Lombardi: Stock Market Commentary & Forecasts, Financial & Economic Analysis Since 1986

Posts Tagged ‘earnings growth’

The Economy: What Will Break the Camel’s Back This Year

By for Profit Confidential

Baltic Dry Index Collapses Again; Not a Good Sign for EconomyThe International Monetary Fund (IMF) has lowered its growth forecast for the global economy. It says the world economy will now grow by 3.6% in 2014 and 3.9% in 2015; it grew at three percent in 2013. (Source: International Monetary Fund, April 8, 2014.)

I see the IMF forecast on global growth as being far too optimistic. In fact, I think we’d be lucky to get three percent growth in the global economy this year. Key indicators I follow suggest demand in the global economy is close to outright collapsing.

Consider the chart below of the Baltic Dry Index (BDI). This index tracks the shipping prices of dry goods in the global economy. If it declines, it suggests global demand is declining. The BDI has plunged more than 48% since the beginning of the year, pointing to slow growth for the global economy ahead.

Battic Dry Index Chart Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

Manufacturing is another indicator of demand in the global economy that we follow. If manufacturing activity increases, it means demand is increasing and that consumers are buying more. Sadly, global manufacturing is suggesting an economic slowdown is the most likely scenario ahead.

The JPMorgan Global Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index declined to its lowest level in five months in March. (Source: Markit, April 1, 2014.)

Adding to the misery, most economic hubs are telling the same tale.

The eurozone is still in trouble; the European Central Bank is contemplating its own quantitative easing program as Italy just reported its highest unemployment rate ever recorded. China is pumping out weak economic data. Japan’s economic slowdown isn’t taking any break despite the central bank … Read More

One-Third of S&P 500 Companies Report No Revenue Growth

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Why This Is Such a Risky Stock MarketThose who follow the stock market closely know that on days when we hear the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve speak and she mentions something about “easing” or how the central bank will continue to use its “extraordinary measures” for a long period of time, the stock market jumps.

I’ve talked about this phenomenon many times in these pages. Another example of this happened on March 31, when the Fed chairwoman spoke in Chicago. Please see the chart below. It’s a minute stock chart of the S&P 500. I’ve circled a rough area around the time when Janet Yellen spoke.

 SPX S&P 500 Large Cap Index ChartChart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

As she spoke more of that “easing” talk, the stock market jumped, as usual.

So it has come to the point where the stock market rises when it hears the Fed will keep interest rates artificially low for a prolonged period of time and when a poor jobs report comes out (like last Friday morning’s), saying jobs have been created in spite of the fact that there is a heavy concentration of jobs growth in low-paying sectors and millions of people have given up looking for work.

In other words, we have reached the point where the stock market takes any news as a reason to move higher; this is characteristic of a market top.

When we look at the fundamentals of the stock market, we see companies in the S&P 500 are using financial engineering to boost per-share earnings. These companies have bought back their shares and have been cutting costs to boost profits as revenue growth just isn’t there anymore.

The proof? In the … Read More

Top Wealth-Creating Stocks Defying Stock Market Sell-Off?

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What Stocks Are Defying the Near-Term Stock Market TrendWith the broader stock market selling off, it’s amazing to see a company’s share price defy the near-term trend and appreciate in value.

Time and time again, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) gets bid when the broader market faces convulsion. It’s a powerful signal, and there is still a great deal of angst among institutional investors; they still want those dividends and the relative safety of earnings that are predictable.

Johnson & Johnson has been—and continues to be—an excellent wealth creator. The stock’s been bouncing off $95.00 a share the last while and just recently, it seems to have broken past this price ceiling.

There’s not a lot new with this position. One Wall Street firm recently boosted its earnings expectations for the company in 2015. Sales growth is expected to be in the low single-digits this year, but annual earnings growth combined with dividends should be in the low double-digits once again. The company reports its first-quarter numbers on April 15.

There’s definitely been a change in investor sentiment regarding speculative positions. Biotechnology stocks, which have been the market’s multiyear winning sector have finally seen investors book profits. It’s been long overdue and from a market perspective, is a healthy development for the primary trend.

The selling migrated to large-cap technology names and the shakedown just might last a while longer. Anything can happen during an earnings season, but a “sell in May and go away” type of scenario is a real possibility again this year.

Other blue chip names that are also defying the market’s recent action include 3M Company (MMM), Union Pacific Corporation (UNP), Kimberly-Clark Corporation (KMB), Microsoft … Read More

Does Risk Trump Returns in This Stock Market Environment?

