Back to top

Image: Bigstock

Making Sense of the Earnings Picture

Read MoreHide Full Article

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 S&P 500 earnings for the first quarter of 2024 are expected to be up +2.5% from the same period last year on +3.5% higher revenues. This follows the +6.7% earnings growth on +3.9% higher revenues in 2023 Q4.


  • As was the case in the preceding two quarters, the Tech sector remains a key growth driver in 2024 Q1. Had it not been for the robust Tech sector earnings growth, total earnings for the rest of the index would be modestly in negative territory.


  • Estimates for 2024 Q1 have come down since the quarter began, though the magnitude of cuts compared favorably to what we have experienced in other recent periods.


  • Half of the 16 Zacks sectors are expected to enjoy positive earnings growth in Q1, with the Tech (earnings growth of +19.6%), Retail (+12.3%), Cons. Discretionary (+11.0%), and Utilities (+7.3%) sectors enjoying notable year-over-year growth.


As we look ahead to the 2024 Q1 earnings season, whose early results have already started coming out, it is crucial to keep in mind where we have been in recent quarters and what is expected for the following few periods.

The chart below shows current Q1 earnings and revenue growth expectations in the context of what has been actually achieved over the preceding four quarters and what is currently expected from the following three periods.

Zacks Investment Research
Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

You can see in this chart that earnings growth turned positive in the 2023 Q3 after remaining modestly in negative territory for the three quarters before that period. Two notable developments helped push the aggregate growth picture into positive territory – the Tech sector resumed its traditional growth-driver status, and net margins turned positive.

Expectations for 2024 Q1 and beyond show that the Tech sector is expected to remain a core growth driver, and the margin outlook will continue to improve.

As noted in the chart above, 2024 Q1 earnings are expected to increase +2.5% from the same period last year on +3.5% higher revenues.

The chart below shows how estimates for 2024 Q1 have evolved in recent months.

Zacks Investment Research
Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

Please note that the magnitude of negative revisions to Q1 estimates compares favorably to what we had seen in the comparable period for 2023 Q4.

Since the start of Q1, estimates have come down for 10 of the 16 Zacks sectors. The sectors suffering the biggest estimate cuts include Energy, Basic Materials, Transportation, Autos, and Aerospace.

On the positive side, estimates have been raised for 6 of the 16 Zacks sectors since the quarter got underway, with the Retail, Tech, and Utilities sectors enjoying notable positive revisions.

The revisions trend noted here for 2024 Q1 also represents what’s happening to full-year 2024 estimates. While estimates in the aggregate are coming down, several major sectors, including the Tech sector, are still enjoying positive estimate revisions.

The chart below shows how estimates for full-year 2024 have evolved.

Zacks Investment Research
Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

The chart below shows how full-year earnings expectations for the Tech sector have evolved over this period.

Zacks Investment Research
Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

This favorable earnings outlook for the Tech sector should reassure us all of the fundamental underpinnings of the group’s stock-market momentum. One can quibble over the appropriate valuation level for an individual Tech stock, but we can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that the group’s stock market momentum should remain in place as long as the revisions trend remains favorable.

For the Tech sector as a whole, 2024 Q1 earnings are expected to be up +19.6% on +8.3% higher revenues. This would follow the sector’s +27.5% higher earnings in 2023 Q4 on +8.8% revenue growth. A big part of the Tech sector’s strong Q1 earnings growth and the group’s favorable revisions trend is due to the ‘Mag 7’ members, not all of whom are part of our Tech sector.

Take, for example, Meta (META - Free Report) and Nvidia (NVDA - Free Report) , whose Q1 earnings are expected to be up +58.8% and +487.5% from the year-earlier period, respectively. Excluding contributions from Meta and Nivida, Q1 earnings for the Tech sector would only increase by +7.3% instead of the +19.6% growth otherwise.

We are also seeing an improving earnings outlook for Meta and Nvidia, with estimates steadily going up. For example, the current 2024 Zacks Consensus EPS for Meta of $19.94 is up +13.6% over the last three months. The consensus EPS estimate for Nvidia has increased +20.6% over the same time period. 

Below, we show the overall earnings picture for the S&P 500 index on an annual basis.

Zacks Investment Research
Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

A big part of this year’s earnings growth is expected to come from margins reversing last year’s declines and starting to expand again. The expectation is that aggregate net margins this year get back to the 2022 level, with the Tech sector driving most of the gains.

See More Zacks Research for These Tickers

Normally $25 each - click below to receive one report FREE:

NVIDIA Corporation (NVDA) - free report >>

Meta Platforms, Inc. (META) - free report >>

Published in