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Market comeback could continue as earnings top expectations, Art Cashin says

The earnings apocalypse has still not materialized. Despite dire predictions a month ago, third- and fourth-quarter earnings estimates are only slightly below where they were a month ago. On July 1, Q3 earnings were expected to be up 11.1%. Now, the estimates stand at 10.3%. It’s the same story with fourth-quarter estimates: They were expected on July to rise 10.6%, now they’re expected to expand by 10%. Bulls have so far successfully argued that the early CEO comments do show some impact to earnings from higher costs, but the much-feared recession talk has abated somewhat. The U.S. labor market remains strong. As a result, we don’t see analysts fearful enough to dramatically cut second half estimates from where they were a month ago. Not only are earnings not collapsing, but overall corporate profit margins — while lower — are not collapsing either. The bulls are getting more control of the market, but now the hard part comes. The S & P 500 has rallied about 8% off the June lows. That’s good news, but it’s pushed the market multiple up. The S & P 500 is now trading at a 16.5 times forward multiple (Q3 2022 through Q2 2023), about the long-term historic average. At the June bottom, it was 15.2. The problem is, there is very little expectation for earnings growth in the next six months. When the market was trading near its lows last month, at 15.2 times forward earnings, it was far more interesting. Now that the multiple is expanding, it’s getting harder to argue for higher prices. Why? It’s hard to get excited about an expanding multiple when so many are expecting an economic slowdown where there will be little earnings growth or even a reversal. Multiples historically expand when growth improves and shrink when growth recedes. That’s why technology is having a moment. It’s the usual area to run to when there is no growth, and the first to turn around when there is growth. The S & P technology sector has seen its 2022 multiple decline all year, from about 31 in the beginning of the year to below 20 in June. But the story in July has been to start picking on technology stocks, since they might be one of the few areas for real growth later in the year, after the Federal Reserve has finished with its rate hikes. As a result, the forward multiple for the S & P Technology Sector has been increasing all month, and is now at 21.8. That’s not rich territory (it’s closer to its historic average in the last decade, which was about 20), but how much more can the market expand if there is no growth? My old pal Art Cashin at UBS thinks it could go further. “With 10% of the S & P reporting, the earnings have not been as disastrous as people thought,” he told me. “So the combination of that, with the hope that the inflation numbers won’t be as bad, along with a short squeeze, could get the S & P over 4,000 and even to 4,100.” OK, but there’s a long hot summer between now and the glorious pickup in growth some bulls see for Q4 and 2023.

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