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Why Risk Now Trumps Stock Market ReturnsGoing by the choppy trading action this year, investment risk with equities is going up.

Recent shocks to the system include events in Ukraine and Crimea, Chinese economic data, and Citigroup Inc.’s (C) failed stress test.

This is a very uneasy stock market, and because the main indices are right around their highs, any shock has the potential to deliver a serious haircut to asset prices. The choppy, trendless action combined with full valuations is the reason why I’ve been advocating taking profits from speculative positions. This stock market is just plain tired out.

First-quarter earnings season is just around the corner, and while it’s looking like we’ll get more of the same from corporations (a meet-or-beat on only one financial metric, revenues or earnings) the stock market needs more than dividends and share buybacks in order for share prices to keep appreciating.

Blue chips, especially, have been coasting along, providing single-digit earnings growth on modest sales. The icing on the cake has been the rising dividends and share repurchases, which the stock market has eaten up over the last two years.

But sentiment is slowly changing regarding share repurchases. Big investors want to see more than these financial tools in the businesses they own. Rising dividends are always great, but you need underlying revenue and earnings growth to sustain the case. And in order to do so, corporations have to make new investments. They’ve been very reticent to date.

Healthy balance sheets are always desirable, but new business investment and innovation is what creates wealth over the long-term. Everything’s been short-term thinking the last few years, and companies … Read More

Just How Stupid Do Public Companies Think Investors Are?

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When All Else Fails to Explain Declining Earnings, Blame the WeatherAccording to FactSet, between January 1 and mid-March of this year, 195 of the S&P 500 companies have used the word “weather” in some manner in their conference calls. This is 81% higher than the same period a year ago, when 108 of the S&P 500 companies used the term “weather” in their conference calls. (Source: FactSet, March 14, 2014.)

Public companies in key stock indices are preparing investors for poor first-quarter earnings by saying poor (extra cold) weather conditions this year are putting a damper on sales.

Take FedEx Corporation (NYSE/FDX) as an example of the many companies on key stock indices blaming the weather for dismal corporate earnings. While presenting its most recent quarterly corporate earnings for the three months ended February 28, the CEO of the company said, “While severe winter weather often affects our (fiscal) third-quarter results, the impact from multiple severe storms and frigid temperatures was significantly more pronounced this year and we are reducing our full-year earnings per share guidance as a result of the weather impact.” (Source: “FedEx Corp. Reports Third Quarter Results,” FedEx Corporation, March 19, 2014.)

How can you lay blame on one quarter’s “bad weather” for the entire year’s earnings performance? The way I look at it, the “weather” is just a “blame factor” for companies in key stock indices that are facing earnings growth issues.

Stock analysts have really been busy lowering their corporate earnings expectations for companies in key stock indices. In the first quarter of this year, on average, analysts expect the corporate earnings of the S&P 500 companies to increase by only 0.3%. At the end … Read More

Two Most Important Charts on Stocks You Will See This Year

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What a Bubble Looks LikeThis month marks the fifth year of the rally in stocks that started in March of 2009. Back then, the Dow Jones Industrial Average traded as low as 6,400 and uncertainty was severe. In the midst of all this, a buying opportunity of a lifetime was born. I told my readers to buy close to when the market bottomed in March of 2009.

Five years later, the opposite is happening. I continue to believe the stock market is reaching a top; I continue to tell my readers stocks are very risky. The upside potential for the stock market is diminishing and the risks of a severe downside move are increasing: preserve your capital is my message now.

From March of 2009 to the end of February 2014, the S&P 500 has gone up about 155%. Other indices like the Dow Jones Industrial Average and NASDAQ Composite have shown similar—if not better—performances.

But as key stock indices soar, we are seeing the fundamentals that traditionally drive stocks higher weaken. Corporate insiders are dumping stocks at an alarming rate; corporate earnings growth has dropped to its slowest pace since 2009; the Volatility Index is near the low it was at just before stocks collapsed in 2007; and margin debt on the NYSE has reached a record high—all very bearish factors.

And from a technical point of view, something interesting has also happened on the key stock indices. Below is the weekly chart of the S&P 500.

$ SPX S&P 500 Large Cap Index Chart

Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

Since the beginning of 2012, there hasn’t been any major correction or pullback in the stock market and trading volume has steadily … Read More

Stock Margin Debt Reaches Record-High, Surpassing 2007 Pre-Crash Level

By for Profit Confidential

Proof Stocks Are Near Their TopAs key stock indices like the S&P 500 make new highs, bullishness increases almost daily, and stock advisors are saying buy more.

