2012 an inflection point toward S&P500 margin compression

What I have been saying throughout 2011 is that margin compression is going to happen no matter what. The cuts have been made and so margins cannot grow any higher from cuts. It has to come from operating leverage that increases as a result of revenue growth.

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I thought this was noteworthy from Andy Lees at UBS:

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With 291 of the S&P 500 companies now reported, adjusted earnings are coming out +2.72% at USD23.78. The WSJ reports that profit margins suffered their biggest sequential decline since the crisis, although it should be said that in Q2 margins were at their highest level since 2006. According to Barclays, margins have hit an inflection point with 7 of the 10 sectors on track for margin contraction this quarter, which it says is ominous as margins usually contract 2 or 3 quarters before recession. Only 30% net of companies are beating expectations, whilst the number of companies issuing negative guidance on future profits has hit its highest level in at least 6 quarters according to Stanleys. Revenue growth is slowing

What I have been saying throughout 2011 is that margin compression is going to happen no matter what. The cuts have been made and so margins cannot grow any higher from cuts. It has to come from operating leverage that increases as a result of revenue growth. So Andy is confirming that margin compression seems to be occurring right now.

The question is whether this is baked into earnings. It depends on revenue growth of course. If margins fall, this can still be made up for by top line growth. But, the high fliers have prodigious earnings growth estimates baked into their numbers and I believe these high beta stocks will underperform. Lower beta stocks with less earnings volatility, lower growth estimates and higher dividends would outperform in this environment.

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