We view the coronavirus pandemic as the final straw that tipped an already vulnerable U.S. economy into recession, rather than the watershed event that will change the way we view growth, profitability, and even the nature of work itself. But even economic “optimists” like us need to recognize that the recovery back to last cycle’s earnings peak will be a long and grinding one. There’s a good chance that the four-quarter trailing S&P 500 GAAP Earnings Per Share cycle peak of $139.47 will not be exceeded until 2023 or 2024 (Chart 1).
After last year’s 30% S&P 500 gain, many strategists are now suggesting that the real melt-up still lies ahead. We think a melt-up has already occurred, and the bulk of it has been booked.
The stock market staged a two-day bearish reversal beginning a few hours after the release of the March employment report, a decline that could —based on the bearish status of a single MTI category (Attitudinal)—carry further before it is finished. But with the S&P 500 (and many other U.S. equity indexes) recording a bull market high as recently as April 2, it’s too early to argue the market top is “in.”
We’ve frequently mentioned the two-faced nature of thematic leadership during the current bull market. Filtering out the minor swings, Phase One lasted from March 2009 through February 2011 and was dominated by low quality, high beta and cyclical stocks.
We’ve written before about retail investors’ tendency to “conflate” stock market action with movements in the underlying economy. Misunderstanding this interrelationship generally causes the public to liquidate stocks when the economy is weak, only to ultimately buy them back when the economic recovery is obvious to all.