The Right Environment for a Low

Second quarter earnings season will begin in earnest in mid-July, and it could be a market-moving event. First quarter earnings results disappointed the consensus in April, and this setback contributed to a sharp decline in the averages. However, GDP was negative in the first quarter, therefore, poor earnings results for the S&P 500 stocks should not have been a surprise to investors.

This month, the start of second quarter earnings season will be quickly followed by the Bureau of Economic Analysis’s report of its first estimate for second quarter GDP growth, scheduled for release on July 28. This crucial combination of earnings and economic activity should be a meaningful time for investors.

Last week we noted that despite the perpendicular selloffs in the broad averages, to date, the equity market has been unable to sustain a significant or normal rebound. Unfortunately, this is a sign of weakness. Plus, our biggest concern is that analysts have not yet significantly lowered earnings forecasts for this year. And despite multiple signs of deteriorating economic activity, economists are yet to worry about a recession in 2022. It is possible that second quarter earnings results and the BEA’s estimate for second quarter GDP growth could be the catalyst that shifts attitudes and forecasts. If so, it would create the right environment for the stock market to establish a meaningful low.

As we noted last week, the bear market finale is likely to include the realization that earnings will be lower than expected for both 2022 and 2023, and this could happen in late July. From a simple technical perspective, it would be wise to wait for an impressive high-volume 90% up day before committing to equities in a major way. A 90% up day would confirm that buyers have returned to the equity market in earnest.

Hints of Recession

US economists may not be forecasting a recession, but global markets are indicating that recession fears are rising. This week the euro sank to its lowest level against the dollar in over 20 years. The global benchmark for Brent crude collapsed 9.5% in one day. Similarly, the WTI future fell 8.2%. The 10-year Treasury bond index lost nearly 400 basis points in the last four trading sessions. In the Euro zone, purchasing managers’ surveys for June show the manufacturing sector is in a decline and the service sector has suffered a major loss in momentum. China’s growth is becoming questionable after Shanghai said it would begin new rounds of mass testing of its 25 million residents over a three-day period. This is an effort to trace infections linked to an outbreak at a karaoke bar and it stokes fears of another potential lockdown of China’s largest city of 24.5 million people. In sum, we continue to believe the US economy may already be in a recession. The good news is that the equity market tends to find its low midway through a recession.

Real Disposable Income Tells the Story

For most of the last 60 years, personal income has been in a slow steady uptrend, dipping only slightly during recessionary periods. However, in the past two years, even though personal income has inched higher, disposable income has been flat as a result of increases in both personal taxes and government social insurance taxes. This creates financial pressure on many households, and as a result, the personal savings rate fell from a high of 10.5% in July 2021, to 5.4% in May. In April, the savings rate hit a cyclical low of 5.2%, matching its November 2009 level. The savings rates for March and April were revised fairly dramatically in the last release, from 5% to 5.3% and from 4.4% to 5.2%, respectively. Nevertheless, the newly revised savings rates remain the lowest since the 2008-2009 recession. See page 3.

There was a boost in personal income in 2020 and in 2021 due to two pandemic stimulus packages passed by Congress. The 2020 package was done during the pandemic shutdown and recession, but the second stimulus package was larger and implemented during the post-pandemic recovery in 2021. See page 4. This later package in our view, coupled with massive monetary stimulus, was the recipe for the historic inflationary cycle now impacting our economy.

And for the first time in 40 years, consumers and households are seeing inflation rise faster than their income. This results in a decline in purchasing power. To date, personal consumption expenditures remain positive on a year-over-year basis, but the trend is unsustainable and is declining. See page 5. Since the US economy is 70% consumption-driven, this decline in household purchasing power is not a good sign for economic activity in the second half of the year.

The ISM manufacturing index fell from 56.1 to 53.0 in June. Although this index has been steadily declining all year, it still remains slightly above the neutral 50 level. However, the ISM manufacturing employment index was 47.3 in June, its second monthly report below 50, and a sign that employment in manufacturing is shrinking. New orders also fell from 55.1 to 49.2. This fall below 50 indicates a slump in new orders and demonstrates weakness within the manufacturing sector. See page 6.  

Watching the Russell 2000 Again

The Russell 2000 index has dropped to a key support level that is the equivalent of the price peaks made in 2018 and 2020 at the 1700 area. The charts of the other broad indices are different from the Russell, and all the other indices are well above their 2020 peaks. However, for reference the levels equivalent to the 2020 peaks are 29,500 in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, 3,380 in the S&P 500, and 9,800 in the Nasdaq Composite index. See page 8. It will be important for the Russell 2000 to stabilize at the 1700 level and begin to build support. The 25-day up/down volume oscillator declined to negative 2.96 this week and is close to an oversold reading for the first time since mid-May. The lack of a deeply oversold reading in this indicator, like the ones seen in August 2015, February 2016, December 2018, or March 2020, is somewhat bewildering given the seven 90% down days recorded in recent months. However, it implies that the equities market may not yet have found its trough. See page 9. While we believe many stocks may have found their 2022 lows, as in most bear markets, the lows will get retested. For this reason, we remain cautious.

Gail Dudack

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