NEW YORK ( ETF Expert) -- On a quarterly basis, 61% of companies tend to beat top-line revenue numbers. However, corporations are only beating expectations by a paltry 39% for the first quarter.
The revenue shortfall is not hard to explain. Multinational corporations are struggling to generate sales due to a slowdown in global growth, particularly in Europe and China. The modest achievement in earnings is not particularly difficult to explain either. Bottom-line profit can be achieved by cutting costs, increasing worker responsibilities and implementing successful tax strategies. On the other hand, executives are less able to sweep revenue data under the proverbial rug.
Bulls don't seem to be bothered by surging price-to-sales ratios or the associated questions concerning valuation. If central banks around the world are lowering target interest rates, or printing money to buy bonds to lower actual rates, they see the backstop as unconditionally positive for high-yielding assets and equities.
What's more, if a slight majority of companies are still beating profit expectations, where's the price-to-earnings fire?
Bears are far less convinced. Simply stated, corporations will not ramp up their hiring if they don't have more sales to justify new employee acquisition. It follows that if genuine job growth remains elusive, consumers cut back on their spending, businesses hold on to their capital and even the recovering real estate sector might stall.
Are the revenue "misses" contained to certain segments? Not really. The market has already seen top-line shrinkage from
Procter & Gamble
and dozens of other global participants. As it relates to exchange-traded fund investing, who will be correct in the weeks and months ahead? The bulls?
Or the safe-haven seeking, long-bond buying bears?
Perhaps ironically, neither camp may have an accurate grasp on what will happen going forward. The most likely scenario in the near-term? Stocks will pull back for any combination of reasons, though analysts will look backwards to explain the corrective activity. Profit-taking, revenue failure, euro-zone debt troubles, budget battles, seasonal patterns, deepening global recession, China manufacturing slowdown -- pick your venom. At that time, of course, we will hear from the high-profile bears who make investors feel that the world itself is imploding.