It’s hard to consider the worthiness of a stock without sizing up the company’s profitability potential. Calling earnings as the mother’s milk of stocks is probably not an exaggeration. The bottom line is that earnings are very important to keep an eye on for anyone interested in stocks.
Everyone has an intuition for ‘earnings’ and see it as the leftover of sales after all the business expenses have been accounted for. This otherwise simple and intuitive principle gets complicated as a result of accounting rules that vary from country to country. In the U.S., the accounting rules mandating what can be called earnings (officially it’s called ‘net income’) in the company’s audited financial statements available to shareholders are called GAAP rules (GAAP stands for generally accepted accounting principles).
I am oversimplifying here, but GAAP rules don’t differentiate between business expenses that are incurred regularly and those that take place every now and then. The investing community likes to make that distinction; they see regular and recurring expenses as the only ones that should matter to those interested in evaluating the stock; the non-recurring ones need not be taken into account. As such, the investing community makes adjustments to reported GAAP earnings, by taking out non-recurring expenses and gains. All the earnings discussion you see in the marketplace is primarily about such ‘adjusted’ earnings.
And as you can imagine, such ‘adjusted’ earnings are (almost) always higher than the official GAAP earnings, but the ‘gap’ (no pun intended) between the two is typically not that big. That’s not the case in the ongoing Q4 earnings season, which ramps up in a big way this week with more than 250 companies reporting results, including 81 S&P 500 members.
For the 53 S&P 500 members that have reported Q4 results already, as of Friday, January 19th, the magnitude of gap between adjusted earnings and GAAP earnings is unlike anything we have seen over the last few years. On average, adjusted earnings were +6% higher than GAAP earnings over the preceding 16 quarters for these 53 S&P 500.
But as you can see in the chart below, the gap is extremely wide for 2017Q4 and likely to remain in record territory even as the reporting cycle moves beyond the Finance sector where the issue was very pronounced.
A lot goes into ‘earnings quality’. But as a general rule, it is reasonable to be wary of a big variance between adjusted and GAAP earnings. Going by this simple rule, you have to question the ‘quality’ of Q4 earnings reports, irrespective of the growth pace and proportion of positive surprises on the ‘adjusted’ earnings front.
A few specific examples should help make this point. Citigroup (C) earned $3.38 billion on an adjusted basis, but lost $18.8 billion on GAAP basis. American Express (AXP) earned $1.39 billion on an adjusted basis, but lost roughly $1.2 billion on GAAP basis. IBM (IBM - Free Report) earned $4.8 billion on an adjusted basis, but lost $1.1 billion on GAAP basis. The list goes on and on.
As pointed out at the top, it makes analytical sense to exclude these one-time charges from the data so that investors have a clear sense of underlying business trends and not get distracted by one-off gains or losses. Such charges were commonplace during the global financial crisis of 2008.
I will mention detail from that period – AIG (AIG) lost $52.1 billion for full-year 2008 on an adjusted basis and lost $103 billion that year on GAAP basis. It’s hard to envision any company improving upon that type of ‘performance’ in this earnings season.
The rest of the earnings discussion in this note will be using ‘adjusted’ earnings. But before I give you the Q4 earnings season scorecard on an adjusted earnings basis, let me give you the GAAP scorecard first.
On A GAAP basis, total earnings for the 53 S&P 500 members that have reported results already are down -57.8% from the same period last year on +7.5% higher revenues.
Q4 Earnings Season Scorecard (as of Friday, January 19, 2018)
Total earnings for the 53 S&P 500 members that have reported results already are up +11.7% from the same period last year on +7.5% higher revenues, with 81.1% beating EPS estimates and 75.5% beating revenue estimates. The proportion of companies beating both EPS and revenue estimates is 62.3%.
To put these results in a historical context, the charts below compare the results thus far with what we had seen from the same group of 53 index members in other recent periods.
Any way you look at these results, the Q4 earnings season is on track to be very good, notwithstanding the ‘quality’ issue highlighted earlier. Here are the four points that stand out from the results thus far.
• First, the +11.7% earnings growth for the 53 index members compares is about the same as the +11.9% growth in Q3 and modestly below the 4-quarter average of +12.8%.
• Second, the +7.5% revenue growth for these 53 index members represents a notable acceleration in growth momentum.
• Third, the 81.1% proportion of the companies beating EPS estimates in Q4 is the highest we have seen from these 53 index members in other recent periods.
• Fourth, the 75.5% of the companies beating revenue is similarly the highest we have seen from this group of companies in recent periods.
