Attention investors: Europe and its problems are about to get in your face again.
American financial markets have a hard time getting their arms around problems in Europe and other global economies. Investors react to some bad news with gloomy sell-offs but often ignore more incremental developments.
Recently, those investors seem to be more focused on the relative strength of the US economy.
We’re not doing all that well, just better than many other places around the world. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index has lost ground over the last three sessions, but is still up nearly 6 percent since the start of June.
“We’re the best house in a bad neighborhood,” says Lew Piantedosi, a portfolio manager at Eaton Vance in Boston.
Now American companies are starting to issue financial reports for the second quarter of the year.
One no-brainer forecast: Many of the big global businesses included in the S&P 500 will report that sales outside America are slowing down, especially in Europe. You’ll get tired of hearing it over the next few weeks.
“Europe is going to be shorthand for the global economy is doing a lot worse than we thought,” says Nigel Gault, chief US economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington.
There is no way to avoid a slowing global economy. Many companies have lowered their guidance to investors on earnings, and a handful — from Starbucks Corp. to Procter & Gamble Co. — have specifically cited weaker European markets. On top of economic problems abroad, the declining value of the euro has been another headache for US companies that report financial results in dollars.
Quarterly profit forecasts for all companies in the S&P 500 as a group have been shrinking for several months. Now, analysts expect earnings to grow by a skimpy 0.6 percent for the quarter, (excluding Bank of America Corp., which is a special case this quarter), according to Thomson Reuters First Call.
A similar collection of Wall Street forecasts by S&P Capital IQ anticipates an earnings decline of 1.3 percent.
“You’ve had [profit] estimates coming down at a level not seen since 2001,” says Jeffrey Mortimer, director of investment strategy at BNY Mellon Wealth Management in Boston. “You’re getting significant revisions as global growth has slowed.”
Mortimer thinks that news about weak overseas business will affect individual stocks differently. Many of those stocks, he says, have already declined in recognition of more difficult market conditions around the world and may actually benefit in weeks ahead.
More important, investors will look at all those company reports collectively for a big-picture view of economies in Europe and developing nations.
Beyond the details about business over the past three months, investors are anxious to hear executives talk about their immediate prospects overseas. No one expects a pep talk.
“They have no incentive to keep the bar high,” says Piantedosi at Eaton Vance. “The goal for most of these management teams is to keep expectations in check.”
All those individual reports will appear like pixels in a big new picture of economies around the world. It should come into sharp focus in a few weeks.
. . .
Mark your calendar: Massachusetts officials will report next week on state revenues for the full fiscal year ended on June 30. I’m serious.
The revenue report matters for at least two reasons. It’s a good measure of how the state’s economy is performing. We’ll also find out if the state reached revenue forecasts used in budget plans. The results are going to be pretty good, though hardly spectacular.
I don’t have to be psychic to know that. State officials filed their mid-month update for June a few weeks ago and spelled out results for the first 50 weeks of the fiscal year.
For all but the final two weeks of the year, income tax payments had increased by 2.4 percent. Sales and use taxes — a particularly good way to take the pulse of the state’s economy — had increased by 3.4 percent. Corporate and business taxes increased by 11.6 percent over the first 50 weeks.
The revenue commissioner, Amy Pitter, says the state’s “combined reporting” requirement for corporate returns, which could increase taxable income, and a lower tax rate for business had been a revenue wash.
Overall, the state had collected $19.9 billion through June 14.
The target for the full fiscal year: $21 billion. The final total should be very close to the target.