US profit growth to accelerate in 2024 despite economy risks

US profit growth to accelerate in 2024 despite economy risks


US profit growth to accelerate in 2024 despite economy risks

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. corporate earnings should improve at a stronger clip in 2024 as inflation and interest rates come down, analysts predict, but worries about slowing economic growth hang over the outlook.

S&P 500 earnings are expected to increase 11.1% overall in 2024 after rising a modest 3.1% last year, according to estimates compiled by LSEG.

But earnings growth needs to be enough to support lofty valuations in stocks. The S&P 500 (.SPX) index is trading at 19.8 times forward 12-month earnings estimates, well above its long-term average of 15.6 times, based on LSEG Datastream data.

Falling rates helped drive a sharp year-end rally, especially after the Federal Reserve in December opened the door to interest rate cuts in 2024 after a rate hike campaign that started in 2022.

The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) in December hit its first record high close since January 2022, while the S&P 500 is within striking distance of its all-time closing finish. The S&P 500 rose 24.2% for the year.

"The market trading where it is at current levels demands earnings to show strong growth next year," said Sameer Samana, senior global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

Among concerns for 2024 is the lingering effect of higher interest rates on the economy and corporate earnings, he said.

The U.S. government confirmed in December that economic growth accelerated in the third quarter. Gross domestic product increased at a 4.9% annualized rate last quarter, the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) said in its final estimate.

Profit estimates could weaken further as companies begin to open their books on the fourth quarter and give guidance for the first quarter and the rest of 2024. The release of fourth-quarter results will kick into high gear in mid-January.

"We're definitely seeing those (first quarter) estimates weakening at a faster pace," said Nick Raich, chief executive of The Earnings Scout. "Look at a name like FedEx, and that's a good bellwether of the global economy."

FedEx (FDX.N) shares tumbled 12.1% Dec. 20, a day after the package delivery company reported earnings for the quarter ended Nov. 30 that fell short of analysts' targets and cut its full-year revenue forecast.

Estimated year-over-year earnings growth for S&P 500 companies for the first quarter of 2024 is now at 7.4%, down from 9.6% on Oct. 1, based on LSEG data. For the fourth quarter of 2023, S&P 500 earnings are forecast to rise 5.2%, down from 11% growth seen on Oct. 1.