I am not surprised by this. All of these irrationalities tell us something very important: the bear is doing a great job of luring investors back into stocks as it gets ready to take their money away once again.

Dear reader, heed the warning signs of a market top…

Those who are very close to the companies in key stock indices are selling their shares at an extreme pace. According to CNBC, in February, insiders sold $5.3 billion worth of shares and bought roughly $268 million worth of shares; for every one dollar of stock they bought in February, they sold about $20.00 worth. (Source: “Insider Activity and Concentration by Industry,” CNBC web site, last accessed March 5, 2014.)

According to the Vickers Weekly Insider Report, corporate insiders are more bearish on the stocks of the companies they work for today than at any other time since 2007. (Source: MarketWatch, March 4, 2014.)

But insider selling activity isn’t the only indicator that worries me about the direction of the key stock indices. We see problems in corporate earnings, as well.

The number of companies warning about their corporate earnings for the first quarter of 2014 continues to increase. So far, 84 companies on the S&P 500 have issued negative guidance about their first-quarter 2014 corporate earnings. (Source: FactSet, February 28, 2014.) Remember: corporate earnings, at the core, are what drive the key stock indices higher. Even analysts aren’t very optimistic about corporate earnings; they are expecting first-quarter … Read More

The Untold Story of the Tapped U.S. Consumer

By for Profit Confidential

Consumer Debt Posts Biggest Quarterly RunOne of the most important lessons I have learned over my investing career is to go back to the basics when I’m unsure about something and see if it all makes sense.

Remember 2007 and the important year it was for the stock market? Investors bought stocks that year without paying much attention to the fundamentals. Then in 2009, the stocks of some of the most well-known companies in the world got punished for no apparent reason; but investors didn’t buy stocks in 2009, because they thought the bottom would fall out of the economy.

Yes, I know the above are two extreme examples of investors being too greedy or too fearful, and thus, they made the wrong investment decisions; but a few years from now, I think we could be looking back at 2014 and making the same comparison.

Here’s what I’m talking about…

These days, no matter where you look, the general census among economists is that the U.S. economy is witnessing economic growth. We hear stock advisors defend their bullish positions with arguments of increasing auto sales in the U.S. economy, jobs creation, and companies posting great profits (all fallacies).

But as I have argued many times in these pages, the U.S. economy is stressed and fragile. Auto sales are strong because we have sub-prime loans for auto buyers coming into play; jobs growth in the U.S. economy has been meek and concentrated in low-paying service jobs; public companies are posting per-share earnings growth because of record stock buybacks; and Americans are increasing their spending by either tapping into their savings or by borrowing money.

Something very … Read More

If You Think Our Stock Market Is Overpriced, Wait Until You See This

By for Profit Confidential

Why We Are Reaching a Stock Market TopThe stock market in France has been on a tear! Below, I present a chart of the French CAC 40 Index, the main stock market index in France.

Looking at the chart, we see the French stock market is trading at a five-year high. With such a strong stock market, one would expect France, the second-largest economy in the eurozone, to be doing well. But it’s the exact opposite!

As its stock market rallies, France’s economic slowdown is gaining steam. In January, the unemployment rate in France was unchanged; it has remained close to 11% for a year now. (Source: Eurostat, February 28, 2014.) Consumer spending in the French economy declined 2.1% in January after declining 0.1% in December. (Source: National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, February 28, 2014.) Other key indicators of the French economy are also pointing to an economic slowdown for the country.

CAC French CAC 40 Index (EOD) Chart

Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

And France isn’t the only place in the eurozone still experiencing a severe economic slowdown. In January, the unemployment rate in Italy, the third-biggest nation in the eurozone, hit a record-high of 12.9%, compared to 11.8% a year ago.

I have not mentioned Greece, Spain, and Portugal because they have been discussed in these pages many times before; as my readers are well aware, they are in a state of outright depression.

Just like how investors have bought into the U.S. stock market again in hopes of U.S. economic growth, the same thing has happened in the eurozone. Investors have put money into France’s stock market in hopes of that economy recovering—but it hasn’t. We are dealing with a … Read More

Reckless New Fad: Companies Raise Money to Buy Back Stock, Pay Dividends

By for Profit Confidential

The Tale of Share Buybacks Few TellLast Thursday, the CEO of DIRECTV (NASDAQ/DTV) said “…we are pleased to announce a share repurchase program of $3.5 billion. This repurchase program reflects our strong balance sheet and confidence in continued strong DIRECTV revenue, earnings and free cash flow growth, as well as our belief that our stock is far below our intrinsic value.” (Source: “DIRECTV Announces Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2013 Results,” DIRECTV, February 20, 2014.)

