Sell in May and Go Away 2013, Earnings Season Scorecard

The first-quarter earnings season is peaking this week, as far as the number of companies on a normal calendar. Corporate earnings have been weaker than expected in a manner of sorts, yet until Wednesday’s economic reports showed weak jobs, the stock market was rising and rising. The S&P 500 Index even hit yet another all-time high just on Tuesday to close out the month of April ahead of what is supposed to be a “Sell in May, and Go Away!” theme.

The key trend is that companies still are managing to meet or beat earnings expectations. Corporate revenues are coming in soft, to the point that the concerns cannot just be ignored. These soft revenue reports are even after many analysts had lowered sales expectations ahead of and during earnings season.

We have just lowered our own forecast for the payrolls expectations with unemployment this Friday, following weaker TrimTabs payrolls and ADP payrolls reports. Even construction spending is starting to cool off. Market technician Carter Worth of Oppenheimer recently indicated on CNBC that the market is even more bifurcated than it has been in the past going into this May cycle.

One bit of good news may be that Merrill Lynch sees several breakout stocks despite the Sell in May history. We are growing more concerned that companies are lowering their expectations for sales in the rest of 2013. Europe keeps reporting lower and lower growth, or worse outright worse into recession territory. Japan’s only saving grace is coming from a massive stimulus package from the Bank of Japan under Abe.

Our take is that the easier earnings and sales growth cycle has peaked, at the same time that the stock market is up well above 10% after the first 4 months of the year. The stock market is supposed to be a voting proxy for what things will look like six months or so into the future. And long-term bond yields are hitting back at very low levels rather than rising. At some point, investors may not be able to stomach the valuations they are paying for these so-called defensive stocks and for high-yield dividends that are getting less high by the day. Junk bonds just hit another cycle low, and we even called it a crush-depth valuation.

We are now already at about 70% of the S&P 500 Index companies that have reported. What are we supposed to consider when growth is anemic on earnings and sales growth is nonexistent? We now may be facing only 2.5% or 3% earnings growth ahead, depending upon which source you are focusing on.  The risks ahead are combined for big multinational players because of a high dollar value and weak organic demand from Europe and Asia.

General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) was perhaps the biggest disappointment to us this whole earnings season if its drop was “only” about 10% from peak to trough. GE is the best yield of the DJIA conglomerates but shares were shelled after earnings. International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) is also showing no sales growth at all, and its “high” dividend hike was actually a severe disappointment to us. Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) has limited growth as well, and the only good news here on its earnings was that it was at least anticipated. Even United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX) has taken it on the chin. More concern came in Bank of America Corporation (NYSE: BAC) and in J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) now that we have seen a serious bank call that the best has been seen for 2013 from financials. And what are you supposed to make of it if Alcoa Inc. (NYSE: AA) is out yet again looking to cut capacity even further that will result in layoffs.

The lower copper and oil prices have to be considered as well, as they signal economic weakness ahead. Oil inventories just came in at the highest reading ever since they started tracking them.

Investors keep buying up stocks. Maybe that will continue, but the strong performance at some point has to be based upon something more than that the Fed and Treasury will keep the money cheap and keep the asset buying and quantitative easing measures around perpetually.

Read Also: Biotech Bubble Against Big Pharma Valuations?

What is funny is that we here are not really scared of stocks and valuations in many instances. The problem is that this is very selective and there are many cross currents that do not add up in a logical manner for value investors right now. Maybe the ISM forecast of the U.S. avoiding a 2013 recession and a surprising rise of consumer confidence are all that really matter ahead for the bulls.

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