Q3 earnings should be good, but uncertainty remains high

As Q3 ends and with reporting season set to begin in the coming weeks, we can update the current consensus earnings outlooks for Q3 and Q4 as well as calendar year 2021 and 2022 for the S&P 500. Earnings should be up a lot from last year, but uncertainty among analysts remains quite high.

For Q3, S&P 500 earnings are expected to be up 28% from a year ago according to Factset, another big percentage gain. That figure is higher than it was at the start of the quarter (it was 24% on June 30th) but has been stable since July and down marginally since the end of August. So the pace of gains in aggregate index earnings has eased, but estimates are still rising modestly on balance.

Supportive and predictable policy helping keep equity volatility low

Major equity indices globally have been remarkably stable in recent months, pushing realized volatility readings to very low levels.

Our own research along with that of many others has shown that volatility in equities tends to be persistent in the shorter-term, while tending to mean-revert in the long-term.

Beyond the movements of a single index like the MSCI ACWI or S&P 500, we can also see that the average three-month volatility across a broad array of major developed markets individually is extremely low (chart below). This average of 18 countries’ volatility (based on their respective MSCI country equity benchmark index) is in the bottom decile of its 10-year range right now. This means that it is not just the dominant US market that has had low volatility, nor is it only the diversification effects that can dampen volatility in a broad global index, it is in fact a global pattern of low equity market volatility across many markets.

Analyst uncertainty still high even as earnings estimates surge

As we have discussed for some time now, equity analysts are raising their forecasts for corporate earnings more broadly and by larger amounts than at any previous time in our 20-year data history. However, while analysts are confident earnings are rising, they still show significant uncertainty about the future level of earnings, as reflected in the dispersion or disagreement in estimates for US companies.

Earnings uncertainty still extremely high going into Q2 reporting season

As Q2 earnings season gets underway, the level of uncertainty about future earnings among analysts remains extremely high. Despite somewhat calmer equity market activity recently, our data shows that the level of disagreement among analysts regarding earnings over the next 12 months (NTM) is still well above the highest levels reached in the Great Financial Crisis (2008-09) period (chart below).