Weaker Earnings Outlook Weighs on Stocks

Amy Magnotta, CFA, Brinker Capital

I wrote last week about the shaky start to the earnings season. That trend has continued this week and it is weighing on equity prices. Companies are beating on the earnings side (over 60% have beat earnings estimates), but revenue growth has been disappointing. As of October 19, only 42% of companies were beating sales estimates, the lowest percentage since the first quarter of 2009 (Source: FactSet).

Source: FactSet

In addition, forward guidance has been abysmal. Large companies, such as Caterpillar, DuPont and United Technologies, have been cautious on growth looking forward, both in the U.S. and abroad.* The number of companies delivering negative guidance is multiples of those offering positive guidance. Coming into 2012 companies had relied on margin expansion to grow earnings, but with margins at peak levels, revenue growth must follow in order to meet consensus growth expectations. This will be difficult to accomplish in this sluggish growth environment.

Source: Strategas Research Partners

While the Fed has tried to boost liquidity and asset prices with more quantitative easing, investors seem to now be focusing on the fundamentals. The uncertain macro environment, including risks surrounding the U.S. fiscal cliff, Europe, and a slowdown in China, is beginning to flow through and impact company earnings. We expect growth estimates for 2013 to be downgraded in response.

*Individual securities listed are shown for illustrative purposes only.

Brinker Capital Market Commentary –July 5, 2012 by Amy Magnotta

After the “risk on” environment to start the year pushed risk assets sharply higher, we experienced a pull-back in the second quarter. The deepening crisis in the Eurozone and evidence of slower global growth weighed on the global financial markets and drove investors to the relative safety of the U.S. government bond markets.

Some positive factors remain, but the macro risks continue to dominate. We expect
continued sluggish growth in the U.S. because of ongoing deleveraging, regulatory
uncertainty and the looming fiscal cliff in 2013. While U.S. corporations are in good
shape with strong earnings and high levels of cash on their balance sheets, they are hesitant to put it to work because of the uncertain environment. We still lack sustained growth in real personal incomes, which is key to greater levels of consumption and stronger economic growth going forward. While the Federal Reserve remains accommodative and stands ready to act further, the effectiveness of their monetary policy tools is diminishing.

The Eurozone has begun to take steps toward addressing their sovereign debt crisis, but more needs to be done. Policymakers must also contend with a deepening recession in the region, which will send debt/GDP ratios even higher. The need for a bailout of Spanish banks prompted leaders to announce somewhat more aggressive measures at their recent summit. It remains unclear whether these policy options will actually be put into place; however, it appears that Europe is beginning to lay out a path forward, which is a positive.

While growth in developed markets is weak, growth in emerging markets has also slowed. Investors continue to watch China’s actions to see whether a hard landing can be averted. One positive corollary of a slowdown in global growth is receding inflationary pressures and lower commodity prices. Lower retail gas prices are a boost to the disposable incomes of consumers.

The unresolved macro risks will keep the markets susceptible to bouts of volatility as we enter the second half of the year. The U.S. Presidential election will likely add to that volatility. Because of massive government intervention in the global financial markets, we will continue to be susceptible to event risk.
Amy Magnotta, Portfolio Manager
Brinker Capital Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor

Investment Commentary From Brinker’s Joe Preisser 6-11-12

As investors across the globe continued to grapple with the uncertainty on the European continent, the prospect of additional, accommodative monetary policies being enacted by several of the world’s major Central Banks sent share prices higher across indices this week.  In Europe, on Wednesday, stocks rallied to their best single day performance in more than seven months following a meeting of the European Central Bank(ECB).  Although the rate setting committee elected to maintain the current level, the President of the ECB, Mario Draghi signaled that measures designed to stimulate the euro-zone’s economy would be forthcoming if growth were to falter.  According to Bloomberg News, “Global stocks rallied the most this year, the euro strengthened and commodities jumped on speculation policy makers will take steps to revive the slowing economy.” Mr. Draghi’s sentiments were echoed on this side of the proverbial ‘pond’ by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in an appearance before a Congressional budget committee in which he reiterated that the Central Bank, “remains prepared to take action as needed to protect the U.S. financial system and economy” (New York Times).

