Earnings Season Starts With A Bang, So To Speak

They’re getting hilarious, the shenanigans on Wall Street. The third quarter has been over for almost two weeks, and now, after reality has been clearer than daylight for months, estimates for corporate earnings are still being pushed down, after endless blah-blah-blah by analysts whose blood-optimism level is way above the legal limit, and after dizzying nonsense regurgitated by hype mongers on Wall Street.

But reality is here. After bamboozling investors into thinking that these sky-high stock prices were justified by sky-high “forward-looking” earnings, analysts are now chopping their estimates for these “forward-looking” earnings into smithereens so that when their beleaguered companies report, they can beat “expectations.”

Revenues have been lousy all year, and so, despite feverish cost cutting as just about the sole corporate strategy these days, earnings are sliding. A year ago, analysts still expected earnings in Q3 2013 to grow 15.9%. What were they smoking? I don’t know either. By the beginning of Q3, estimates for earnings growth hit 8.5%, according to Thompson Reuters IBES. Since then, they dropped nearly 5 percentage points! This week alone, they plunged 70 basis points from 4.5% growth to 3.8%.

And financials, oh my! They’re pulling out all accounting gimmicks in their toolbox to show some income, but even that wasn’t enough for JPMorgan which reported a loss today. So estimates for earnings growth are now down to 8.6%. Given that the Fed still hands them $85 billion a month, you’d think they’d know what do with it. Turns out, they don’t. But take financials out of the equation, and Q3 earnings are expected to grow only 2.8%. That’s stagnation.

At the beginning of the year, Q4 earnings were still expected to grow by an inexplicable 17.6%. Estimates have since come down to a growth of 10.6%. But we’re already in Q4, and Q4 is shaping up to be a tough one, tougher apparently than even Q3. But don’t tell the analysts. They like being delusional for as long as they can. The thing is, they’ve got to somehow justify these stock prices.

Look at the red waterslide below. That’s where Q3 estimates whizzed down on. The blue waterslide is reserved for Q4 estimates. And they’re going to start whizzing pretty soon, in all likelihood more steeply than they did in Q3. Hang on tightly. The Q4 earnings ride is going to be a wild one.

US-Earnings-Growth-forecasts-crash-Q3-Q4-2013

But then in 2014, a miracle is going to happen, and corporate earnings will jump a phenomenal 11.5%, according to our trustworthy analysts. A miracle, because the way things are, 2014 is going to be even tougher than 2013.

Meanwhile, as revenue growth has petered out and as earnings have skidded, what have stocks done? They have soared, of course – with the S&P 500 up 16.5%, and the NASDAQ up 21.8%.

This is perhaps the most awe-inspiring feat the Fed has accomplished with its $3 trillion in printed matter and zero-interest-rate policy, a feat that future historians will laud for centuries to come, a feat where the Fed put itself in the middle of the universe, surrounded by bankers and big-company CEOs, and they paid a little extra to Washington to grease the wheels, and they all decreed that there would be a total separation of the markets from reality.

Reality has a nasty way of reasserting itself at the most inconvenient moment. And QE, the only thing that is propping up the markets, is a rickety haphazard contraption with destructive side effects. So if the Fed were to actually taper, rather than just palaver about it, that last support would crumble, and it would crumble just as corporate earnings would be speeding down that slope.

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