S&P 500: All Systems Go Heading into Earnings Season

Technical analysis of Forex market

On Monday, we flipped the calendar into a new week, month, and quarter, and beyond the weather getting cooler (at least for Northern Hemisphere readers!), that means that we’re on the verge of another quarterly earnings season for US stocks.

Looking back at the performance of US companies and stocks over the last three months reveals a consistent picture: strong growth powered by a solid economic performance and the ongoing tailwind from last December’s big corporate tax cuts. For the quarter, US stocks gained 7.8% on a total return basis, with nearly 80% of companies reporting positive earnings surprises and over 70% reporting higher than expected sales.

US companies will hope to keep that momentum going heading into the Q3 earnings season, where the early indications point to another strong quarter in aggregate. As the earnings mavens at FactSet note, equity analysts have a tendency to cut earnings expectations heading into reporting season, and while that trend has emerged again this quarter, it’s been less pronounced than usual. So far, Q3 earnings estimates have been revised just -1.1% lower since June 30, well below both the 5-year (-3.2%) and 10-year (-4.8%) averages. That said, 76% of companies that offered updated outlooks for Q3 issued negative guidance, above the 5-year average of 71%.

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Nonetheless, aggregate earnings for S&P 500 companies is expected to come in at +19.3% year-over-year, underscoring both the strong economy and the lingering effects of the tax cut. Revenue growth is projected at +6.9% y/y. It remains to be seen whether the large-capitalization companies that make up the S&P 500 will be able to reach these lofty forecasts, but it’s clear that investors are optimistic about the run of strong performance continuing heading into the holiday season.

Technically speaking, the S&P 500 remains in a well-defined uptrend. Since bottoming in April, the index has formed a clear bullish channel, with prices holding in the upper half of the channel for most of the last three months. SPX broke out to a record high above 2873 in late August before pulling back to retest that key level in early September. Moving forward, that previous-resistance-turned-support level could put a floor under any near-term dips in the index.

With prices hovering at record highs, there’s little in the way of previous resistance to cap rallies, though the 127.2% Fibonacci extension of the February swoon at 2965 could serve as a near-term hurdle for bulls. Above that, the 3000 level may garner some psychological selling pressure. Taking the bullish fundamental and technical outlooks together though, the path of least resistance remains to the topside for US stocks as long as the bullish channel remains intact.