Insights & Advice

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Earnings on deck

This week launched the beginning of first-quarter earnings results for American companies. Wall Street doesn’t expect much. It is bracing for a disappointing season, especially from U.S. exporters. Has the market discounted that news already?earnings season

Analysts expect that overall earnings will decline from 3 to 6% this quarter versus the same time last year. However, I have explained to readers how analysts play the earnings game. Well in advance of reporting, analysts revise down their earnings estimates to the point that only really out-of-touch corporate managers fail to “beat” estimates. On average, about 75% of companies meet or beat these lowered expectations. In which case, the markets may not experience the down draft that investors are so worried about.

Mergers and acquisitions continue to prop up the stock market and helping to keep investor’s attention focused on what company will benefit from the next multi-billion dollar buy out. It is a great time for corporations to acquire public assets. For most major corporations, borrowing huge sums of money is effectively free at these low to non-existent interest rates. Combined with the billions Corporate America has squirreled away on their balance sheets, it is a smart move to shop for strategic acquisitions.

Given the lead time and expense of building home grown assets, it is far easier to buy someone else’s. If you throw the strengthening dollar into that equation, overseas companies seem exceptionally well-priced from the perspective of company managements on this side of the pond.

While investors fret about earnings, “Fed Heads” continue to play a guessing game on when the Fed will raise rates. Honestly, does it really matter if it is in June or September or the end of the year? In addition, economists are revising down their estimates for U.S. GDP growth for the year. In summary, the markets seem to me to be busily building a new wall of worry and you know what happens to markets when they do that. It goes up.

One reader asked if I still believe the U.S. market is the place to be, given my enthusiasm this year for buying foreign markets. The short answer is yes. Granted, year-to-date the S&P 500 Index is only up 1.6%, while India has gained over 5%, China, Japan and Hong Kong are up 14%, and Germany is pushing 24%, ex-currency.

I believe off-shore will continue to outperform, but America should see at least 5-7% gains by the end of the year. Most of those gains will be back-loaded toward the third and fourth quarter. But let’s put this in perspective. Most U.S. indexes are only a percentage point or two from all-time highs. We need to take a break. That is all that is happening here.

All investors vacillate between fear and greed. Our natural reaction to a temporary slow-down in our market is to immediately dump it and buy what’s moving, so that the feel-good euphoria of making more and more money keeps our high going. That’s when you get into trouble.

It is better, in my opinion, to diversify some of your assets overseas–remembering that those are risky markets. If you have been following my advice since the beginning of the year, you already have a 10-25% exposure to foreign stocks, depending on your risk tolerance. Sure, in hindsight, you should have bought more so you could have scored big in just three months. But “could a, would a, should a,” is a useless exercise and has no place in investing. You are doing just fine right where you are.

Posted in A Few Dollars More, At the Market