With Earnings Season Over, the Insecurity Can Begin for S&P 500 Bulls

  • Earnings season accounted for almost all equity gains
  • Market vulnerable without assurance from company executives

MKM Partners' Krinsky Still Sees Market Bias to Upside

That sense of vulnerability that swept through equities last week? You might want to get used to it for a while.

The issue is earnings season, which for the past four years has occasioned an astonishing amount of the upside in the American stock market. When companies are reporting results, the S&P 500 Index is ahead, rising a net 910 points. When they aren’t, the measure is up a paltry 17, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Over and over, strong corporate results have arrived to bail out a market that is trading near the highest valuation since the dot-com era amid economic growth that rarely exceeds 2 percent. With the next reporting season not starting until July, the vacuum leaves stocks with a greater susceptibility to shocks.

“People return to some of the concerns they’ve had before and wonder whether those concerns will be consequential,” John Carey, a fund manager with Pioneer Investment Management Inc. in Boston, said by phone. “The underlying trend of the economy is not strong enough to keep people on board in between.” 

The selloff last Wednesday was a reminder of the risks looming over the market. The S&P 500 had its worst decline in eight months after contents of a memo written by James Comey when he was FBI director surfaced, alleging that President Donald Trump asked him to drop an investigation of his former national security adviser.

All told, the index advanced 1.4 percent in the latest reporting period, preserving a perfect record of gains stretching back 18 quarters.

Investors have brushed aside concerns ranging from Trump to China’s banking clampdown and North Korean missile tests as companies solidified a profit rebound that took first-quarter growth above 14 percent. Yet with most firms going silent in coming weeks, the market loses at least one anchor of calm.

Stocks have shown a higher tendency to retreat outside earnings season. Since 2013, the S&P 500 fell in 8 out of the 18 times over the stretch when companies were done reporting. That compared with none in earnings season.

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