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There is no one variable or silver bullet that will provide insight into the future direction of the stock market or an individual stock. At the end of the day though, a stock's future direction will depend on a company's ability to grow its earnings. We constantly review data, financial and economic, that will provide insight into earnings growth for companies, the overall market and specific countries.

With the strength of the markets' advance since the end of the Great Recession, and this improvement seems to be occurring globally as we noted in an earlier post on first half 2014 returns, the question most frequently asked is what derails this uptrend. Aside from the unpredictable black swan type of event, a slowing of growth in corporate earnings on a broad-based basis would certainly be a catalyst for an equity market correction. Below are a few earnings related data points that would seem to suggest companies are continuing to see growth though and this growth is occurring at a slowly increasing rate.

First, earnings for S&P 500 companies have seen a sharp and fast recovery since the middle of 2009. Recent commentary from the Chart of the Day chart service noted,

With earnings season just around the corner, today's chart provides some long-term perspective on the current earnings environment by focusing on 12-month, as reported S&P 500 earnings. Today's chart illustrates how earnings declined over 92% from its Q3 2007 peak to Q1 2009 low which brought inflation-adjusted earnings to near Great Depression lows. Since its Q1 2009 low, S&P 500 earnings have surged to all-time record highs. To further illustrate the significance of the current corporate earnings recovery, consider that the run-up in real earnings from Great Depression lows to credit bubble peak took over 74 years. The run-up from financial crisis lows to today has been similar in magnitude (actually slightly more) but was accomplished in a mere five years. In the end, S&P 500 earnings are currently at all-time record highs."

From HORAN Capital Advisors


Source: Chart of the Day

The positive earnings result displayed above is history though. More important is forward earnings growth and we can look at earnings guidance. On that front, forward earnings expectations are improving. The below chart notes the severe earnings contraction during the financial crisis and the strong recovery into 2010. More importantly is the IBES forward earnings expectations since mid-2012. The earnings growth estimates since that time have been on a steady uptrend with a 12-month forward expected earnings growth of 7.42%.

From HORAN Capital Advisors


With the end of the second quarter occurring on Monday, attention will be focused on upcoming second quarter earnings reports. In that regard, Factset Research noted in a recent report the trend in earnings guidance from companies themselves has moved in a more favorable direction. One highlight from Factset's Guidance report notes,

Since hitting a peak in negative EPS guidance in Q4 2013, companies in the S&P 500 have issued fewer negative EPS preannouncements and more positive EPS preannouncements for the second consecutive quarter. For Q2 2014, 84 companies have issued negative EPS guidance and 27 companies have issued positive EPS guidance. The number of negative preannouncements is below the record high of 95 set in Q4 2013, and the number of positive preannouncements is above the record low of 17 also set in Q4 2013. If these are the final numbers for the quarter, it will mark the lowest number of negative EPS preannouncements since Q4 2012 (79) and the highest number of positive preannouncements since Q4 2012 (34). (emphasis added)"

From HORAN Capital Advisors


Source: Factset Research

Lastly, this positive earnings trend is not sustainable in a weakening economic environment. Last week's -2.9% GDP report certainly falls in the contraction category. However, at this point in time we do believe the first quarter weakness can partially be blamed on the severe winter experienced across most of the United States. Without fail, I would say in conversations with some of our corporate clients they have indicated they are experiencing a fairly robust business climate going into the summer and into next year. Although the ISM Manufacturing Index was below consensus by .3 points, Econoday noted,

New orders, as they are in Markit's manufacturing report released earlier this morning, are the key highlight of the ISM report for June, overshadowing the headline composite index which held steady at 55.3. New orders rose 2.0 points to a very strong 58.9 which point to acceleration for general activity in the months ahead (emphasis added). Production, at 60.0, is already very strong as are imports, at 57.0 for a 2.5 point gain."

Below is a table outlining the various categories of the Markit PMI report and notable is the fact most of the categories are expanding.

From HORAN Capital Advisors


Source: Markit and The Kirk Report

Much attention will be focused on the nonfarm payroll report and the Jobless Claims report, both released before the market open Thursday. The ADP employment report released today noted payrolls came in at 281,000, far above the consensus 213,000. Beyond the fact an improving employment market is needed, growth in jobs has large positive implications for economic growth.

Certainly this market will not continue to move higher in a straight line, although it seems to want to do so. In an article by Dragonfly Capital titled, The SPY Is NOT Extended and May NEVER Pull Back, the author provides "technical" data that suggests the market is not overbought. From a contrarian standpoint, the more articles I see of this nature, the more I sense a pullback or correction is closer to occurring than not. A correction will occur and the timing is not predictable. However, if a correction does occur, fundamentally, the economy does seem to be growing, albeit below its long-term potential, and this would be an environment that is still supportive of longer term positive equity returns.

Source: What Event Triggers The Next Market Correction