Late last month, chip giant Advanced Micro Devices reported disappointing financial results for the fourth quarter and warned that its first-quarter performance would be weaker than expected. The stock surged 20 percent.
A couple of days later, General Electric reported one of its skimpiest quarterly profits of the century, badly missing analysts’ forecasts. The company’s stock posted its biggest jump in nearly a decade.
In recent weeks, numerous companies — including Wynn Resorts, Ford and JPMorgan Chase — have missed Wall Street forecasts, only to see their stock prices rise.
It’s a classic relief rally.
Corporate America — and its shareholders — are the beneficiaries of a sudden improvement in the markets’ mood in the past two months. And that new optimism could keep propelling stocks higher, analysts said.
With the Federal Reserve backing off plans to aggressively hike interest rates, more investors view the market’s downturn last year as overdone. And they are giving rousing ovations to corporate results just because they’re not as bad as they could have been.
The outlook was much gloomier in December. At the end of last year, the prospect of a trade war, higher interest rates, a slowing global economy and political dysfunction soured Wall Street’s attitude. Investors dumped shares at the faintest whiff of tougher times ahead.
Now, they’re buying even though corporate earnings have been relatively weak, with fewer companies beating Wall Street expectations than in recent quarters. The S&P 500 is up roughly 5 percent since companies started reporting results in middle of January.
Stocks of companies that have reported their results have risen by an average of 1.1 percent, the largest post-earnings jump in a decade, according to data from Bespoke Investment Group, a stock market research firm.
“The market is being unbelievably kind,” said Jonathan Golub, chief United States equity strategist at Credit Suisse.
The dynamic has also been a boon for companies whose financial results missed the mark. In recent years, the shares of companies whose profits or sales numbers didn’t beat Wall Street’s expectations lagged behind the broader market by 3.5 percentage points in the trading day that followed. This year, they have trailed by only 1.1 percentage points, according to analysis from Credit Suisse.
Analysts said that the current tendency in the markets to see the glass as half-full reflects widespread relief among investors that a recession and a sharp slump in earnings are not in the cards any time soon. That’s been bolstered by the Fed’s recent shift to a wait-and-see approach on future interest rate increases.
Some analysts said that stocks could keep climbing as the market’s rock-bottom expectations keep getting surpassed.
“I would say the market is still pricing in flat-to-negative earnings growth,” said Binky Chadha, chief U.S. equity and global strategist at Deutsche Bank in New York. “So we basically see room for the relief rally to continue.”
At the same time, there is a danger that the stock market’s rise could paper over the genuine problems for the economy that are popping up in fourth-quarter results.
Advanced Micro Devices’ results were weighed down by sluggish sales of graphics-processing chips designed for consumer products, a further indication that Chinese consumers have pulled back on tech spending.
The same Chinese slowdown hurt Ford’s results, which fell just short of Wall Street expectations. “The industry really fell off very, very sharply,” said Robert Shanks, the automaker’s chief financial officer. The company’s shares rose 3 percent.