Stocks rose across continent’s in the wake of an unexpected decision by the Central Bank of China on Thursday, to cut interest rates for the first time since 2008, in an attempt to stimulate growth in what has been a slowing economy.  According to the New York Times, “China cut its benchmark lending rate Thursday, for the first time in nearly four years, adding to efforts to reverse a sharp economic downturn.” The nation’s policy makers are once again demonstrating their continued resolve to act in an effort to thwart the negative effects of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, which have rippled through the global economy. Dariusz Kowalczyk, an economist at Credit Agricole was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “The biggest impact of the move is likely to be on sentiment, both among businesses and consumers domestically by showing Beijing is bringing out the big guns to support growth…investors know that they have more ammunition if need be and a good track record in using it.”

Through the confusion the nations of the European Union face as a result of the precarious state of affairs in the nation of Greece, where the rapidly approaching national elections to be held on June 17th will serve as a referendum on the country’s membership in the euro zone, the Continent’s leaders have drawn closer to an accord on a rescue package for embattled Spanish financial institutions.  In an effort to halt the flight of capital still rattling the country and mitigate the dangers facing what is the fourth largest economy in Europe, the possibility that emergency funding could be made available to the banks themselves has come to the fore.   Throughout the current crisis Spain has strongly resisted attempts by its European partners to encourage the country to accept a rescue package, as the disbursement of these funds in the past has come laden with broad conditionality that has meant the need for additional austerity.  The most recent proposals, to lend directly to the troubled institutions themselves, have been designed with terms limited to the financial sector in an effort to make them more palatable to the government, thus displaying the resolve of Europe’s leaders to combat the current crisis and offering hope for a successful resolution.

Staying Ahead of the Curve Despite Recent Volatility

After a strong surge in global financial markets in the first quarter of 2012, risk assets – equities, commodities, corporate credit – have sold off thus far in the second quarter. Uncertainties over global growth and Europe have reentered markets. At Brinker Capital, we are not surprised that some of the euphoria is being worked off. We would not be surprised to see further consolidation.

Several of our fundamental and technical indicators were showing signs of concern earlier this spring. At the end of the first quarter, the various Brinker discretionary portfolios reduced exposure to risk assets. Future signposts suggest the volatility could continue.

For those of you who follow our market outlook and quarterly portfolio calls, this might be familiar material. Some of the indicators we monitor were flashing warning signals:

  • Event risk – European elections, particularly in France and Greece, along with stalling reform initiatives in Spain and Italy.
  • Market fundamentals – economic indicators such as consumer and CEO confidence and economic surprises appeared to be peaking. The S&P 500 appeared to have discounted a lot of good news in valuations.
  • Sentiment – though investors maintained bullish sentiment (low levels of short interest), corporate insiders were selling stock in 2012, a change from insider purchases seen last fall.

As a result, we reduced risk exposures across our various discretionary portfolios.

  • Destinations and Personal Portfolios reduced exposure to risk assets and were positioned underweight risk compared to a neutral positioning.
  • Crystal Strategy I reduced its portfolio beta from positive to now a modestly negative beta by reducing risk and adding inverse exposures designed to rise in falling markets.

We will continue to monitor the following signposts over the near term and actively manage our broadly diversified portfolios as appropriate.

  • U.S. – Fed meetings later in June and prospects for further Quantitative Easing. Later this summer, we need progress on addressing the massive fiscal cliff to be reached early in 2013, regardless of the outcome in November elections.
  • Europe – second round of Greek elections on June 17 and progress (or absence thereof) regarding further European integration (bank deposit guarantee, adding capital to weak banks, stabilization in bond yields).
  • China – further, but moderate, monetary and fiscal stimulus, enough to avert a hard landing, but not enough to bail out weak global growth or produce sizzling China growth. The government is happy to see cooling in property markets.