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Q4 Earnings Season Winding Down

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Note: The following is an excerpt from this week’s Earnings Trends report. You can access the full report that contains detailed historical actual and estimates for the current and following periods, please click here>>>

Here are the key points:

  • Total earnings for the 84% S&P 500 members that have reported Q4 results already are up +12.7% from the same period last year on +7.3% higher revenues, with 67.1% beating EPS estimates and 62.1% beating revenue estimates.


  • As expected, Q4 earnings and revenue growth is tracking notably below what we had seen from the same group of 419 index members in other recent periods. Surprisingly, positive EPS beats have been the lowest in more than 5 years.


  • Estimates for Q4 had come down significantly ahead of the start of this earnings season. But the relatively low EPS beats suggest that estimates were either not low enough or that business conditions weakened unexpectedly.


  • Looking at Q4 as a whole, combining the actual results that have come out with estimates for the still-to-come companies, total earnings for the S&P 500 index are expected to be up +13.6% from the same period last year on +6.8% higher revenues.


  • The strongest year-over-year earnings growth in Q4 is expected to come from the Energy, Transportation, Construction, Aerospace, and the Retail sectors. Excluding the Energy sector’s strong growth, Q4 earnings growth for the rest of the index comes down to +10.4% (from +13.6%)


  • Estimates for Q1 as well as full-year 2019 have been steadily coming down, with 2019 Q1 earnings growth now in negative territory, the first quarterly earnings decline since 2016 Q2.


  • For the small-cap S&P 600 index, total earnings for the 322 index members that have reported results are up +11.4% on +5.0% higher revenues, with 58.4% beating EPS estimates and 62.4% beating revenue estimates.


  • The small-cap index’s Q4 performance thus far is weaker than we have seen from the same group of companies in other recent periods.


  • Looking at the small-cap index as a whole, total Q4 earnings are expected to be up +6.0% on +6.5% higher revenues. This would follow +36.7% earnings growth on +7.8% revenue growth in Q3.


  • For full-year 2019, total earnings for the S&P 500 index are expected to be up +4.8% on +5.8% higher revenues, which would follow the +20.5% earnings growth on +4.9% higher revenues in 2018. Estimates for 2019 have been steadily coming down, with the current +4.8% growth rate down from +9.8% in early October 2018. 


  • The implied ‘EPS’ for the index, calculated using current 2018 P/E of 17.7X and index close, as of February 19th, is $156.83. Using the same methodology, the index ‘EPS’ works out to $164.31 for 2019 (P/E of 16.9X) and $182.36 for 2020 (P/E of 15.2X. The multiples for 2018, 2019 and 2020 have been calculated using the index’s total market cap and aggregate bottom-up earnings for each year.


Q4 Earnings Season Scorecard (as of February 20th, 2019)

With results from 419 S&P 500 members or 83.8% of the index’s total membership already out, the bulk of the Q4 earnings season is now behind us. The Retail and Utilities sectors are the only ones that still have sizable number of reports still to come.

Total earnings for these 419 S&P 500 members are up +12.7% from the same period last year on +7.3% higher revenues, with 67.1% beating EPS estimates and 62.1% beating revenue estimates.

We knew that growth would be decelerating in Q4 and we are seeing that in the results thus far. But positive surprises are also tracking below what we had seen from the same group of 419 index members in other recent periods, as the comparison charts below show.


Please note that the Q4 beats percentages started out on the low side for both EPS as well as revenues. The revenue beats percentage has since improved modestly, but the proportion of these index members beating EPS estimates has continued to track below what we have been seeing from the same group of companies in other recent periods. In fact, the Q4 EPS beats % is the lowest in more than five years.

More than positive EPS and revenue surprises for Q4, it is management’s guidance for the current period that will help anchor the market’s expectations. Global economic slowdown has emerged as a recurring theme this earnings season for companies in a variety of industries.

Apple (AAPL - Free Report) got the ball rolling on the global growth question when it came out with a negative pre-announcement in early January, with the company specifically pointing to weakness in China as a major reason. Many other companies since then, including Caterpillar (CAT - Free Report) , Nvidia (NVDA - Free Report) and others, have cited the same reason(s) for their weak outlook.

No doubt estimates for the current year and full-year 2019 have been steadily coming down, as the chart below shows.

This is only an estimate at this stage and actual March-quarter earnings growth could very well be in positive territory. But it nevertheless shows that the growth picture will be a lot more challenged and problematic in the coming quarters. The chart below of quarterly earnings and revenue growth shows this picture.

With current period (2019 Q1) earnings growth now in negative territory and 2019 Q2 barely positive at this stage, the growth pace is expected to take a dramatic turn in the first half of the year.

The very strong growth we experienced in 2018 was primarily because of the tax cut legislation that was enacted towards the end of 2017. The pure arithmetic of the lower corporate tax rate represented a one-time boost to corporate bottom-lines that will be part of base comparisons for this year. On top of this comparability issue is the impact of the aforementioned slowing economic growth, particularly beyond the U.S. shores.

Recent revisions trend shows that these low growth expectations for the coming quarters still remain vulnerable to further downward revisions. In other words, it is reasonable for market participants to nurse some doubts about the current earnings backdrop. 

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