKHART SEES `GROWING CONFIDENCE' IN 2014 OUTLOOK, U.S. ECONOMY ON `MORE SOLID' FOOTING
*LOCKHART BACKS $10 BLN TAPER AS CONFIDENCE IN 2014 GROWS
That's great news right? Wrong? Stocks didn't like it... and NASDAQ rapidly gave up its gains... Fun-durr-mentals remain in control eh? It shouldn't be a big surprise given what Goldman Sachs warned about over the weekend!
We noted on Thursday, when Alcoa reported, that "non-recurring, one-time" charges are anything but; indicating just how freely the company abuses the non-GAAP EPS definition, and how adding back charges has become ordinary course of business. But it's not just Alcoa, and as David Stockman, author The Gret Deformation, notes Wall Street’s institutionalized fiddle of GAAP earnings made P/E multiples appear far lower than they actually are, and thereby helps perpetuate the myth that the market is "cheap."