February 27, 2021

On Wall St., a Big Split on Outlook

Typically bullish in the best of times, this group has barely budged on its expectations for earnings in the second half of 2011, even as the economists and strategists at the big brokerage firms have steadily ratcheted down their forecasts for overall economic growth.

That disconnect could prove painful for investors. On Friday, shares of Hewlett-Packard were punished after the technology giant reported results below analysts’ projections and warned them to bring down future numbers. Earlier in the week, similar shortfalls caused shares of Dell and Urban Outfitters to sink.

The 17 percent drop in the Standard Poor’s 500-stock index since late July suggests investors already suspect earnings growth may not be as robust as forecast when the summer began. But if more analysts start cutting their estimates in the coming weeks, that could provide yet another incentive for traders to sell.

Investors are clearly anxious. Stocks fell more than 4 percent last week as the wild swings on Wall Street continued, including a 419-point drop for the Dow Jones industrial average on Thursday.

“Absolutely, the numbers look too high to us,” said Doug Cliggott, a United States equity strategist at Credit Suisse. “In the last two or three weeks, we’ve had a slew of data showing our growth could be slowing a lot more than expected.”

All this means that September could be a make-or-break month for the stock market. “A lot of Wall Street folks come back after Labor Day and sharpen their pencils,” said Adam Parker, United States equity strategist at Morgan Stanley.

When they do return, they will have plenty of numbers to crunch that suggest a further slowdown is possible. On Friday, the Labor Department reported that unemployment rose in 28 states and the District of Columbia in July, while it fell in only nine states. A day earlier, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia announced that manufacturing activity in the mid-Atlantic region shrank sharply in August.

Traders will be closely watching a range of figures due out this week for more signs of a so-called double-dip recession. On Tuesday, the government is to report on sales of new homes for July, followed by a report on durable goods orders on Wednesday. Data on initial jobless claims and consumer sentiment in August will follow later in the week.

In spite of the lackluster economic numbers in recent weeks, analysts’ expectations for earnings growth of the typical company in the Standard Poor’s 500-stock index have edged downward only slightly. The current consensus for the third quarter calls for 15.6 percent earnings growth, not far from the 17 percent analysts forecast on July 1, according to data compiled by Thomson Reuters.

In the fourth quarter, analysts expect growth of 17 percent, just 0.6 of a percentage point below where the projections were at the beginning of July.

By contrast, economists at the big brokerage houses have been busy slashing their projections for overall growth, with JPMorgan Chase weighing in on Friday while Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs trimmed their numbers the day before. JPMorgan now expects fourth-quarter economic growth to be 1 percent, down from an earlier projection of 2.5 percent. Morgan Stanley warned that the United States and Europe were “dangerously close to recession.”

While they may work for the same bank, analysts and economists don’t necessarily see eye to eye.

In the argot of Wall Street, broad economic growth projections are called top-down forecasts because they incorporate a wide range of macroeconomic factors, like manufacturing output and the unemployment rate.

That contrasts with the bottom-up estimates arrived at by tallying the earnings projections of analysts who follow individual companies. The two groups usually work independently — and can project different results.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d1f42225c0bfc049596503fe1a482d34

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