Goldman Sachs warns stocks have further to fall as profits turn to losses

Like U.S. GDP, corporate earnings face collapse as the coronavirus pandemic forces business activity to grind to a halt.

“We now forecast S&P 500 (^GSPC) EPS of $110 in 2020, a decline of 33% from 2019,” Goldman Sachs equity strategist David Kostin wrote in a note to clients on Friday.

This puts Goldman on the bearish end of the analyst spectrum. According to a recent Factset survey, the average forecaster is looking for about $170 in earnings per share (EPS) for the S&P 500.

“On a quarterly basis, this reflects year/year growth of -15%, -123%, -21% and +27%,” Kostin said about Q1, Q2, Q3 and Q4, respectively. “We have cut our 2020 earnings forecast three times in 30 days (-37% in total) as the magnitude of the economic slowdown has become increasingly apparent.”

On Friday, Goldman’s U.S. economics team wrote that it expects GDP to fall at a 24% rate in Q2. Kostin estimates when Q2 earnings are all tallied up, S&P 500 companies in aggregate will have reported a $10 net loss per share.

[See Also: What is a recession? Here are the basics]

The expected sudden drop in revenue is translating into crushed profits as corporations have had very little time to adjust their operations and finances to address what’s happening.

“At the sector level, we expect large declines in Energy, Consumer Discretionary (e.g., Cruises, Hotels, Restaurants), and Industrials (e.g., Airlines),” Kostin added. “On the other hand, stockpiling may partially insulate Consumer Staples EPS.”

Another 13% drop in stock prices

The S&P 500 closed at 2,304 on Friday, down 32% from its Feb. 19 high of 3,393.

Kostin thinks the market goes lower before coming back.

“In the near-term, we expect the S&P 500 will fall towards a low of 2000,” he wrote. “The stock market is a leading indicator of business trends, and corporate activity continues to deteriorate with no signs yet of a bottom. The first quarter has not even ended and companies have yet to release 1Q results but equities have already collapsed by 32% in one month. The speed of business erosion is unprecedented.”

David Kostin, Goldman Sachs chief U.S. equity strategist. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

A handful of companies have already explicitly warned Q1 financial results would disappoint. What’s arguably worse is many companies are opting to withdraw or suspend earnings guidance, reflecting the unprecedented uncertainty that persists amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“The question for managers is do they know about future performance substantially more than investors do? My guess is that in most cases managers aren’t now better informed than investors,” said Baruch Lev, the Philip Bardes professor of accounting and finance at NYU’s Stern School of Business.

“We are all in the dark,” Lev said to Yahoo Finance. “In that case, guidance is futile.”

In terms of volatility, investors should prepare for companies to preempt their official earnings announcements — which will mostly come out from mid-April through mid-May — with ugly previews via pre-announcement press releases.

“Understandably, many firms have withdrawn previously issued guidance,” Kostin said. “More will pre-announce in coming days.”

Brace for more volatility.

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Sam Ro is managing editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter@SamRo

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