Trading Desk: Sweet Spots In A Critical Earnings Season

Another earnings season has now officially begun. The early numbers aren’t great, but they’re not appreciably worse than what Wall Street expected. And the scattered winners are strong enough to be worth a second look.

Start with the broad outlook. If earnings across the S&P 500 show even a bit of year-over-year growth, investors will count it as a victory. The relief rally I contemplated in recent weeks might actually lift the market off its low.

And with expectations built around something like a stall scenario, all the drama will focus on how CEOs characterize the current quarter in their guidance. Do they see economic conditions already recovering from the Fed’s rate shock? Or is the real slowdown still ahead?

I have to say economic conditions don’t look like they’ve cooled much. With revenue for the S&P 500 still trending 8-9% above last year, cash is flowing hot. Inflation is the only thing keeping that heat from feeling good . . . instead, in real terms, Corporate America is barely holding its own.

As are consumers. Factor inflation out and the top line is going backward. In the current quarter, we’re expecting revenue to decelerate a little, coming in at 5-6% above where it was last fall.

Given what we know about inflation right now, I don’t think that’s going to translate into real earnings growth. And that suggests that the real sting in CEO guidance is on the horizon.

But not every company is struggling. Energy is an obvious hot spot, but those stocks live and die on oil prices these days. Consider them too hot to handle unless you can find one that is actually changing the commodity rules.

I like real estate and the industrials. Yes, a lot of perceived growth in the industrials comes from the airlines, which are literally soaring right now. But even factoring them out, the auto makers and other manufacturers are holding up relatively well.

Focus on these three sectors. Let the rest go . . . at least for the time being.