As earnings kick off, traders look to 2019 predictions for direction

As earnings kick off, traders look to 2019 predictions for direction

Q1: 8.4 percent

Q2: 9.5 percent

Q3: 7.4 percent

Q4: 6.6 percent

Q1 2019: 6.6 percent

Source: Thomson Reuters

“If we have strong sales, that tells me that margins are going to remain strong,” Earnings Scout’s Nick Raich told CNBC.

Keeping revenue growth strong is thus crucial to the stock outlook going into 2019. “If interest rates are in fact permanently higher, then organic earnings growth (driven by revenues) must rise or valuations will fall,” DataTrek’s Nicholas Colas wrote recently. “That’s the cruel simplicity of equity valuation math.”

2. Tariffs. Skeptics are fond of scoffing at the tariff effect, claiming that in the overall grand scheme, tariffs are not material to any but a few companies. It’s true. Few companies so far have stated that earnings would be falling specifically due to tariffs, but many are dropping hints.

In an earnings call on Sept. 20, Micron CFO David Zinsner said: “We expect gross margins to remain very healthy in the fiscal first quarter, although lower than fourth-quarter levels, and our gross margins will also be impacted in the near term by the announced 10 percent tariff on $200 billion of imports from China, which will go into effect on September 24. We are working to gradually mitigate most of the impact from these tariffs over the next three to four quarters.”

The concern is that skeptics are likely underestimating the impact of a full-blown trade war with China. Goldman Sachs, using conservative assumptions, recently estimated that a 25 percent tariff on all imports from China would cause S&P 500 2019 earnings to drop to an estimated $159 a share from $170, which would essentially mean 2019 earnings would be flat compared with 2018.

3. Higher interest rates. Goldman also noted that “rising yields should weigh on firms with the heaviest debt load, as higher rates flow through to higher interest costs.”

What’s it all mean? For many, the risk/reward ratio still favors stocks: “My bottom line is to stay long stocks,” Raich said. “When the economy is strong, stock prices will typically climb higher than the fundamentals suggest. That’s what happened in 2000 and 2007.”

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