In his weekly chart packet, Goldman's high frequency strategist, David Kostin, who now changes his year end S&P targets almost as frequently as the firm's economic team changes its GDP forecast, once again gets decidedly fatalistic (very much like Citigroup did yesterday, and Morgan Stanley last week), and is now openly contemplating downside cases to his EPS forecast. And with 2012 EPS numbers thrown around like $91 based on what is certainly an upcoming (but for now still hypothetical) margin contraction, $82 based on a 2% drop (almost guaranteed) in GDP Y/Y, and $75 based on historical earnings plunges in a recession, it may be time to listen up, because apply a traditional contractionary multiple of about 9-10x, and you have yourself a tidy little range of 700 - 910 on the S&P in about a year, absent yet another round of fiscal and/or monetary stimulus.
Kostin on the sensitivity between GDP and EPS:
...MOREEvery 50 bp shift in 2012 GDP growth rate translates into about $2 per share in 2012 EPS. For example, if the US economy stalls and registers no growth in 2012, then our EPS forecast would equal $94, about $8 below our current estimate and 2% below 2011. If US GDP contracts by 2% on a year/year basis then 2012 EPS would fall to $82 reflecting a 14% decline from 2011.
Many investors are surprised that the EPS sensitivity to GDP growth is not more sizeable. One explanation is that a meaningful portion of aggregate earnings is only modestly linked to GDP growth. Utilities, Telecom Services, Consumer Staples and Health Care will account for nearly 30% of 2012 EPS. We recognize that federal and state government austerity next year will likely have a negative impact on earnings for certain sub-sectors of Health Care. Information Technology, Energy, and Materials generate a large portion of their sales outside the US, in some cases more than 50%, and pricing for commodities reflects global supply and demand. These sectors account for 36% of our 2012 S&P 500 EPS.