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The depressing truth underlying the bull market

Sam Ro
·Managing Editor
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The stock market (^GSPC) continues to hold onto impressive gains as the economy slogs along.

But JP Morgan's Dubravko Lakos-Bujas believes that this bull market isn't exactly anything to celebrate.

"While the current recovery cycle is often cited for its long duration (fourth longest since 1900), the fact that organic growth has been weak and unbalanced is often understated," he wrote in a note to clients on Wednesday.

A healthy and growing economy would generate robust sales for the corporations that make up the stock market. And those organic sales should be the key drivers of earnings growth.

Lakos-Bujas essentially says none of this has been happening.

"During this cycle (2Q07 profit cycle peak to present), revenues expanded at 2.5% [compound annual growth rate] with total cumulative growth of 24% (vs. the prior cycle at 7.8% and 66%, respectively)," he observed. "While sales growth was robust in the initial years of this recovery, the steadily declining trend has been less encouraging. More recently, top-line contracted during each of the last four quarters and is expected to decline further in 1Q16 (-1.8% y/y) and 2Q16 (-1.1%). The prior recovery in comparison was more robust and consistent without any intra-cycle contraction."

The downward in sales growth in Figure 3 does not instill confidence. (Image: JPMorgan)
The downward in sales growth in Figure 3 does not instill confidence. (Image: JPMorgan)

And of the meager earnings growth we've seen, much of it has been manufactured through the wizardry of financial engineering, profit margin expansion through job cuts and consolidation, and sales purchased through deals like merger and acquisitions (M&A). Lakos-Bujas continued:

Further, we estimate 39% of overall sales growth was driven by M&A during this cycle compared to 16% in the prior cycle. Excluding this synthetic boost, organic revenue growth has been a dismal 1.6% CAGR or 15% cumulative (vs. 6.8% and 55% in the prior cycle). All told, organic revenue growth has been weak driving ~50% of S&P 500 earnings growth with the rest driven by margin expansion, largely due to interest expense reduction from the prolonged zero interest rate policy.

This comes as hedge fund titans warn clients and others about the troubling signs they're seeing in the markets.

"The market is broken," Omega Advisors' Leon Cooperman said at a conference on Wednesday.

"If I was to draw an analogy to where we are today, comparatively speaking, to where we’ve been in the past, I think we’re in March or April 2007 in the context of the credit and equity markets," Hayman Capital Kyle Bass said at the same conference.

"The bull market has exhausted itself," Duquesne Capital's Stan Druckenmiller said last week.

Cheery stuff.

Sam Ro is managing editor at Yahoo Finance. Read more:

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