The Revenue Momentum
The comparison charts below highlight the emerging revenue momentum that’s coming out of the Q4 earnings season
We started this note by discussing the variance between adjusted and GAAP earnings this reporting season, but it is worth pointing out that there is no such issue on the revenues front. As such, this revenue momentum is a particularly positive aspect of this earnings season and the overall corporate earnings backdrop.
It is still relatively early, with no results yet from three of the 16 Zacks sectors. The most results at this stage have come from the Finance sector, with results from 47.5% of the sector’s market cap in the S&P 500 index.
Total earnings from these Finance sector companies that have reported already are up +4.8% from the same period last year on +3.8% higher revenues, with 85.7% beating EPS estimates and 61.9% beating revenue estimates.
The comparison chars below that growth (earnings & revenue) is tracking below other recent periods, but results have otherwise been better than expected. In other words, the proportion of companies beating estimates is above historical periods.
Key Earnings Reports for the Week of January 22nd
Monday (1/22): We have 28 companies coming out with results this day, of which 4 are S&P 500 members. Netflix (NFLX - Free Report) is the most notable report this day, coming after the market’s close. More than EPS and revenue results, the key metric in focus will be the company’s subscriber growth. The Zacks Consensus expectation is for domestic streaming subscriber base to reach 52.2 million, up from the preceding quarter’s 51.345 million ending balance. The company’s domestic streaming subscription base was 47.9 million at the end of December 2016. The key growth area for the company lately has been the international markets. On the international front, the expectation is for the streaming subscriber base to reach 57.18 million in Q4, up from Q3’s 52.678 million and the year-earlier 41.185 million.
Tuesday (1/23): We have 49 companies reporting results on Tuesday, including 15 S&P 500 members. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ - Free Report) , Proctor & Gamble (PG - Free Report) and Verizon (VZ - Free Report) are the notable reports in the morning session while United-Continental (UAL - Free Report) and Texas Instruments (TXN - Free Report) are the major reports after the close.
Wednesday (1/24): We have 63 companies reporting results on Tuesday, including 27 S&P 500 members. Comcast (CMCSA) and GE (GE - Free Report) are the notable of the 16 index members reporting in the morning while Ford (F) is the key report after the market’s close.
Thursday (1/25): More than 100 companies are reporting results on Thursday, including 28 S&P 500 members. Caterpillar (CAT) and 3M (MMM - Free Report) are the most notable of the 18 S&P 500 members reporting results in the morning while Intel (INTC - Free Report) and Starbucks (SBUX - Free Report) are reporting after the close.
Friday (1/26): Honeywell (HON - Free Report) is among the 6 index members reporting results Friday morning.
Expectations for Q4 As a Whole
Total Q4 earnings are expected to be up +10.3% from the same period last year on +7.1% higher revenues. This would follow +6.7% earnings growth in 2017 Q3 on +5.9% growth in revenues.
The table below shows the summary picture for Q4, contrasted with what was actually achieved in Q3.
The chart below shows Q4 earnings growth expectations contrasted with what is expected in the following three quarters and actual results in the preceding 5 quarters. As you can see in the chart below, the growth pace is expected to pick up in Q4 after dipping in the preceding quarter and continue accelerating going forward.
Tax Cuts Pushing Estimates Higher
I want to touch on the favorable revisions trend for the current and coming quarters at present. Regular readers will recall that estimates for the Q4 earnings season had held up unusually better in the run up to the start of this earnings season. But what we are witnessing with estimates for the current and following quarters is extremely positive.
The typical pattern over the last few years has been that estimates for the quarter will start coming down as we will get closer to the reporting season for that quarter. The opposite is the case with the current (and following) quarter(s), with estimates starting to go up in a notable way. You can clearly see this in the evolving earnings growth expectations for 2018 Q1, as depicted in the chart below.
Note: Sheraz Mian manages the Zacks equity research department. He is an acknowledged earnings expert whose commentaries and analyses appear on Zacks.com and in the print and electronic media. His weekly earnings related articles include Earnings Trends and Earnings Preview. He manages the Zacks Top 10 and Focus List portfolios and writes the Weekly Market Analysis article for Zacks Premium subscribers.
