As I have noted in recent posts, an earnings recovery seems to be unfolding. Increasingly, more data continues to point to this earnings recovery over the course of the next twelve months. On Friday, the Economic Cycle Research Institute released data on its proprietary Weekly Leading Index. A variation of this same index is the Leading Growth Index (WLIg). As the following chart shows, the WLIg turned positive in March. Importantly, earnings growth tends to follow changes in the WLIg and recent positive equity market returns may be anticipating an improvement in both the economy and earnings.
Two variables that led to the earnings headwinds in 2015 were the strong U.S. Dollar and the contraction in oil prices, both of which had a negative impact on a number of sectors in the economy. Brent Crude equaled $36 per barrel at the end of 2015 and closed in September at $46 per barrel. Oil prices are likely to remain volatile; however, OPEC’s announcement at the end of September of a production cap (cut) provides some desire by OPEC to see some balance in the supply and demand for oil. This potential balance will be favorable for companies exposed to the energy sector of the economy. As a caution though, in the early 1980’s, OPEX cut supply and then saw oil prices fall 40% as other producers increased supply in order to capture market share. In fact, a similar dynamic could play out this time as the Baker Hughes rig count has increased from 408 in May to 481 in August.