We believe a significant low could materialize in the next few months; however, we would not be too hasty to fully re-enter the equity market at this juncture. The first reason for our caution is that despite the market’s oversold condition and the perpendicular declines in the charts of the major indices, equities seem unable to find any upside traction this week. This is a sign of weakness, and it displays a lack of underlying demand for equities at current prices.
The second reason is, while there are many open discussions regarding a recession and the possibility that the economy is already in a recession, we have not yet seen any economist actually forecast a recession for 2022 or 2023. Most economists are fiddling with GDP targets depicting slowing “growth.” This is an important distinction because, in our experience, Wall Street’s industry analysts and strategists rarely, and are sometimes unable, to factor a recession into their industry or macro earnings estimates until their economist has forecasted a recession.
And it may not surprise readers that most economists fail to recognize a recession until it is almost, or completely, over. Therefore, this implies that earnings forecasts may be too high for 2022 and 2023 and are apt to come down in time. Ironically, we would be more confident that the lows have been found if earnings forecasts were incorporating the possibility of a recession; but to date, this has not happened. Our earnings forecast for 2022 S&P 500 earnings has been a negative outlier at $220; nevertheless, we are fearful that this too may still prove to be too optimistic.
Third, July could be the month of changes. The Bureau of Economic Analysis releases its final estimate for first quarter GDP this week. Growth is currently estimated to be negative 1.5% in the first quarter of the year, indicating a decline in economic activity. On July 28, the BEA is expected to release its advance estimate for second quarter GDP. This single data point could be pivotal since a recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP. Another negative number would confirm that the US economy is currently in a recession. Yet even if second quarter GDP displays very weak growth it could be enough to prompt economists to dramatically lower their economic forecasts for the year.
July is also important since second quarter earnings season will begin mid-month. Most earnings quarters begin in earnest with the release of money center bank earnings, which are scheduled to start on July 13. Keep in mind that retailers have fiscal years and quarters that end a month later than most companies, so these results will not be available until August. But it was not just a coincidence that the equity market broke below the SPX 4000 level shortly after Walmart Inc. (WMT – $122.37), reported earnings below expectations on May 17, 2022. Its next earnings report is scheduled for August 16, 2022.
In sum, the bear market finale is likely to include a realization that earnings will be lower than expected for 2022 and 2023. This could happen in late July. And from a technical perspective, it would be wise to wait for an impressive high-volume 90% up day to confirm that buyers have returned to the equity market in earnest.
Housing – the Canary in the Coal Mine
It is clear that the housing market is slowing. Existing home sales, which represent the bulk of the overall housing market, were 5.41 million units in May, down 8.6% YOY. This pace was also down 20% from the October 2020 peak and the slowest pace since June 2020. New home sales were 696,000 in May up from April but down nearly 6% YOY, and down 30% from the January 2021 peak. See page 3.
Homeownership has been relatively stable at 65.4% for the last four quarters and has been hovering just slightly above the long-term average of 62.9%. This implies there is neither pent-up demand nor excessive ownership in the housing market. However, the median price of an existing home reached a record $414,200 in May, up nearly 15% YOY. These high house prices are the result of many things such as an emphasis on the home and homeownership during the 2020 pandemic shutdown, historically high household liquidity in 2020 due to a series of fiscal stimulus packages, historically low interest rates due to monetary stimulus, and a booming stock market. All of this made housing attractive and affordable. However, this is all changing. Moreover, while the median price of an existing single-family home rose 15% YOY, personal income increased only up 2.6% YOY in April, and real disposable income fell 6.2% YOY. This is a bad combination. See page 4.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) housing affordability composite index fell from 124.2 in March to 109.2 in April. This was the lowest reading since the 106.9 recorded in July 2007. More importantly, this index is likely to decline further as the fed raises interest rates and mortgage rates move up in unison. The headline NAR housing market index has been falling all year, but in June the traffic of potential buyers index, fell to 48, its lowest reading since June 2020. It is a sign of dwindling demand. See page 5.
Pending home sales inched up to 99.9 in May, from 99.2 in April; however, both April and May’s readings were the lowest since the 70 recorded in April 2020 during the recession. These cumulative signs of deterioration in the housing market are extremely important since the housing market represented 16.8% of GDP in 2021. Residential fixed investment contributed 4.7% and housing services represented 12.1% of GDP. However, there are other “non-housing” factors such as furniture, carpeting, appliances, etc. that also help to boost economic activity during a housing boom. We expect all of these industries to slow in the second half of the year. See page 6.
Consumer confidence can be a critical component of an economic cycle, and it can also be the canary in the coal mine that predicts a recession – even when economists fail to see it. Conference Board consumer confidence fell to 98.7 in June, its lowest level since February 2021. The survey showed that expectations fell to 66.4, the lowest point since October 2011. The University of Michigan consumer sentiment index fell to 50 in June, the lowest headline reading on record, and lower than any time during the recessions of 1980, 1982, 1990, 2001, 2008-2009, or 2020. Expectations fell to 47.5, the lowest reading since August 2011 (47.4) or May 1980 (45.3). In short, in both surveys, consumer confidence is at levels last seen during a recession. And we would remind readers that last week we pointed out that whenever inflation has reached 5% or more, it has been followed not by one recession, but by a series of tightening cycles and recessions. See “Liquidity Crisis” June 22, 2022; page 6. The market lows in June were the beginning of the discounting of a recession, in our view. But it may not be over.