Analysts have become quite bearish on US earnings forecasts

A question we have heard several times from clients has been: when will equity analysts get as bearish as investors have been recently? Well, analysts may be getting closer to that point now, particularly for the large-cap US stocks that dominate the cap-weighted indices.

Sector Earnings Estimate Revisions Update: Divergence in Commodities

Tracking analyst earnings estimate revisions activity (i.e., are estimates rising or falling, and by how much?) is a key feature of our research. With earnings season underway, we can check in on how revisions activity looks across the 11 US sectors, where we find, among other things, a big divergence between the commodity-related sectors of Energy and Materials.

Corporate earnings are fine, but estimates are no longer rising broadly

The level and growth rate of corporate earnings remain reasonably good – earnings are at record highs, and are expected to grow about 10% this year and next. However, analysts are no longer revising their earnings forecasts higher on average, halting a trend that has generally been in place since mid-2020.

The table below shows the current consensus earnings per share estimates for the S&P 500 index (based on the bottom-up aggregation of individual company estimates). While estimates are slightly higher than they were three months ago, in the last month there has been essentially no change in either this year or next year’s estimate.

Sector estimate revisions led by Technology, Energy, and Real Estate

Earnings estimates in the US continue to rise overall, helped by the continued solid economic backdrop, but the pace has eased from last year’s extraordinarily positive levels and divergences among sectors are more visible now.

Part of our sector analysis includes monitoring the aggregate earnings estimate revisions trends for the 11 GICS sectors as well as the more granular industries (we track 62 in the US currently). One of the key metrics is what we call “revisions breadth”, which is the net proportion of analysts covering a stock who have most recently raised their earnings forecasts versus those who have lowered estimates. Thus breadth readings can theoretically range from +100% (if all analysts are raising estimates) to -100% (if all analysts are reducing estimates). Thus higher is better on revisions breadth as it indicates the fundamental news is broadly improving within a sector.

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.

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.

Market volatility vs Style volatility

Equity market volatility has been declining this year and has recently been below the long-run average. However, under the surface of the calm at the major index level, style rotation between Growth and Value has been extremely high.

The first chart below plots two rolling volatility series: the top section is the six-month annualized volatility of the S&P 500 index, while the bottom section is the volatility of the daily difference between the S&P 500 Pure Growth and Pure Value index returns. The dashed horizontal lines indicate the long-run average for each series.

Cyclical sectors still have the fundamental momentum

One of the biggest questions we have been getting from clients is “is it time to rotate out of Cyclical/Value sectors toward Growth (or Defensive) sectors?”. Based on our measures of fundamental earnings momentum and macro views, our answer is “not yet”.

There has certainly been rotation in relative returns among Cyclical/Value and Growth sectors recently, along with worries about when the Fed or fiscal policy will shift to a less supportive stance. Our view is that corrections or consolidations after large gains (on an absolute or relative basis) are healthy and to be expected, and that is likely what we are seeing in the Value/Growth relative performance recently.

S&P 500 earnings have fully recovered, but with wide differences among sectors

The S&P 500 has reported another strong earnings season for Q4, with 79% of companies beating consensus earnings estimates for the quarter. This would be the third highest such reading in Factset’s data since 2008. The beat rate for top-line sales was similarly high at 77%. Aggregate income for the index is about 4% above year-ago levels, indicating that net income on a quarterly basis has fully recovered pre-COVID levels based on Factset’s data.

US earnings estimate revisions trends remain strong amid Q4 earnings season

While certain heavily shorted stocks are getting much of the attention lately due to retail-driven price surges, the bigger picture news is Q4 earnings reports and analyst behavior.

We track earnings estimates for a broad universe of about 2300 US stocks (market cap of $200 million and up) and construct estimate revisions indicators using two key metrics: breadth and magnitude. Breadth is the net proportion of analysts raising versus lowering estimates for a stock, which is -100% if all analysts are cutting their earnings estimates and +100% if all are raising estimates (0 indicates a balance between positive and negative revisions, or no activity at all). We look at this proportion based on revisions that occurred over the last 100 calendar days (about one quarterly reporting cycle).