What all of this boils down to is that current consensus earnings estimates are high and they need to come down - and come down quite a bit. I don't subscribe to the view held by some stock market bears that earnings growth will turn negative. But I don't buy into the perennial growth story either.
So what's the big deal if estimates for Q4 come down in the coming days and weeks? After all, estimates have been coming down consistently for more than a year and the stock market has not only ignored the earnings downtrend, but actually scaled new heights.
A big reason for investors' disregard of negative estimate revisions has been that they always looked forward to a growth ramp up down the road. In their drive to push stocks to all-time highs in the recent past, investors have been hoping for substantial growth to eventually resume. The starting point of this expected growth ramp-up kept getting delayed quarter after quarter. The hope currently is that Q4 will be the starting point of such growth.
Guidance has overwhelmingly been negative over the last few quarters. But if current Q4 expectations have to hold, then we will need to see a change on the guidance front; we need to see more companies either guide higher or reaffirm current consensus expectations. Anything short of that will result in a replay of the by-now familiar negative estimate revisions trend that we have been seeing in recent quarters.
Will investors delay the hoped-for earnings growth recovery again this time or finally realize that the period of double-digit earnings growth is perhaps behind us for good? Hard to tell at this stage, but we will find out soon enough.
My sense is that markets can buck trends in aggregate earnings for some time, as they have been doing lately. But expecting the trend to continue indefinitely may not be realistic.