DIRECTV is buying back its shares because it believes they are undervalued? Since when did CEOs of companies on key stock indices become stock pickers?

In 2013, DIRECTV’s total corporate earnings came in at $2.85 billion. That means the company is spending 122% of what it made in 2013 to buy back its stock. Talk about pumping up per-share earnings!

Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ/CSCO), another major component of key stock indices, reports it is “raising” $8.0 billion to repay some of its debt. It will use the remainder of the money to buy back its shares and pay dividends. (Source: Cisco Systems, Inc., February 24, 2014.) Yes, instead of raising money to invest in equipment, technology, or research and development (R&D), the new fad is for companies to raise money to buy back their shares and pay dividends.

These are only two examples of companies in key stock indices using share buybacks to make their per-share corporate earnings look better. There are many others that are doing the exact same thing.

Dear reader, with corporate earnings growth falling to its lowest level since 2009, companies have no choice but to prop up earnings via stock buyback programs. Companies in key stock … Read More

The Opportunity Coming to the Luxury Retail Stocks

By for Profit Confidential

The Pros and Cons I See in the Retail Sector Right NowWe all know how bad this winter has been so far. The harsh weather across the majority of the country has impacted jobs growth, commerce, housing, and consumer spending.

Of course, with the spring season on the horizon, we’ll soon see if the weak economic metrics mentioned were really an aberration due to the weather—or a sign of further slowing to come.

From what I can tell right now, we are definitely seeing some growth issues in the retail sector that have been attributed to the winter weather. The Home Depot, Inc. (NYSE/HD) reported a somewhat flat quarter, as did Lowes Companies, Inc. (NYSE/LOW). However, I understand why they’ve reported flat numbers—it’s winter; who wants to renovate or build when it’s so cold outside?

Bellwether Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE/WMT) is also struggling to attract consumers to its doors. The global retailer delivered flat sales and earnings growth in its fiscal 2014; revenues grew a mere 1.6%, while earnings growth was not much better at an even two percent. Clearly, we are seeing some hesitancy in consumer spending and the retail sector.

The winter-related turmoil is not confined to just one area, though; it has impacted many retailers. However, the luxury side appears to be faring well, with excellent growth still at Michael Kors Holdings Limited (NYSE/KORS). This luxury retailer is providing staggering growth despite the sluggish retail sector. (Read “Stock Falling, but Rich Still Spending; My Top Luxury Stock Play.”) Clearly, the more affluent part of the masses continues to do very well, especially with the continued advance in the stock market, which has produced many new millionaires…. Read More

Stock Prices and U.S. GDP; Historic Relationship Turns Bearish

By for Profit Confidential

Historic Relationship Tur​ns BearishIn the first five weeks of this year, investors bought $22.0 billion worth of long-term stock mutual funds. (Source: Investment Company Institute, February 12, 2014.)

But as investors poured money into the stock market, hoping to ride the 2013 wave of higher stock prices, stocks did the opposite and went down. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down three percent so far this year.

Looking at the bigger picture, corporate earnings and key stock indices valuations are still stretched. The S&P 500’s 12-month forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio stands at 15.1. This ratio is currently overvalued by roughly nine percent when compared to its 10-year average, and 15% compared to its five-year average. (Source: FactSet, February 14, 2014.)

This isn’t the only indicator that says key stock indices have gotten too far ahead of themselves. In the chart below, I have plotted U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) against the S&P 500.

S&P 500 Large Cap Index ChartChart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

The chart clearly shows a direct relationship between GDP and the S&P 500. When U.S. GDP increases, the S&P 500 follows in the same direction, and vice versa. When we look at the 2008–2009 period (which I’ve circled in the chart above), we see that when GDP plunged, the S&P 500 followed in the same direction.

Going into 2014, we saw production in the U.S. economy decline; consumer spending is pulling back, unemployment is still an issue, and the global economy is slowing. U.S. GDP is far from growing at the rate it did after the Credit Crisis. Take another look at the chart above. In 2011, you’ll see U.S. GDP was very strong; but after … Read More

These Two Indicators Say U.S. GDP is Already Declining in 2014

By for Profit Confidential

2014 Worst Growth Year for World Economies Since 2009In 2013, the U.S. economy, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), rose at an average rate of 1.9% compared to 2.8% in 2012. And as it stands, GDP may slow further in 2014.

