SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — A two-day Federal Open Market Committee meeting looms before investors in coming days.
Stocks snapped a five-week winning streak Friday, with the Dow Jones industrial Average DJIA, -0.36% down 0.9%, the S&P 500 Index SPX, -0.60% falling 1.1%, and the Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -0.53% off by 0.3% for the week.
Investors will be on the lookout for the two magic words of “considerable time” in the Fed’s FOMC policy statement. That phrasing relates to when the Fed expects to begin raising interest rates from near-zero levels. Omission of the phrase from the statement could indicate a hike sooner than investors have been expecting.
Dan Greenhaus, chief strategist at BTIG, who thinks the “considerable time” language might survive in the September meeting’s policy statement, said the relentless move in stocks since 2011 has sucked in the last of the bearish strategists, some of whom are forecasting notable gains by the end of the year.
“Since we, like others, haven’t gotten absolutely more bullish, this has left us relatively more bearish,” Greenhaus said.
Bearish strategists have continued to loosen up and hike their targets. This past week noted bear Gina Martin Adams at Wells Fargo Securities dropped her 1,850 year-end target in favor of a 12-month target of 2,100, as earnings strength is beginning to counter the fear of Fed volatility. Similarly, David Bianco at Deutsche Bank raised his target to 2,050 from 1,850.
Holdouts to raising targets are fewer, but remain. Brian Belski at BMO Capital Markets is sticking by his 1,900 target, emboldened by others’ target raises, and convinced that stock prices have gotten ahead of themselves and need earnings to catch up, especially with the Fed wrapping up its easing programs.
BTIG’s Greenhaus is also wary of how investors will digest Fed policy going forward.
“As we increasingly approach the end of 2014, the bias does indeed remain to the upside but the fact remains that we’re closing in on tighter Fed policy and that is often not good for equities,” Greenhaus said.
With QE training wheels off: Will earnings provide momentum?
In the slow time between earnings season peaks, a few notable company will be releasing results this week.
Adobe Systems Inc. ADBE, -1.99% reports on Tuesday. FedEx Corp. FDX, +0.81% General Mills Inc. GIS, -0.90% , and Lennar Corp. LEN, -1.39% report on Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, Oracle Corp. ORCL, -0.44% , ConAgra Foods Inc. CAG, -0.49% , and Red Hat Inc. RHT, -1.86% release quarterly results.
Following that it’ll be less than a month before we’re back in the thick of earnings season in October.
Currently, about 75% of companies on the S&P 500 offering quarterly outlooks are guiding below the Wall Street consensus, according to John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet. While that may seem high compared to the five-year average of 66%, it’s below the 83% from this time last year, and on par with the 75% from three months ago heading into this past earnings season.
In fact, corporate outlooks are at their most optimistic in nearly two years, according to Savita Subramanian, Bank of America Merrill Lynch equity and quant strategist, in a recent note.
BofA Merrill Lynch US Quantitative Strategy
Outlook optimism highest in nearly two years.
“After growing increasingly negative on earnings guidance since 2010, management is finally sounding more constructive,” Subramanian noted. “The 3-month ratio of above-consensus to below-consensus earnings guidance ticked up to 0.60 as of the end of August, just below average and at the highest level since December 2012.”
Third-quarter earnings for the S&P 500 are currently expected to grow by 6.2%, down from an estimate of 6.5% a week ago., according to Butters.