A scrutiny of 25 of the biggest companies across a broad range of industries revealed window dressing that made numbers look rosy, while core revenues were still weak; hardly an endorsement justifying a 40-per cent rise in share prices, writes CNN's London correspondent Richard Quest, in this exclusive column for domain-b.
Have you ever watched a lady walking down the street on very high-heeled shoes that are clearly beyond her abilities? The tottering; the ungainly sway; the break of a spike; the twist of and ankle, and possibly a crashing fall to the floor.
The stock market in recent weeks has been behaving in just such a fashion. Rising from its March low, the S&P 500 is now 44 per cent higher than its lows of early March. The DJ Euro Stoxx 50 has gained 42 per cent. This rise has taken place while we are still getting horrible numbers showing economies still in recession and unemployment rising. For instance, last week the UK government announced the economy contracted by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter, leading to a 5.6 per cent fall for the year, and yet the FTSE rose 7 per cent!
The market is baffling sedulous investors seeking reasons for the gains, especially while economists continue to offer dark warnings about the future.
I could offer you many reasons to try and explain what is going on. Some will find comfort in the latest earnings reports from major companies. Analysis by Bloomberg shows 75 per cent of the S&P 500 companies that have reported so far, have surpassed expectations. Others will remind me that markets are a leading indicator lighting the way forward, not some rear view mirror like GDP or jobless numbers. And there are those who will delve into the bag of tricks used by technical analysts such as chartists to explain the inexplicable.
None of these reasons make good sense when you put them into the real world where companies are still cutting back. On my programme ''Quest Means Business'' we do our own analysis of the earnings season with the Q25. This isn't a scientific index! We take 25 of the biggest companies across a broad range of industries and debate whether they receive red or green marks for their earnings, asking simply ''did they meet or beat expectation?''
When we looked closely we saw a lot of window dressing making numbers look rosy. Core revenues were still weak; outlook and guidance were often poor or non-existent. Overall we got the feeling many companies were just about getting by in horrible trading conditions. In the end we gave 13 greens and 12 red, hardly an endorsement justifying a 40 per cent rise in share prices.