Earnings growth set a new millennium record in 2018. It’s now a major hurdle to growth in 2019. Growth estimates are a third of last year’s and declining. The mortar in the market’s wall of worry now is margins.
Margins drove outstanding earnings growth in 2018, and can choke it off in 2019. It may seem as if this correction is a bit overdone. But there is a major issue. Margins are at record highs and forecast to recede.
Earnings continue their record-breaking trend. S&P 500 price gains have been driven by earnings growth as overall valuation has subsided. Record margin levels contributed half the earnings growth, but may be the main drag in 2019.
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Stock market’s character has fundamentally shifted. Gains last year came almost entirely from earnings, and at the lowest volatility in three decades. Earnings growth is at a seven-year high. But future growth depends on margins already at nose-bleed levels.
While no investor who’s long the market enjoys a correction, negotiated properly, it can be turned to an advantage. At Coherent, we focus on proactively mitigating downside risks by actively managing our stock market exposure.
Investors are often apprehensive about how changing interest rates will affect their investments. Record low bond yields look poised to break out of a 6-year range. Will rising rates squash stocks? Burst bonds?
Earnings in 2017 have been spectacular. Estimates for 2018 have risen to a millennium record, and so have market valuations. But high margins levels caution for more reasonable expectations. The recent correction may just be an omen.
In the current stock market, irresistible forces for economic growth face seemingly insurmountable stock market barriers. GDP is finally spearheading economic growth. However, record operating margins stand a formidable shield against earnings growth.