Start prepping your portfolio for August earnings season now
"Earnings growth expectations have been reduced dramatically since the start of the year. Higher commodity prices will lead to weaker consumer demand and lower economic growth.
As a result, we believe the global earnings growth for stocks in 2022 will be less than 5% or approximately half of the current market expectation. With increasing geopolitical tensions and recession risk, the market will struggle in returning positive returns to investors."
[Lewis Grant, Senior Portfolio Manager – Global Equities, at Federated Hermes]
Markets have bounced from oversold levels, but the quote above captures the challenge that lays ahead, irrespective of what happens in Moscow or at the US Federal Reserve: earnings estimates are most likely facing a downgrade cycle in the months ahead.
For investors, the challenge is thus to avoid owning those companies that might be forced to issue a profit warning or, in the absence of a public admission beforehand, miss market forecasts in August.
Valuations, in general, have shrunk since the start of the calendar year, but share prices usually don't respond well when anticipated sales or profits don't materialise.
One prime example from the February reporting season was provided by gloves and protective gear manufacturer Ansell ((ANN)).
Prior to the start of 2022, Ansell shares had already deflated as the market became aware of more challenging conditions for the company, and so the share price declined from $43 to $31 which might have suggested at the time the forthcoming disappointment had already been priced in.
But when management issued a profit warning in January, it was worse than anticipated, and the share price took another dive to $25. Sometimes even a cheap-looking share price is still not enough to accommodate for the disappointment that lays ahead.
There is, however, another side to this story. Since that follow-up punishment in the share price, Ansell shares have range-traded around the $25 price level. This was during a time when large parts of the share market were caught into wild swings in either direction.
As such, Ansell is showing investors one way to protect their capital in 2022: through buying a quality performer that is temporarily facing tougher conditions, with its share price beaten down to a level that, simply put, offers 'deep value' for those who can look beyond the immediate outlook.
Ansell is not a fly-by-night, not a business idea that yet needs to find enough customers to turn EBITDA-profitable, and neither has the company a chequered history that combines lucky streaks with painful failures and broken promises.
Over the decade past, Ansell shares (more than) tripled in value up until that $43 peak from last year, which is not something many ASX-listed peers can boast about.
I personally believe the company shares key common features with the much larger Amcor ((AMC)) but with a market capitalisation of circa $3bn only, and fierce competition from Malaysia, Ansell is more susceptible to the occasional stumble every now and then, and its history shows exactly that.
A company such as Ansell will get through the current period in better shape, with reinvigorated growth prospects. The market knows this all too well.
But few are willing to stick their neck out as yet, because -who knows?- there might just be another piece of negative news waiting to be announced.
In the meantime, Ansell shares have become a waiting game. Waiting for the next catalyst to move away from a deeply discounted share price.
Another example is Iress ((IRE)), a company whose share price has looked 'unexciting' for the past five years or so, but in recent weeks the buyers have returned. Again, at $10, there's but a fair argument to be made Iress shares looked 'cheap', also with the implied forward-looking dividend yield rising to around 4.7%.
The shares have risen by some 18% since the release of interim financials in February -a little over one month ago- which means the implied yield is now closer to 4%, but there remains the prospect of extra-capital management on top of the current share buyback.
Like so many other companies on the ASX, Iress is looking to sell non-core assets and shareholders will see at least part of the proceeds coming their way.
Both Ansell and Iress are but two examples of how investors have directed their attention to the lowly valued parts of the share market at a time when fears about inflation, rising bond yields and central bank tightening are putting a lot of pressure on share prices that trade on higher multiples, regardless of their operational health or outlook.
As usual, cheap-looking share prices are not a guaranteed success formula. The general climate has changed, insofar that small and micro-cap growth companies will need to achieve positive cash flows if they ever want to make a sustainable come-back, not just growth at the top line with lots of attractive sounding promises.
And for many, of course, a cheap-looking share price simply means it's not worth our attention. Unless the strategy consists of trading the short-term ups and downs in market sentiment.
What the example of Iress possibly also shows is that seeking out companies that payout extra dividends, or buy back more of their own shares, could provide that extra layer of downside protection at a time when global concerns are building about what general trends might look like later this year, and into 2023.
Another strategy to minimise risk this year is by seeking out beneficiaries from re-opening countries and economies.
Ever since the global pandemic revealed itself, and countries shut borders and limited general mobility, whole sectors have been placed on life support.
