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S&P 500 Preview: Record-Level Earnings Projections

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The S&P 500 Index climbed 11.4% in value in 2014, and of course more growth is expected this year. However, analysts and market strategists are looking for smaller growth rates this year, according to FactSet.

Value increase expected for S&P 500 this year

John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet, said analysts in the industry are expecting a 6.8% price increase in the S&P 500 in the next year. They base that percentage on the difference between the “bottom-up target price” and the index’s closing price at the end of 2014.

Market strategists, on the other hand, are looking for a 6.4% price increase over the same time frame. They based that percentage on the difference between the “top-down mean target price” and the index’s closing price at the end of this past year. The percentage also excludes 2014 estimates. When including 2014 estimates, the projected increase from market strategists drops to 3.6%.

Butters points out that both the analysts and strategists underestimated how much the value of the S&P 500 Index would grow in 2014. Analysts underestimated it by 5.9% last year, while strategists underestimated it by 7.8%.

Record-level earnings projected

The analyst further states that this year the bottom-up earnings per share estimate, which is the aggregation of estimates for all of the companies in the S&P 500 Index, was $126.90 per share as of Dec. 31. If this projection ends up being right, it means the index will see a new record-high earnings per share.

History shows that analysts are probably overestimating the final EPS value of the S&P 500 at the end of 2015. In 10 of the last 15 years, analysts have overestimated that number by approximately 7.6% a year before the actual number was reported. They underestimated the final number in the other five years.

But analyst estimates for the S&P 500 Index’s earnings per share estimates at the end of the year may not be as far off as that 7.6% figure suggests. Butters notes that in three years, they were off significantly. In 2001, they overestimated it by 37.4%, while in 2008, they overestimated it by 37.8% and in 2009 they overestimated it by 29%. When excluding all of these years, analysts only overestimated the average year by 0.9%. Here’s a look at how all the numbers stack up. Graph is courtesy FactSet.

S&P 500

Butters points out that, assuming analysts are overestimating the S&P 500’s earnings per share by 7.6%, we get a final value of $117.20 per share at the end of 2015. Using the 0.9% overestimation, the value would be $125.81 per share.

Either way, the end result would still be a new record high for earnings per share in the S&P 500 Index.

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