CEOs positive on growth, earnings yet uneasy over growing risks

The second quarter earnings season may have surprised to the upside, but corporate America’s executives have acknowledged a rising number of risks and uncertainties — even as U.S. growth and earnings beat estimates.

Last week, FactSet estimated that over 77% of the S&P 500 Index companies that have reported Q2 earnings have surprised to the upside. Separately, second-quarter growth, while softening from Q1, beat Wall Street forecasts.

With that in mind, The Transcript, which provides weekly quotes from earnings calls, cited top company executives as being mostly upbeat about their bottom lines — but cautious over an expansion that just set a record.

While Capital One (COF) CEO Richard Fairbank boasted about the U.S. being "deep into the cycle" of a sustained recovery, his peers noted clouds surrounding the outlook on interest rates and global trade.

“There remains uncertainty with respect to the economic market and rate environment,” Citigroup (C) CEO Michael Corbat said. This week, the Federal Reserve is widely expected to cut interest rates by at least a quarter of a percentage point, to help bolster the recovery.

"Both the Federal Reserve and the ECB [European Central Bank] have shifted towards a more dovish stance,” BlackRock (BLK) CEO Larry Fink told investors and analysts last week.

The bias toward monetary stimulus may “elongate this recovery,” Fink added.

The current pace of the economy is “more of a subdued up than sort of the animal spirits you would generally characterize in this type of environment,” Morgan Stanley (MS) CFO Jon Pruzan told investors on a conference call.

‘Credit markets are healthy’

With more and more clients embracing a “wait and see” approach, UBS (UBS) fears that it could spill over into markets, which have recently set records. UBS CEO Sergio Ermotti said that the banking giants “quarterly survey shows that investor sentiment remains muted,” The Transcript reported.

On Monday, the S&P 500 (^GSPC), Dow (^DJI) and Nasdaq (^IXICmostly flatlined ahead of the Fed’s decision.

The jobs market, meanwhile, remains surprisingly tight for an economy that’s slowing.

When the Labor Department reports July payrolls data on Friday, Wall Street economists expect the U.S. economy to have added 170,000 nonfarm payrolls during the month, down from 224,000 jobs added in June, according to a Bloomberg consensus forecast. The unemployment rate is seen steady at 3.7%.

"Many of our largest markets continue to see tight labor market conditions," ManpowerGroup (MAN) CEO Jonas Prising told analysts on a Q2 conference call. That echoed remarks from Domino’s Pizza (DPZ) chief Jeff Lawrence, who said “labor pressures continue to persist,” on a conference call.

Amid the uncertainty, DataTrek, which tracks key indicators like interest rates, foreign exchange rates and bond spreads to gauge the global economy’s health, said on Monday that most indicators are flashing “green lights,” with a couple of yellows — but no reds.

In fact, credit markets are as healthy as they’ve been since any time since the 2008 crisis, noted Blackstone Group LP (BX) CEO Stephen Schwarzman.

“When you look in the leveraged loan market, default rates are near record lows, coverage is as strong as it’s been since the financial crisis,” he said.

“We see a fair amount of discipline out there and we are not seeing things – anything close to what we saw in the pre crisis era...overall, the credit markets are healthy,” Schwarzman added.

But it’s not entirely good news. DataTrek pointed out that Q2 earnings “may be beating expectations, but the companies of the S&P 500 are still pretty far from showing actual earnings growth.”

DataTrek added that the current scenario “locks in an ‘earnings recession’ for Q1/Q2 2019. And that’s a perfectly fine set-up for a continued US equity rally,” it added.

Donovan Russo is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him @Donovanxrusso.

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