What makes me think this?

In January, U.S. industrial production declined by 0.3% from the previous month. This was the first decline in production since August of 2013. Production of automotive products in the U.S. economy declined by 5.15%, and appliances, furniture, and carpeting production declined by 0.6% in the month. (Source: Federal Reserve, February 14, 2014.)

And factories in the U.S. economy just aren’t as busy as they used to be. The capacity utilization rate, a measure of companies using their potential production, was 78.5% in January. The average rate between 1979 and 2013 has been 80.1%. While a difference of two percent in factory utilization isn’t a big number, because overhead is often fixed in factories, a two-percent decline in production is a big deal.

Then there’s the inventory problem; inventories in the U.S. economy continue to increase. In December, inventories at manufacturers increased by another 0.5% to $1.7 trillion. From December 2012, they have increased by 4.4%. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, February 14, 2014.)

We have a situation in the U.S. economy today where factories are working at lower capacity than they have historically, while business inventories are rising—two bad omens for the economy; hence, you can see why I’m concerned about economic growth in 2014.

It’s a domino effect…

Inventories increasing suggest consumer demand is stalling. Examples of consumer spending declining in the U.S. economy are many. As I have … Read More

Buy High, Sell Higher: Top Investment Strategy for Buoyant Markets?

By for Profit Confidential

Momentum on Your Side in Buoyant MarketsTesla Motors, Inc. (TSLA) has been an excellent trade. The position has recovered strongly and is a very good example for traders who speculate on changes in investor sentiment.

Trading a stock like Tesla is about price momentum as much as anything. And every business, no matter how successful or fast-growing, experiences operational difficulty. This creates opportunity for a trader who is comfortable going against the market.

Tesla ran into problems with its “Model S” and was required to do a recall to help prevent battery fires after an accident. It was a short-lived but perfect storm in investor sentiment, which created an attractive new entry point for traders. (See “The Stock Everyone Is Talking About; How Much Higher Can It Go?”) The company’s stock chart is featured below:

 Tesla Motors INc ChartChart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

While many investors/traders are attracted to low-priced or penny stocks for their turnaround potential, these stocks are usually down for a reason. In buoyant, highly liquid capital markets like we have today, a buy-high/sell-higher type of strategy can pay off.

The risk is that the price momentum ends, whether it is due to a material corporate event or a general decline in speculative fervor. Biotechnology stocks as a specific stock market sector are particularly prone to strong price momentum because of the strong participation from institutional traders.

Tesla is now a $24.0-billion company. The position didn’t do that much after listing, then it just exploded with extremely strong price momentum on much higher-than-average volume.

As a research strategy, scanning the stock market for new highs can yield some very good trades and/or stocks worth following … Read More

The Great Squeeze Play

By for Profit Confidential

The Growing Disparity Between Corporate Profits and WagesAs more and more public companies warn about weak fourth-quarter corporate earnings reports, quite a number of them are resorting to the use of words like “corporate restructuring” or “cost cutting.” At the very core, these cost-cutting measures mean reducing the number of employees working at these companies.

Let’s face the facts: companies on key stock indices are struggling to keep revenue and profits rising. The share buyback “thing” is getting old (after all, how much money do these companies have to throw at stock buybacks?), so to show better corporate earnings, reducing work forces is the easiest thing to do.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE/WMT) says it plans to lay off 2,300 assistant managers and hourly employees at its Sam’s Club stores. (Source: CNBC, January 24, 2014.)

Abbott Laboratories (ABT) recently let go an unspecified number of employees at its Lake County headquarters. In the conference call to investors about its fourth-quarter corporate earnings, the CFO of the company simply said, “[the company] will take further actions to reduce out expenses… get our support structure at appropriate levels.” (Source: “Abbott Laboratories launches round of layoffs,” Chicago Tribune, January 28, 2014.)

And as I told you last week…

Intel Corporation (NASDAQ/INTC) said it will be reducing its workforce by 5,000 this year. Here’s what the company spokesman, Chris Kraeuter, had to say: “This is part of aligning our human resources to meet business needs.” (Source: “Intel to reduce global workforce by five percent in 2014,” Reuters, January 17, 2014.) Intel had flat fourth-quarter 2013 corporate earnings.

Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE/HPQ), another major company in the key stock indices, is taking a … Read More

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