There is an interesting article at the International Herald Tribune about how forecasting on Wall Street is getting "too wild," and how forecasts are getting less accurate. Data from Thomson Reuters finds that analysts correctly predict earnings only a fifth of the time. Approximately two-thirds of quarterly earnings beat estimates, with the remaining estimates being too low.
This is not surprising since many companies attempt to managing earnings by reducing expectations and then delivering better-than-expected results. This year, only about 10% of companies matched expectations. Again, probably a combination of poor forecasting and earnings management by companies.
As mentioned in the article, "Even the collective wisdom of the marketplace has been wrong time and again. The stock market, that weathervane for corporate profits and the economy, keeps swinging from fear to greed and back. A glance at the major stock indexes over the past year reveals a host of false bottoms and fools' rallies." In fact, just looking at a Citigroup (NYSE:C), General Motors (NYSE:GM), Ford (NYSE:F), JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM) and other similar companies gives a picture of stocks that are relatively flat over the last month or so, even though price action during this time has made some significant moves up and down.
Of interest is that just as the markets become almost too difficult to forecast, due to market conditions and headwinds that reduce clarity going forward and prevent past trends from being trusted, is the exact time investors are looking for guidance, hanging on every forecast - and, in some instances, trading on that guidance as well. The recent moves also have the feel of the late 1990s in which new yearly price forecasts were met in a day to two as retail investors piled in and bid up prices in an attempt to board the train before it left the station.
Things have not gotten that extreme yet in the opposite direction, and the circumstances are certainly different, but the faith and need for guidance from Wall Street, or anyone for that matter, is reaching interesting levels. Whether this signals a reversal, as it did in early 2000 (but in the opposite direction), is difficult to tell. Furthermore, even if it does, it may take a while to see the effects. After all, Greenspan gave his "irrational exuberance" speech in December 1996, over three years before the market finally corrected and came to its senses.