Thursday, December 20, 2007

The End of Pollyanna Propaganda?

It almost pains us to ‘pile-on’ with yet another blow to Wall Street’s favorite punching bags, but let’s be honest, they’ve brought this upon themselves.

In yet another story this week that bullies research analysts about their collective incompetence (to make the distinction, we are referring to the 'mouthpieces' at big firms who are payed to spew rhetoric, not analysts who are independent and conflict-free), Geoff Colvin, writing for Fortune, brought us ‘Analysts in Fantasyland.’ To excerpt from the painfully accurate account delivered in Geoff’s story:

Maybe Wall Street analysts are more honest and less compromised than they were pre-SarbOx, but recent events show that they're still awful at their most important job: predicting bad news. They haven't lost their habit of falling in love with the companies they cover and refusing to face unpleasant realities until everyone else has already done so. Now, eight years after they were inflating the bubble, we again have to question whether analysts do retail investors any good.

The latest evidence: Analysts have only just discovered that corporate profits in the fourth quarter aren't going to be nearly as strong as they had supposed a month or two ago. The consensus view going into the quarter was that S&P 500 profits would go up 12 percent to 15 percent, a large jump coming on top of the 20 percent rise in last year's fourth quarter. In light of the credit crunch, the housing collapse, and the towering price of oil, that forecast seemed highly - one might say insanely -optimistic. This it proved to be, but only after the quarter began did the consensus view finally lurch into the real world. Their growth forecast is now about 1.5 percent and still falling.

It has been obvious for many months that profit growth would have to slow way down simply because it couldn't continue at recent rates. Profits have been rising sharply the past few years, which makes sense after the hole they fell into in 2001 and 2002. But by early this year they had grown to 12 percent of GDP, way above their historical average of 9 percent. Analysts knew all this, and in case they didn't, various commentators (including Fortune's Shawn Tully) were insistently pointing it out. But the analysts, ever hopeful, chose to believe that U.S. companies would perform magic.
Although their hand was somewhat forced, in-house analysts are finally able to call it like they see it (as long as they talk ONLY about what has already occurred/is occurring). Perhaps it’s better late than never? Could the days of Pollyanna Propaganda be over?

We doubt it, but at least they’re not denying the sky is blue….for now.