Here’s Why Strong Earnings Can Hurt Stock Prices
There are many similarities between investing in stocks and handicapping in sports betting. For example, investors (bettors) have opposing views on whether a particular stock (NASDAQ:TEAM) will go up or down (win or lose), and determine if the valuation (point spread) is reflective of the proper equilibrium (supply & demand). And just like the stock market, virtually anybody off the street can place a sports bet – assuming one is of legal age and in a legal betting jurisdiction.
Right now investors are poring over data as part of the critical, quarterly earnings ritual. Thus far, roughly 20% of the companies in S&P 500 index (NYSE:SPY) have reported their results and 78% of those companies have beaten Wall Street expectations (NASDAQ:CNBC). Unfortunately for the bulls, this trend has not been strong enough to push market prices higher in 2010.
So how and why can market prices go down on good news? There are many reasons that short-term price trends can diverge from short-run fundamentals. One major reason for the price-fundamental gap is the following factor: expectations. Just last week, the market had climbed over +70% in a ten month period, before issues surrounding the Massachusetts Senatorial election, President Obama’s banking reform proposals, and Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke’s re-appointment surfaced. With such a large run-up in the equity markets come loftier expectations for both the economy and individual companies.
So when corporate earnings unveiled from companies like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), J.P. Morgan (NYSE:JPM), and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) outperform relative to forecasts, one explanation for an interim price correction is due to a significant group of investors not being surprised by the robust profit reports. In sports betting lingo, the sports team may have won the game this week, but they did not win by enough points (“cover the spread”).
Some other reasons stock prices move lower on good news:
- Market Direction: Regardless of the underlying trends, if the market is moving lower, in many instances the market dip can overwhelm any positive, stock- specific factors.
- Profit Taking: Many times investors holding a long position will have price targets or levels, if achieved, that will trigger selling whether positive elements are in place or not.
- Interest Rates: Certain valuation techniques (e.g. Discounted Cash Flow and Dividend Discount Model) integrate interest rates into the value calculation. Therefore, a climb in interest rates has the potential of lowering stock prices – even if the dynamics surrounding a particular security are excellent.
- Quality of Earnings: Sometimes producing winning results is not enough. On occasion, items such as one-time gains, aggressive revenue recognition, and lower than average tax rates assist a company in getting over a profit hurdle. Investors value quality in addition to quantity.
- Outlook: Even if current period results may be strong, on some occasions a company’s outlook regarding future prospects may be worse than expected. A dark or worsening outlook can pressure security prices.
- Politics & Taxes: These factors may prove especially important to the market this year, since this is a mid-term election year. Political and tax policy changes today may have negative impacts on future profits, thereby impacting stock prices.
- Other Exogenous Items: Natural disasters and security attacks are examples of negative shocks that could damage price values, irrespective of fundamentals.
Certainly these previously mentioned issues do not cover the full gamut of explanations for temporary price-fundamental gaps. Moreover, many of these factors could be used in reverse to explain market price increases in the face of weaker than anticipated results.
For those individuals traveling to Las Vegas to place a wager on the NFL Super Bowl, betting on the hot team may not be enough. If expectations are not met and the hot team wins by less than the point spread, don’t be surprised to see a decline in the value of the bet.
Wade W. Slome is a CFA and CFP® at Sidoxia Capital Management.
Disclosure: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own GOOG and certain exchange traded funds, but do not own JPM or INTC or any other security referenced in this article.
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