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Here is a list of the 262 companies including 81 S&P 500 and reporting this week.
|Company ||Ticker ||Current Qtr ||Year-Ago Qtr ||Last EPS Surprise % ||Report Day ||Time |
|BANK OF MARIN||BMRC||0.86||0.93||6.02%||Monday||BTO|
|BANK OF HAWAII||BOH||1.09||1.02||0.00%||Monday||BTO|
|COMMNTY BK SYS||CBU||0.69||0.61||8.96%||Monday||BTO|
|UBS GROUP AG||UBS||N/A||0.19||N/A||Monday||BTO|
|BROWN & BROWN||BRO||0.42||0.42||8.16%||Monday||AMC|
|FB FINANCIAL CP||FBK||0.54||0.43||27.66%||Monday||AMC|
|WSFS FINL CORP||WSFS||0.66||0.56||-1.54%||Monday||AMC|
|NBT BANCORP INC||NBTB||0.53||0.45||4.00%||Monday||AMC|
|SIMMONS FIRST A||SFNC||0.9||0.91||-1.15%||Monday||AMC|
|FIFTH THIRD BK||FITB||0.47||0.48||0.00%||Tuesday||BTO|
|JOHNSON & JOHNS||JNJ||1.72||1.58||5.56%||Tuesday||BTO|
|PROCTER & GAMBL||PG||1.14||1.08||1.87%||Tuesday||BTO|
|STATE ST CORP||STT||1.71||1.48||6.21%||Tuesday||BTO|
|SOUTH STATE CP||SSB||1.19||1.15||1.67%||Tuesday||BTO|
|SYNOVUS FINL CP||SNV||0.68||0.54||1.56%||Tuesday||BTO|
|WEBSTER FINL CP||WBS||0.67||0.6||4.69%||Tuesday||BTO|
|OLD NATL BCP||ONB||0.25||0.28||19.23%||Tuesday||BTO|
|NEW ORIENTAL ED||EDU||N/A||0.07||-22.22%||Tuesday||BTO|
|CAPITAL ONE FIN||COF||1.85||1.45||12.56%||Tuesday||AMC|
|TOTAL SYS SVC||TSS||0.75||0.69||9.09%||Tuesday||AMC|
|UNITED CONT HLD||UAL||1.34||1.78||1.83%||Tuesday||AMC|
|UMPQUA HLDGS CP||UMPQ||0.29||0.27||3.45%||Tuesday||AMC|
|FCB FINL HLDGS||FCB||0.74||0.62||10.45%||Tuesday||AMC|
|HANMI FINL CP||HAFC||0.47||0.46||0.00%||Tuesday||AMC|
|LEGACY TX FINL||LTXB||0.62||0.54||0.00%||Tuesday||AMC|
|UTD CMNTY BK/GA||UCBI||0.41||0.4||0.00%||Tuesday||AMC|
|UMB FINL CORP||UMBF||0.94||0.91||5.38%||Tuesday||AMC|
|FIRST COMW FINL||FCF||0.21||0.22||10.00%||Tuesday||AMC|
|GREAT SOUTH BCP||GSBC||0.82||0.83||0.00%||Tuesday||AMC|
|CDN NATL RY CO||CNI||0.97||0.93||-0.94%||Tuesday||AMC|
|TESSCO TECH INC||TESS||0.08||0.15||110.00%||Tuesday||AMC|
|UTD COMM FIN CP||UCFC||0.07||0.12||0.00%||Tuesday||AMC|
|SGS SA ADR SWIZ||SGSOY||N/A||N/A||N/A||Tuesday||N/A|
|UTD TECHS CORP||UTX||1.56||1.56||2.98%||Wednesday||BTO|
|COMCAST CORP A||CMCSA||0.47||0.44||6.12%||Wednesday||BTO|
|ILL TOOL WORKS||ITW||1.62||1.39||3.64%||Wednesday||BTO|
|STANLEY B&D INC||SWK||2.14||1.71||4.28%||Wednesday||BTO|
|BAKER HUGHES GE||BHGE||0.14||-0.3||-58.33%||Wednesday||BTO|
|GRAINGER W W||GWW||2.18||2.45||12.84%||Wednesday||BTO|
|BOK FINL CORP||BOKF||1.32||0.76||-3.68%||Wednesday||BTO|
|CENTRAL PAC FIN||CPF||0.41||0.39||-4.88%||Wednesday||BTO|
|DISCOVER FIN SV||DFS||1.53||1.4||3.92%||Wednesday||AMC|
|FORD MOTOR CO||F||0.44||0.3||30.30%||Wednesday||AMC|
|F5 NETWORKS INC||FFIV||1.56||1.48||14.45%||Wednesday||AMC|
|SL GREEN REALTY||SLG||1.6||1.43||-5.10%||Wednesday||AMC|
|UTD RENTALS INC||URI||3.34||2.67||8.33%||Wednesday||AMC|
|LEGG MASON INC||LM||0.84||0.5||14.49%||Wednesday||AMC|
