Earnings Watch: Where The Growth Is

While everyone is still on high alert looking for signs of a recession in the consumer economy, Wall Street now seems to have weathered its own recession and come back around the other side. For the first time since mid-2022, corporate earnings are now trending above where they were 12 months ago.

In other words, the earnings recession is over. Even though it doesn’t seem like a boom, even a thin pulse of growth is a lot better than active deterioration. Wall Street math collapses when growth goes negative. Stocks don’t make rational sense.

But with even 4-5% growth to work with, companies keep getting visibly bigger, month after month and quarter after quarter. Progress is tangible. And bigger companies deserve bigger stocks. Higher earnings justify higher prices . . . or else you have to concede that the stocks themselves need to get cheaper, which usually attracts buyers who can’t resist what looks like a bargain.

So growth is good. I’ve seen this play out in my GameChangers portfolio, which jumped another 5.6% this week to bring its overall rally since Halloween to about 21%. The reason: these companies are growing faster than the mature names in the S&P 500. They’re disrupting the economic status quo.

Disruption is scary when someone else is doing it to you. But when you’re invested in the companies doing the disrupting, it feels pretty good. You can watch their sales numbers surge almost in real time. Market share grows before your eyes. Entrenched competitors stall and then stumble. In time, you’re the one owning the giant.

But maybe you’re looking for a more general picture of where the growth is in the market right now. Easy enough. Right now, I’m cautiously anticipating 11-12% earnings growth for the S&P 500 as a whole in 2024. That’s pretty good, a little better than average.

If the market goes nowhere in the next 12 months, that growth rate is enough to take current S&P 500 valuations down to a relatively reasonable 16.7X earnings. That’s honestly lower than the average we’ve seen over the past decade. It’s a buying opportunity.

Great. However, not all stocks are made equal. Some are getting disrupted, losing share and dynamism. Others are doing the disrupting. If you want to be on the right side of history, you need to own the disruptors.

Buy the usual suspects if you want growth. That’s leading consumer names like AMZN, TSLA, MCD, NKE, HD. Not all are growing and not all are worth buying at this price, but consumer stocks have run the economy this year.

That tells me that the consumer is alive and well. A recession or slowdown will normalize spending but it won’t be the end of the world. Either way, consumer discretionary stocks: 43% growth last year, 12% in the coming year. Boom!

And it’s communications. Media. Streaming. Social networks. Guess what? Hollywood is back. Car makers are up and running again. They’re advertising again. The coming political cycle will also drive money into these companies.

Guess what? The ads are already back. That means META. DIS. GOOG. And a bunch of smaller names that I really love, but only my GameChangers subscribers have come to really appreciate.

Communications stocks are looking for 17% growth in 2024. I think they’ll outperform.

Ironically, defensive names are looking vulnerable. Energy, materials, real estate . . . they’re picking up, but the recovery is slow. If you’re looking for growth, you aren’t into safe havens anyway.

You want action. A strong offense. Aggressive names.

I think 2024 will be a year for baby biotech to come back into its own. But we’ll have to see that when it happens.