Amid The Fake News, The Real Story Is Earnings Growth

“Fake news” has become a bipartisan concern, as disinformation and propaganda infect mainstream as well as social media. Another troubling pattern has emerged whereby politicians who dislike critical news coverage dismiss it as fake, even when it’s accurate.

Well, here’s some real news and you can take it to the bank: third-quarter earnings are coming in strong. This indisputable fact was underscored on Monday, as the prospect of positive corporate operating results combined with encouraging data from China pushed the major indices to new highs.

Let’s take a closer look.

Monday Market Wrap

All three indices on Monday hit intraday records in early trading. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 85.24 points, or 0.37% percent, to 22,956.96. The S&P 500 gained 4.47 points, or 0.18%, to 2,557.64. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite added 18.21 points, or 0.28%, to 6624.01.

Oil prices also jumped on Monday, cheering energy investors and adding impetus to the rally. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, rose 0.87% to $51.90 per barrel. Brent North Sea Crude, on which international oils are priced, rose 1.28% to close at $57.90/bbl.

Crude was pushed higher by fears of renewed sanctions against Iran, which would dampen production, as well as a falling U.S. rig count.

Monday’s Big Gainers

Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE: FCX) +3.53%

The mining giant’s raw materials, especially copper, should enjoy persistently strong demand fueled by global growth and Chinese expansion.

Newfield Exploration (NYSE: NFX) +1.20%

The independent oil and gas producer should get a bump from its oil producing assets offshore China.

Hess (NYSE: HES) +2.29%

The oil and gas producer rose in tandem with rising oil prices.

Monday’s Big Losers

PG&E (NYSE: PCG) –7.52%

The California-based electric utility is under investigation by state regulators over concerns that its power lines may have started the wildfires still devastating the west coast.

J.B. Hunt Transport Services (NSDQ: JBHT) –2.28%

The transportation and delivery company’s shares continue to fall in the wake of third-quarter results that showed strong operating revenue growth but weakening margins.

Expeditors International of Washington (NSDQ: EXPD) –2.16%

The transportation and logistical company faces shrinking margins and concerns over the effects of Trump’s “America First” trade policies on the company’s international operations.

Investors also are keeping an eye on media streaming giant Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX), which is scheduled to report third-quarter earnings Monday evening after the closing bell. Subscriber growth will be the key metric to watch.

In the week ahead, these industry bellwethers are scheduled to report earnings:

Tuesday: UnitedHealth (NYSE: UNH), Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS), Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS), and IBM (NYSE: IBM).

Wednesday: American Express (NYSE: AXP).

Friday: General Electric (NYSE: GE) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG).

Earnings expectations are generally positive for the above companies.

According to research firm FactSet, the blended year-over-year earnings per share (EPS) growth rate for the S&P 500 in the third quarter is projected to come in at 2.1%.

With 6% of S&P 500 companies so far reporting actual results for the third quarter, 81% of companies have reported positive EPS surprises and 78% have reported positive sales surprises. Over the next two weeks more than 200 companies are expected to report third-quarter operating results.

In addition to positive earnings expectations, the markets on Monday were buoyed by upbeat inflation figures from China. Producer prices in China exceeded analyst expectations to rise 6.9% in September from a year ago, an indication that the world’s second-largest economy is humming along nicely. The data fueled investors’ appetite for risk and propelled equities.

A Melt-Up Rally?

The market’s momentum comes with a few caveats. We could be witnessing what’s called a “melt-up” rally, whereby investors indiscriminately pile into stocks because they’re afraid of missing out. Valuations are indeed excessive, which makes careful stock picking all the more imperative.

The cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio, designed by Nobel laureate Robert Shiller, points to a dangerously overvalued market. Don’t get us wrong: We have no patience with the carnival barkers on financial television who predict calamity day in and day out. We deal in facts, as exemplified by CAPE.

The CAPE ratio is defined as price divided by the average of 10 years of earnings (moving average), adjusted for inflation. The ratio currently stands at 31, which is 85% higher than the historical mean of 16.8. It’s also higher than the reading of 30, which occurred immediately before the market crash of 1929.

For a potential crash trigger, let’s turn to the lessons of history.

This Day in History

On October 16, 1962, President John F. Kennedy first became aware of Soviet Union missiles in Cuba, sparking a Cold War confrontation that almost resulted in World War III.

President Trump’s brinkmanship with nuclear armed North Korea is often compared to the Cuban Missile Crisis and when Trump taunts the totalitarian Communist state, markets usually tank.

As we’ve witnessed in recent days, when Trump attacks a company, industry or country, billions in market valuation can instantly vanish.

But if you’re worried about the tit-for-tat antics between North Korea and the United States, don’t be. You shouldn’t trade based on Trump’s mercurial tweets and pronouncements. Instead, focus on investment fundamentals.

During the “13 Days in October” of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the stock market fell but then rose strongly after the standoff was over. Likewise, whenever investors get jittery over geopolitical tensions, such as Trump’s feud with North Korean president Kim Jong-Un, the market tanks only to rebound later.

Accordingly, worries about Trump’s threat over the weekend to end the Iran nuclear deal did little to dampen the market’s momentum on Monday.

The lesson: Buying opportunities are born when the investment lemmings leap off a cliff because of temporary headlines.

Number of the Day

Since March 2009, when the S&P 500 bottomed out after the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, the index has generated a total return of 230%.

The takeaway is to keep your eye on the long view and don’t buy stocks that you’d be tempted to unload in a panic.

In the words of super investor Warren Buffett: “Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years.”

So if you’re worried about “fake” news, here’s a real bulletin for you: markets this week are poised for an earnings-fueled rally, as investors ignore domestic politics and military saber-rattling in favor of operating results.