Expectations…fulfilled?

There’s a lot of news coming out next week, both mid-term elections and the Federal Reserve meeting to announce the much-anticipated launch of QE2 (quantitative easing, round 2). 

The key question for markets is: how much of the news is already factored into prices?

This points to one of the most difficult concepts for investors to grasp–prices do not reflect current or past information, but investor expectations.

Many investors are surprised when good news comes out–“company earnings grew 50%”–only to see a stock’s price tank.  Why?  Because market price already reflected greater than 50% growth. 

Or, they’re surprised to see bad news–“the economy shrank by 2%”–lead to a jump in the stock market.  Why?  Prices reflected a more than 2% economic decline. 

Prices, whether for bonds, stocks, commodities or currencies, reflect investor expectations.  Prices move up when actual news is better than expectations and down when it’s worse than expectations.

Which raises the question in my title: will news next week exceed, fulfill or disappoint expectations?  If fulfilled, prices won’t move much; if exceeded, prices will jump; if disappointing, prices are likely to fall.

Right now, investors clearly expect the Federal Reserve to announce a quantitative easing package that is favorable to bonds, stocks and commodities and bad for the dollar.  Will that announcement fulfill, exceed or disappoint?  Markets seem too optimistic to me, but as the old Wall Street saying goes: “don’t fight the Fed.”  On the other hand, is the Federal Reserve printing dollars really a cause for stocks and bonds to appreciate?  Something to think about.

Investors currently expect Republicans to take back the House of Representatives and make gains, if not restore a majority, in the Senate.  Do market prices already reflect that expectation, or will they be disappointed?  For that matter, are market participants correctly reflecting what will actually happen if their expectations are fulfilled?  Will Republicans cutting spending be good or bad for stock prices in the short run?  Something to ponder.

The S&P 500 is selling for around $1180 right now, reflecting an expectation of 14% per share earnings growth over the next year.  With the economy likely to grow at around 2% and profit margins at cyclical highs, is overly optimistic earnings growth expected?  What will happen to stock prices if those expectations go unfulfilled?

In the long run, investing success is all about paying the right price for an asset.  In the short run (which is what Wall Street does with less than 6 month holding periods), investing success is all about guessing investor expectations.  For those focused on the long run, next week is a non-issue.  For those focused on the short run, next week will be a nail-biter.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

Expectations…fulfilled?