Not a lot happened during the shortened holiday week. Economic releases were sparse, and earnings revisions were minor. Stock prices were erratic, but our indicators ended the week relatively unchanged. The months of November through January have historically been the strongest three-month period for stock prices and this favorable seasonality trait is dominating much of the discussion regarding equities. But in every cycle, ultimately the market’s trend will be determined by earnings growth, and unfortunately, earnings growth for the next twelve months remains questionable.

Energized Earnings

Energy has been a major contributor to S&P 500 earnings growth all year and yet the sector continues to have the lowest PE multiple of all eleven sectors at 8.4 times. Recent S&P Dow Jones data shows that energy is the only sector with a PE to growth multiple (PEG ratio) of less than one, which reflects value. This low PEG ratio arises from S&P’s estimate for energy’s 5-year growth rate of 10.3% and the sector’s current price-earnings multiple of 8.4 times.

According to Refinitiv IBES, the estimated earnings growth rate for the S&P 500 for the fourth quarter is negative 0.4%, but if the energy sector is excluded, the S&P 500 growth rate declines to negative 5.4%. Energy has the highest estimated earnings growth rate for the quarter at 72.8% and is expected to earn $50.1 billion in the last three months of the year versus earnings of $29.0 billion a year earlier. The second highest percentage is found in the industrials sector with an estimated 42.3% earnings growth rate, where earnings are anticipated to be $37.4 billion in the current quarter versus $26.3 billion a year earlier. The only other S&P sectors expected to have positive earnings growth in the fourth quarter are real estate (6.9%) and utilities (5.0%). In comparison, IBES estimates that technology earnings will decline 7.8% in the quarter. The materials sector comes in last with the lowest estimated earnings growth rate of negative 21.3%. When we look at these estimates for fourth quarter earnings, we do not see any positive catalyst for stocks in the near term; but keep in mind that fourth quarter earnings season does not begin until mid-January 2023.

Economic Backdrop

November’s employment report will be released on Friday, and this could be a market moving event. Expectations are for 190,000-200,000 new jobs and a relatively unchanged unemployment rate. Anything showing stronger job growth could trigger angst about monetary policy being tighter than expected. Anything showing extremely weak job growth will incite fears of a recession. However, it does appear that the economy is either in a recession or a recession is likely in 2023. The only questions are how deep and how long the recession will be.

It is very conceivable that the housing sector is already in a recession, and we believe this weakness will spread to other parts of the economy in coming quarters. We tend to look at sentiment indicators for guidance in uncertain times and unfortunately, this data is not reassuring. The bigger picture shows that there are 3-year downtrends in all sentiment benchmarks, and this resembles the pattern seen prior to or during all previous recessions since 1965. The Conference Board consumer confidence for November fell from 102.2 to 100.2 in November, the lowest since July, and the index for present conditions recorded an 18-month low. The University of Michigan sentiment indices were all down in November but remained above the cyclical lows recorded in the months of June and July 2022. See page 3.

Consumer credit has been expanding rapidly and attracting the attention of many economists. Total consumer credit hit $4.7 trillion in September, up $270 billion, or 6%, year-to-date and it expanded 8% YOY. Most of the growth in the last twelve months has come from revolving credit (lines of credit and credit cards) which grew nearly 16% YOY. This expansion in credit could be a sign of households using credit cards to spend ahead of the holidays, or to simply pay bills. This possibility is confirmed by the recent decline in the personal savings rate for September which fell from 3.4% to 3.1%. Data for personal income, consumption, and savings for October will be released later this week. But note, if consumers are digging into savings and extending credit lines for consumption, it is an unsustainable trend, particularly as interest rates rise. See page 5.

The correlation between an inverted Treasury yield curve and recessions has been historically strong. And the current yield curve already implies we should be anticipating a recession in 2023. Recent Fed funds rate hikes have had a dramatic influence on the Treasury yield curve; but more importantly, whether December’s rate hike is 50 or 75 basis points, the entire yield curve will soon be fully inverted and looking ominous. In short, consumption and corporate earnings will remain under pressure in 2023 and this is not a good foundation for an equity rally. See page 4.

Technical Ambiguity

The charts of the major equity indices are not uniform and produce a mixed message in terms of the outlook for stocks for the final weeks of the year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is the only index to have bettered its long-term 200-day moving average and as a result, it appears to be in a relatively stable advance. The Russell 2000 and the S&P 500 are the next best-looking charts; however, they have been testing their 200-day moving averages without success for several weeks. This is an ambiguous pattern. Meanwhile, the Nasdaq Composite index remains in a bearish trend. This index has only exceeded its 50-day moving average and is trading well below its 200-day moving average. This results in a very mixed picture for the overall market. However, it is an interesting display of leadership shifting from growth to value. See page 8.

Our favorite 25-day up/down volume oscillator is currently neutral with a reading of 2.31. It had been in overbought territory for seven of 10 trading days in November, but it was unable to remain in overbought territory for five consecutive trading days. This is significant since bear markets rarely reach overbought territory and if they do the reading is brief. A true overbought reading should persist for at least five to ten consecutive trading days to be significant, therefore, the recent reading in this indicator is another sign of ambiguity in the equity market. Nevertheless, it remains one of our key indicators to monitor in the coming weeks to assess the strength of any advance in prices. See page 9. Similarly, the 10-day average of daily new highs is currently 73 and the 10-day average of daily new lows is 72. This combination is neutral since neither series is averaging more than 100 per day which is the minimum benchmark for defining a trend. Remember: the 10-day moving average of new lows was 1038 on September 26 and exceeded the previous peak of 604 made in early May, which means the October low was a confirmed new low and the bear trend continues. All in all, we remain cautious and suggest emphasizing stocks that have the most reliable earnings streams.

Gail Dudack

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