Record earnings, but outlook is uncertain
The third-quarter season had a shaky start, with companies struggling to meet lowered expectations.
The following excerpt is from this week's Earnings Trends. To see the full report, please click here.
The third-quarter earnings season had a shaky start, with companies struggling to meet lowered expectations and growth rates tracking below recent quarters. But all of that changed over the last two weeks, with Q3 now on track to surpass the performance of the first two quarters of the year. There is still not much growth and most companies are still guiding lower, prompting estimates for the fourth quarter to come down.
But when all is said and done about the third-quarter earnings season, we will have a new quarterly record for total earnings and the quarter’s earnings growth rate will likely be the best thus far this year.
Total earnings for the 355 S&P 500 companies that have reported results already, as of Oct. 31, are up 4.5% from the same period last year, with 67.3% beating earnings expectations with a median surprise of 2.6%. Total revenues for these companies are up 2.9%, with 49% beating revenue expectations with a median surprise of 0.1%.
The charts below show how the results from these 355 companies compare to what these same companies reported in the second quarter and the average for the last four quarters. The earnings and revenue growth rates, which looked materially weaker in the earlier phase of the third-quarter reporting cycle, have improved.
The earnings beat ratio looks more normal now than was the case earlier in this reporting cycle. It didn’t make much sense for companies to be struggling to beat earnings expectations following the significant estimate cuts in the run up to the reporting season.
The beat ratio for the 355 S&P 500 companies that have reported already confirms what many of us were suspecting all along: that estimates had fallen enough to make it easy for companies to come ahead of them. We see this quarter after quarter, with about two-thirds of the companies beating earnings expectations -- a good illustration of management teams’ tendency to under-promise and over-deliver.
The composite earnings growth rate for Q3, combining the results from the 355 that have come out with the 145 still to come, currently remains at 4.2% on 2.4% higher revenues. It is perhaps reasonable to expect that the final Q3 earnings growth tally will likely be not much different from the 3.4% achieved in Q2.
We may not have had much growth in recent quarters, but the expectation is for strong growth resumption in the fourth quarter and beyond. Estimates for Q4 have started coming down, with the current 8.4% growth pace down from last week’s 9.1%. But as the chart below shows, consensus estimates for Q4 and beyond represent a material acceleration in earnings growth.
Guidance has been overwhelmingly negative over the last few quarters and is not much different thus far in Q3 either, a few notable exceptions aside. The weak guidance from Starbucks (SBUX) recently is just the latest in long line of industry leaders like Dow Chemical (DOW), Caterpillar (CAT), IBM (IBM), and Intel (INTC) that offered a less-than-reassuring outlook.
Given this backdrop, estimates for Q4 will most likely come down quite a bit in the coming weeks. And with the market expecting the Fed to wait till early next year to start Tapering its QE program, investors may shrug this coming period of negative estimate revisions, just like they have been doing for more than a year now.
Total earnings for the 355 S&P 500 companies that have reported results already are up 4.5%, with 67.3% beating earnings expectations. Revenues for these companies are up 2.9%, with a revenue ‘beat ratio’ of 49%.
Unlike Q2, the finance sector has been less of a growth driver in Q3, with total earnings for the 79% of the sector’s total market capitalization that have reported already, up +11.4%. The sector’s growth momentum has decelerated from the last few quarters and industry leaders like J.P. Morgan (JPM) and Goldman Sachs (GS) have disappointed. Excluding finance, total earnings for the S&P 500 that have been reported would be up 2.8%.
Technology spotlights the ex-finance variance from Q2, with total earnings for the 81.4% of the sector’s total market capitalization that have reported up 5.1% on 2.8% higher revenues. Strong growth rates at Google (GOOG) and Sandisk (SNDK) and Micron (MU) have helped the sector reverse the negative earnings growth trend of the last few quarters. The 5.1% earnings growth for the 52 tech companies that have reported compare to an 11.6% earnings decline in the second quarter and the four-quarter average of -3.4%.
Total Q3 earnings for all S&P 500 companies, combing the 355 that have reported with the 145 still to come, are expected to be up 4.2%, which reflects 2.4% revenue growth and modest gains in margins. This compares to 3.4% earnings growth in Q2.
Guidance has been overwhelmingly negative over the last few quarters and the trend from the initial Q3 reports isn’t much different. As a result, estimates for Q4 have started coming down, with the current 8.4% growth rate down from more than 10% a few weeks back.
While there is not much growth, the overall level of total earnings is quite high, with total earnings in Q3 on track to reach a new all-time quarterly record at $260.4 billion, surpassing Q2’s record of $260.3 billion.
Total earnings for the S&P 500 are expected to be up 6% in 2013 and 11.2% in 2014.
To see the Full Earnings Trends PDF, please click here.
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3 stocks will be in the spotlight Thursday as investors try to make sense of the numbers from the sector.
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