Goldman Sachs: American companies will have zero profit growth this year

Citi Private Bank's Kristen Bitterly explains why investors shouldn't panic during volatile market swings.

Posted: Feb 27, 2020 10:40 AM
Updated: Feb 27, 2020 10:40 AM

This was supposed to be the year that the bottom line of Corporate America rebounded after lackluster profit reports for most of 2019. But the coronavirus outbreak is threatening to end the earnings recovery before it even begins.

Goldman Sachs warned in a report Thursday that it now thinks US companies "will generate no earnings growth in 2020." The bank said this forecast is based on "the likelihood that the impact of the virus becomes widespread."

Microsoft, Priceline owner Booking Holdings and Budwesier brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev were the latest blue chip firms to say that disruption due to the coronavirus will hurt their results. Apple did so last week.

Stocks around the world have plunged this week and several key global market indexes are now in a correction, a 10% drop from recent highs. Gold has soared and long-term US bond yields have fallen to record lows in a classic flight to safety.

The VI, a measure of market volatility, has skyrocketed. And the CNN Business Fear & Greed Index, which looks at the VIX and six other gauges of market sentiment, is now showing levels of Extreme Fear in the market.

Goldman Sachs warns that it may only get worse in the near-term.

"The trajectory of the US and global economy is highly uncertain at this time," said the Goldman Sachs analysts in their report. They added that "a more severe pandemic could lead to a more prolonged disruption and a US recession."

The Goldman analysts added that they also expect a "severe decline in Chinese economic activity," lower demand for US exporters, disruptions to supply chains and higher levels of uncertainty.

With that in mind, Goldman Sachs analysts said that earnings for the S&P 500 could plunge 13% this year.

Although Goldman Sachs has turned bearish on their earnings outlook, the rest of Wall Street remains slightly more hopeful -- for now. According to estimates tracked by FactSet Research, analysts are forecasting a 0.9% increase in S&P 500 profits for the first quarter and a full year earnings increase of 7.5%.

Other market experts think that this is a reason to stay away from stocks for the foreseeable future.

"Disruption caused by the virus has already filtered down to earnings," said Columbia Threadneedle Investments strategists Josh Kutin and Anwiti Bahuguna in a blog post Thursday morning.

"Even if the momentum of the long bull market is still intact, the higher volatility keeps us from being too optimistic about equity market opportunities in the short term," they added.

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