Last week we wrote that a series of 90% down days, also known as panic days, is a classic characteristic of a late-stage bear market cycle. This was significant since a string of 90% down days recently appeared on April 22 (90%); May 5 (93%); and May 9 (92%). More importantly, a 90% up day is typically the first sign that the panic and selling pressure that has been driving the bear trend is becoming exhausted. On May 13, 2022, the NYSE volume statistics reported a 92% up day, which we reported on May 16, 2022 (Direct from Dudack “A 92% Up Day”). This was excellent news.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that a single 90% up day does not define the ultimate low. What it does indicate is that downside risk is diminished. For example, the last time the market experienced a series of 90% down days was during the 2020 bear cycle. The series began on February 20, 2020, with a 91% down day when the SPX closed at 3373.23. In subsequent weeks there were six more 90% down days followed by a 92% up day on March 13, 2020, when the SPX closed at 2711.02, recording a 20% decline from the February peak of SPX 3386.15.
This 90% up day was not the end of the cycle; it was followed by two more 90% down days, but the ultimate low of SPX 2237.40 was recorded on March 23, 2020, six trading days later. Another 94% up day materialized on March 24, 2020. In short, while the first 90% up day did not indicate that the bear market was over, it did imply that a major low was on the horizon.
If we dissect the 2020 cycle, we find that the total bear decline in the SPX was 34%. A 90% up day materialized after a 20% decline. This was followed by a 17% decline in the following six trading sessions and the bear cycle ended on March 23, 2020. Overall, we believe the recent 92% up day is a favorable sign and we would also note that it appeared immediately after the SPX fell below the 4000 level. As a reminder, we have been using a 17.5 PE multiple with our $220 earnings forecast for the S&P 500 as a practical way of defining “value” in the broad market. This combination equates to SPX 3850. In sum, the market may not yet have recorded its final low, but we do think that the low of SPX 3930.08 on May 12, 2022, marked the beginning of a bottoming phase.
Valuation Remains a Concern
With first quarter earnings season 92% complete, there is a growing concern about the durability of earnings growth in 2022. According to Refinitiv IBES, results for S&P 500 earnings in the first quarter are pointing to a gain of 11% YOY, but after excluding the energy sector, this growth rate falls to less than 5%. Full-year growth forecasts, according to IBES, are expected to be 9% to 9.9%; whereas S&P Dow Jones shows earnings growth to be 5.8%. But estimates have been volatile. This week consensus earnings estimates for 2022 according to S&P Dow Jones fell $0.66 while Refinitiv IBES estimates rose $1.08. As a result, the nominal earnings range for 2022 widened to $224 to $228 and earnings growth rates for this year are 5.8% and 9.8%, respectively. (Note: consensus macro-EPS forecasts may differ from four quarter analysts’ forecast sums seen on page 16.)
Our DRG 2022 estimate remains at $220, a 5.7% YOY increase from $208.19 in 2021. We have noticed that strategists have been lowering their 2022 S&P earnings forecasts to $220 and most strategists are forecasting a 10% growth rate in 2023. Keep in mind that a 9% earnings growth rate coupled with inflation of 7.7%, equates to merely 2.3% real growth for this year. This is just one example of the destructive nature of inflation, and it helps to explain why PE multiples will fall during times of inflation.
Unfortunately, even at the May 12 close of SPX 3930.08, the stock market remained 1.8% above the top of our valuation model’s year-end fair value range of SPX 2730-3860 and 16% above the mid-point of the forecasted range, or SPX 3295. See page 5. Even if our $220 EPS estimate for 2021 proves to be too conservative, given current interest rates, our model implies that value is found below the SPX 4000 level. The good news is that the SPX recently dropped below 4000; the bad news is the SPX is currently back above the 4000 level. In sum, while the current oversold reading allows for a near-term rebound, we remain cautious for the intermediate term.
Despite high inflation, consumers keep spending. Retail sales rose a seasonally adjusted 0.9% in April, which was the fourth straight month of higher retail spending. However, the earnings results of retailers have been mixed with Walmart (WMT – $131.35) reporting that quarterly revenue was dented by rising food prices and supply-chain disruptions and Home Depot (HD – $300.95) reporting better than expected earnings, but noting that fewer customers are spending more per shopping trip.
The impact of inflation is found everywhere. From 2014 to 2020, wage growth exceeded inflation, and this helped households since it increased purchasing power. However, in 2021 and 2022 this changed dramatically, and real wage growth turned negative reducing purchasing power. More precisely, in April the year-over-year increase in weekly wages was 5.5% YOY, but CPI rose 7.7% YOY in the same period. As a result, real wages fell 2.2% YOY. This is a 2.2% decline in purchasing power and it is having a negative impact on all households, but most particularly on the poor and those on fixed incomes. See page 4. It is also worth noting that when inflation runs above the long-term average of 3.4% YOY, it has never been good for the stock market. To date, equities have held up better than one might expect but we believe the pressure on margins, earnings, and PE multiples will continue over the next twelve months. See page 4
The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index was unchanged in April at 93.2 and remained below the 48-year average of 98 for the fourth consecutive month. The preliminary University of Michigan consumer survey for May was lower in all categories, including headline and present conditions. Expectations fell from April’s 62.5 to 56.3. See page 3. April’s total industrial production report was a highlight this week, increasing 1.1%. This was the fourth consecutive month of gains of 0.8% or greater. All major market groups recorded gains in April, with most rising around 1%. Production of motor vehicles and parts contributed to increases of 1.5%, 3.3%, and 1.1% in the consumer durables, transit equipment, and durable materials categories, respectively. Business equipment and defense and space equipment each recorded gains of greater than 1%. Keep in mind that one of the contributing factors for the first quarter’s decline of 1.4% in GDP was a decline in inventories. April’s industrial production data suggests that inventories are being rebuilt and will therefore contribute to second quarter GDP in a positive way.