|TRISTATE CP HLD||TSC||0.33||0.27||16.67%||Wednesday||AMC|
|ASPEN TECH INC||AZPN||0.45||0.48||6.82%||Wednesday||AMC|
|BRIGGS & STRATT||BGG||0.23||0.35||22.86%||Wednesday||AMC|
|CAROLINA FIN CP||CARO||0.36||0.46||-1.96%||Wednesday||AMC|
|TEXAS CAP BCSHS||TCBI||1.16||0.96||0.90%||Wednesday||AMC|
|LAS VEGAS SANDS||LVS||0.77||0.62||14.93%||Wednesday||AMC|
|ETHAN ALLEN INT||ETH||0.51||0.39||0.00%||Wednesday||AMC|
|FRANKLIN FNL NW||FSB||0.63||0.58||4.84%||Wednesday||AMC|
|PEOPLES UTAH BC||PUB||0.38||0.36||2.78%||Wednesday||AMC|
|FIRST CT BANCRP||FBNK||0.35||0.27||0.00%||Wednesday||AMC|
|LIVE OAK BNCSH||LOB||0.26||0.17||100.00%||Wednesday||AMC|
|DOLBY LAB INC-A||DLB||0.44||0.51||118.75%||Wednesday||AMC|
|Raymond Jas Fin||RJF||1.43||1.07||9.70%||Wednesday||N/A|
|UNION PAC CORP||UNP||1.54||1.39||0.67%||Thursday||BTO|
|ALASKA AIR GRP||ALK||0.83||1.56||-0.44%||Thursday||BTO|
|FREEPT MC COP-B||FCX||0.49||0.25||17.24%||Thursday||BTO|
|AMER ELEC PWR||AEP||0.8||0.67||-4.35%||Thursday||BTO|
|MCCORMICK & CO||MKC||1.52||1.27||6.67%||Thursday||BTO|
|BANC OF CA INC||BANC||0.23||0.54||31.58%||Thursday||BTO|
|HERITAGE FIN CP||HFWA||0.36||0.33||0.00%||Thursday||BTO|
|CULLEN FROST BK||CFR||1.39||1.28||7.63%||Thursday||BTO|
|EAST WEST BC||EWBC||0.92||0.76||2.30%||Thursday||BTO|
|VALLEY NATL BCP||VLY||0.17||0.19||-5.56%||Thursday||BTO|
|APPLD INDL TECH||AIT||0.71||0.61||13.16%||Thursday||BTO|
|AMER RIVER BSH||AMRB||0.2||0.29||-19.05%||Thursday||BTO|
|S&T BANCORP INC||STBA||0.63||0.51||8.33%||Thursday||BTO|
|MB FINANCL INC||MBFI||0.63||0.59||12.50%||Thursday||BTO|
|GREAT WSTRN BCP||GWB||0.63||0.63||4.92%||Thursday||BTO|
|ROGERS COMM CLB||RCI||0.68||0.52||2.53%||Thursday||BTO|
|STATE BANK FINL||STBZ||0.38||0.28||2.78%||Thursday||BTO|
|OLD REP INTL||ORI||0.38||0.43||200.00%||Thursday||BTO|
|E TRADE FINL CP||ETFC||0.62||0.43||7.84%||Thursday||AMC|
|SVB FINL GP||SIVB||2.6||1.89||21.83%||Thursday||AMC|
|COBIZ FINL INC||COBZ||0.27||0.21||17.39%||Thursday||AMC|
|COLUMBIA BK SYS||COLB||0.56||0.53||32.08%||Thursday||AMC|
|NATIONAL BK HLD||NBHC||0.33||0.36||-13.33%||Thursday||AMC|
|CAPSTAR FIN HLD||CSTR||0.28||0.23||59.09%||Thursday||AMC|
|ASSOC BANC CORP||ASB||0.38||0.34||13.89%||Thursday||AMC|
|SEACOAST BKNG A||SBCF||0.36||0.3||2.94%||Thursday||AMC|
|FAIR ISAAC INC||FICO||0.71||1.16||6.84%||Thursday||AMC|
|DIGI INTL INC||DGII||-0.04||0.08||100.00%||Thursday||AMC|
|MAXIM INTG PDTS||MXIM||0.64||0.46||9.09%||Thursday||AMC|
|LVMH MOET HNNSY||LVMUY||N/A||N/A||N/A||Thursday||N/A|
|Robt Half Intl||RHI||0.63||0.61||-1.45%||Thursday||N/A|
|Wynn Resrts Ltd||WYNN||1.36||0.5||10.95%||Thursday||N/A|
|AIR PRODS & CHE||APD||1.66||1.47||4.14%||Friday||BTO|
|PROVIDNT FIN SV||PFS||0.38||0.35||10.81%||Friday||BTO|
|MOOG INC A||MOG.A||0.85||0.84||12.63%||Friday||BTO|
|NEXTERA EGY PTR||NEP||0.26||0.91||-97.30%||Friday||BTO|