Returning back to something resembling 'normal' has been rather slow, with numerous stops and starts, for the likes of Flight Centre ((FLT)), Vicinity Centres ((VCX)), Transurban ((TCL)), Alliance Aviation Services ((AQZ)), Event Hospitality & Entertainment ((EVT)), Experience Co ((EXP)), and many more.
I did spot a few fund managers who have recalibrated their strategy for this year around this theme.
The underlying reasoning is those companies have been through such a rough time that any improvement from here onwards is a positive development. Even if that improvement fails to live up to expectations, the market most likely will still focus on the prolonged return to normal, hence in the absence of another true calamity, the downside risks should remain contained.
A special mention needs to be made of healthcare companies including Ramsay Health Care ((RHC)), CSL ((CSL)), Integral Diagnostics ((IDX)), and yes, even Sonic Healthcare ((SHL)) after the recent de-rating, which equally stand to benefit from the global return to 'normal', even though they might not necessarily be seen as such (obvious) beneficiaries right now.
A trickier challenge is to pick up equities that have been sold off on the back of rising bond yields, and out of fear for much higher bond yields yet to come, while operational conditions suggest these companies are now undervalued.
The obvious comment to make here is that investors might have to become more comfortable with the outlook for inflation and bonds before these securities can see buying interest return in a sustainable manner, but most pay dividends, which makes it less challenging to wait around for better momentum to return, one assumes.
The obvious sector to consider is Property & REITs and, lending my ear to the specialised research teams across the stockbroking industry, it appears investors have plenty of angles to choose from:
- funds managers
- daily needs retail
- land lease.
Plus, we can throw in more of the re-opening beneficiaries theme through, for example, owners of shopping malls.
Candidates to consider are Goodman Group ((GMG)), Charter Hall ((CHC)) and HomeCo ((HMC)) as reputable (and successful) funds managers, HomeCo Daily Needs REIT ((HDN)) and Shopping Centres Australasia ((SCP)) for the second category, while Abacus Property ((ABP)) -post yet another capital raising- seems to be every man's favourite in the storage sector, while Ingenia Communities ((INA)) and Lifestyle Communities ((LIC)) remain the two pre-eminent representatives for the land lease-theme.
Stock Analysis on the FNArena website shows most of these share prices are trading well below valuations and price targets put forward by the analysts covering the sector. This will not prevent share prices from possibly falling lower, but if operational conditions do not deteriorate, this gap will eventually narrow (if not close) to the upside.
Equally valid: there's still plenty of inspiration that can be drawn from the recent reporting season in February when solid results from companies including Seek ((SEK)), Lovisa Holdings ((LOV)), Hub24 ((HUB)), Aussie Broadband ((ABB)), Cleanaway Waste Management ((CWY)), and Steadfast Group ((SDF)) generated near-universal praise.
As always, the trick remains the same: "as long as operational conditions do not deteriorate".
An excellent starting point for further research and assessments could be my own comprehensive review of the February season, which was published on Monday:
Bottom-line: beyond the daily updates on the war in Ukraine, investors globally are increasingly worried about the impact of higher prices for energy and industrial and agricultural commodities on corporate margins and household budgets.
The August reporting season is still more than four months away, but investors should probably start their preparation today.
As far as Australia's two main index components are concerned, the operational outlook for the banks does not look especially attractive, but those dividends look secure and RBA rate hikes later in the year might help improve things for the sector.
A fresh update on the banks by (ex-UBS) analysts at Barrenjoey estimates two out of every three new mortgage loans in Australia are now written via mortgage brokers.
This, predict the analysts, will act as yet another earnings headwind for the sector in the next three years, with Westpac ((WBC)) to experience the heaviest impact of the Big Four.
Analyst profit forecasts for the ASX200 in FY23 are quite low, for an average of single-digit growth only, though this can easily change via miners and energy producers as commodities are arguably enjoying prolonged boom times on the back of the war in Ukraine and Western sanctions against Russia.
But the excellent top line conditions for producers of commodities is increasingly negative for the rest of society. It remains important to keep this in mind.
"US corporates now face decelerating sales growth coupled with higher costs. As such, our leading earnings model is pointing to a deceleration in EPS growth toward zero over the coming months, and higher-frequency data on earnings revision breadth are trending lower – driven by cyclicals and economically sensitive sectors – a set-up that looks increasingly 'late' cycle."
Both Ansell and Iress are held in the FNArena/Vested Equities All-Weather Model Portfolio.
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