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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Long recession and anemic recovery

This WSJ analysis looks at the trend of corporate earnings growth, and it shows (in graph) we are having a downside overshot on earnings and it will take longer than normal to recover. This is not good for stock market.

There are hints lately that the economy's collapse isn't quite as precipitous as it once was, which suggests the worst may be over for corporate profits, too. That doesn't mean they are anywhere close to normal.

Since World War II, earnings have grown at about 6% a year, slightly trailing economic growth. But earnings have fallen well off trend during the current recession.

[S&P 500 earnings quarterly]

a similar but much gorgeous chart:

(click to enlarge; chart via Bob Bronson Capital Management)


"As-reported" earnings per share -- which, unlike "operating" EPS, conform to accounting standards -- of companies in the S&P 500 are on pace to total just $28.75 for the past four quarters, according to Standard & Poor's. That is roughly 61% below where they would be had they maintained a 6% growth rate in recent years, estimates Vitaliy Katsenelson, head of research at Investment Management Associates in Denver.

Earnings overshot the trend by about 31% before the downturn, Mr. Katsenelson estimates, and if recent history is any guide the payback will be vicious. Earnings got 18% above trend during the tech-stock boom, for example, but then fell 50% below trend and took 2½ years to crawl back. Given current forecasts for as-reported earnings, profit growth could still be nearly 40% below trend by the end of 2010.

Stock prices can still rise during that recovery. And profit growth tends to be turbocharged coming out of a recession, helping earnings catch up to their long-term average.

But long-term growth could be slowed for years to come by a hobbled banking sector and debt-shedding U.S. consumers. In short, stocks mightn't be quite as cheap as they look.