Can US Companies Weather a Global Slowdown?

  Today Month Ago Year Ago
  11-Apr-16 11-Mar-16 11-Apr-15
S&P TSX 13,422 13,284 15,383
S&P 500 2,041 2,055 2,092
DJIA 17,356 17,652 18,036
OIL $40.37 $29.02  $68.86
USD vs CAD 0.7755 0.7658 0.8503
Gold $1,258 $1,239  $1,174


Since the beginning of 2016, economists have expressed their pessimistic opinions about the global economies. The US Federal reserve raised their benchmark interest rates in December 2015 for the first time in a decade with a view that the US economy is growing and strong enough to sustain gradual rate hikes during 2016. Since the rate hike, US indices have not performed well and have been flat. Economists and financial commentators are continuously questioning Janet Yellen’s decision to raise interest rates and do not believe that the US economy is ready for another hike in interest rates. According to CME Fed Watch tool, probability of another rate hike in December 2016 is now only 59%.  While the US economy is not performing reasonably well, weakness across European and Asian nations definitely hurts US multinational corporations. At a time when many European nations are facing record unemployment and weak economic growth, European Central Bank has opted for negative interest rates to revive their economic growth rates. Until February, more than $7 trillion of Government bonds worldwide offered negative yields, which means that any investor that bought these bonds and holds them till maturity won’t get all his or her money back. Recent research by Factset showed that companies with more than 50% of their sales within US had positive earnings growth rate but on the contrary, companies with more than 50% of their sales outside US had a decline in their earnings. A strong US dollar and lower energy prices are the main contributors for this decline in corporate profitability. Companies with majority of their sales outside the US had to face losses in foreign exchange, which lowered their profitability. The US Dollar index has increased by more than 20% against a basket of 9 currencies since 2013. Many companies have started to report their earnings for Q1 2016 and so far 22 companies in the S&P 500 have already reported their earnings.  As of today, the estimated earnings growth rate for Q1 2016 is -9.1%, compared with a growth rate of 0.7% for the last quarter (on December 31, 2015). If the index reports a decline in earnings, it will be the first time that the S&P 500 has seen four consecutive quarters of year-over-year earnings decline since December 2008.

While companies’ profitability and indices should move in the same direction, history does not show any such relation. The image below indicates that from 2000- 2009, annual profit for companies grew by 10.3% but the annual stock market returns for that decade were -1%. Conversely, from 2010- 2015 the annual profit for companies grew by 1.5% but the annual stock market returns were 12.8%. Investors should still conduct more research (macro and micro economic) and talk to their financial advisors before drawing any conclusions between earnings growth rate and index movements.


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