The outlook for 2018 appears to also be strong. "Baseline" economic growth is about 4-5%. The dollar is depreciating, which could add another 3 percentage points to growth. The new tax reform law, passed in late 2017, is expected to add another 7 percentage points. Finally, rising oil prices are a tailwind for the energy sector. As a consequence, the consensus expects earnings to grow 18% this year.
Where critics have a valid point is valuation: even excluding energy, the S&P is now more highly valued than anytime outside of the late 1990s. With profit margins already at new highs, it will likely take excessive bullishness among investors to propel equity price appreciation faster than earnings over the next few years.
Bearish pundits continue to repeat several misconceptions. In truth, 90% of the growth in earnings in the S&P over the past 8 years has come from better profits, not share "buybacks." The S&P's price appreciation has been primarily driven by better earnings (60%) not higher valuations (the remaining 40%). The trend in "operating earnings" is the same as those based on GAAP.
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86% of the companies in the S&P 500 have released their fourth quarter (4Q17) financial reports. The headline numbers are very good. Here are the details:
Overall quarterly sales are 9% higher than a year ago. This is the best sales growth in 6 years (since 2011). On a trailing 12-month basis (TTM), sales are 7% higher yoy (all financial data in this post is from S&P). Enlarge any image by clicking on it.