Is the Fed closer to its goals than we think?

Markets remain volatile, but the narrative driving the volatility has been shifting recently, a topic we have written about and discussed with clients recently. For much of the year, the concern was that the economy was “too strong” and inflation was out of control, and thus the Fed would need to raise rates and reduce their balance sheet quite aggressively to combat inflation.  The Fed has taken several steps in that direction, but now conditions have changed such that investors are more worried about growth slowing too quickly and turning into a recession rather than excessive inflation.

Macro events overshadow a positive earnings season

With macro events dominating the headlines (Ukraine, Fed, oil), along with a high-profile “blow up” or two (i.e., Meta, PayPal), it is perhaps not surprising that there has been less attention lately on the overall Q4 earnings season results. And while almost any earnings season might seem disappointing after the string of blockbuster quarters from late 2020 through 2021, the reports for Q4 2021 have in fact been reasonably good overall.  Thus far, the company guidance has been sufficiently supportive that analysts are still raising estimates for this year and next, a contrast to the usual pattern of trimming calendar year estimates over the course of a year.

Earnings expectations for 2022

With 2021 now in the history books, earnings reporting season for Q4 and the full year is set to begin soon. Below we update the current consensus earnings outlook for Q4 as well as the coming year for the S&P 500. We also drill into expectations for sector earnings growth for this year.

The bottom line, so to speak, is that analysts expect solid but more moderate growth in earnings of about 9%, led by gains in the Industrials and Energy sectors, with Financials and Real Estate the only sectors expected to show declines in earnings this year.

Tilting toward Growth over Value

One of the themes in our sector/style work recently has been to tilt somewhat more toward Growth over Value and Cyclical areas within the US market.

Why? Three key factors support Growth over Value, while one remains a concern.

 Our bottom-up aggregated earnings estimate revisions trends continue to favor Growth
 The relative performance trend has been shifting back to Growth over Value
 However . . . relative valuation of Growth versus Value remains stretched versus historical norms, though the interest rate backdrop is arguably a structural reason for that
 Also, the relative risk (volatility) differential of Growth vs Value has moved back in favor of Growth (i.e., Growth is now less volatile than Value on a rolling six-month basis).

Fundamental momentum slowing for Cyclical sectors

For some time we have noted that traditional Cyclical and Value sectors have had much stronger earnings estimate revisions activity (“fundamental momentum”) than Growth or Defensive sectors. That has been changing recently as cyclical sector estimates are less strong than before, and Growth and Defensive are holding up better. Thus we have recently been looking more favorably on certain Growth or Defensive sectors and neutralizing exposure to Cyclical/Value areas.

What is stagflation and is it making a comeback?

A frequent question lately has been: are we currently in, or about to enter, a period of “stagflation” like the late 1960s and 1970s as a result of COVID and policy responses? Our short answer is no: while inflation may be elevated for a while, growth is currently strong, structural inflation pressures are low, and policy is better now than in the 1970s, making any sustained stagflation conditions unlikely. Below we offer some historical context and our current views.

Growth rebound looks extended, as do long-term bonds

We have heard a number of client questions about the recent rebound in Growth stocks relative to Value (or Cyclical) stocks, so here we review some of the recent price action and one of the key cross-asset drivers.

The first chart below plots the relative performance of the S&P 500 Pure Growth versus Pure Value indices (top section) along with the 14-day RSI technical indicator (bottom section) as a measure of overbought/oversold conditions.

Inflation trend is still low

One of the biggest topics among investors recently has been inflation, particularly after the May Consumer Price Index (CPI) and Producer Price Index (PPI) reports (reflecting April data) that showed big monthly jumps in headline inflation: 0.8% for headline CPI and 0.6% for headline PPI. And the “core” rates that exclude food and energy were actually slightly higher than the headline rates in April.

Does The NASDAQ-100 Correction Have Further To Go?

The NASDAQ-100 Index (often known by its ticker symbol, NDX), home to many of the mega-cap Tech-related Growth stocks that have dominated the US stock market this year, has seen some corrective action this month. A common question we hear is: is the correction enough to say the NDX is no longer “stretched” after its historic surge through the end of August?

The chart below provides some context. For four different indices, it plots the percentage difference between the current index level and its 200-day moving average, a common measure of the longer-term trend. Excessive deviations from the 200-day average are often viewed as signals of extreme investor behavior that are likely to revert back toward the average.

Growth leadership easing as rotation increases

One of the most notable market trends in recent weeks has been the corrective action in the formerly high-flying US large-cap Growth stocks. The dominant Tech-oriented companies that have been responsible for much of the gains in US large-cap indices for several months finally saw some significant selling pressure in the first two weeks of September.

The first chart below shows absolute and relative returns for the S&P 500 Pure Growth and Pure Value indices (i.e., the style indices restricted to stocks that fall entirely into their indicated style, leaving out those with weight in both indices).