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Is Oil Driving Q1 Earnings Estimates Lower?

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It has been the usual practice for quarterly earnings estimates to come down ahead of the start of each earnings season. This trend has been particularly notable over the last couple of years as management teams have been consistently providing weak guidance, causing estimates to come down.

One could cite a variety of reasons for why this has been the norm lately, but the most logical though cynical explanation is that management teams have a big incentive to manage expectations. After all, it pays to under-promise and over-deliver (Note: Please take a look at the chart towards the end of this write-up that graphically shows this expectations management practice).

Given this context, there is no surprise that estimates for the 2015 Q1 earnings estimates followed a similar negative revisions trend. That said, the magnitude of negative revisions for 2015 Q1 exceeds any other recent quarter by a big margin.

The chart below shows the magnitude of negative revisions for each quarter since 2013 Q2 over the first 11 weeks of the period. As you can see, 2015 Q1 estimates have fallen -8.4% since January 1st, the most of any other recent quarter in the comparable period. Please note that the ‘average’ represents the average for the 7-quarter period through 2014 Q4.

Chart 1: The Magnitude of 2015 Q1 Earnings Revisions Compared



The Energy sector’s travails resulting from the sharp drop in oil prices are well known; we saw that in the sector’s performance in the last earnings season as well when total earnings for the Energy sector were down -17.3% on -13.5% lower revenues. The Energy sector was a drag on the aggregate growth picture in 2014 Q4 and perhaps something similar was at play in the unusually high level of negative revisions in 2015 Q1 as well.

This is a valid point and the negative earnings revisions for the Energy sector do provide a big part of the explanation for why Q1 estimates have fallen so much. After all, total earnings estimates for the sector have dropped -47.3% since the start of the quarter in early January. The current Zacks Consensus EPS estimates for Exxon (XOM - Free Report) and Chevron (CVX - Free Report) of $0.79 and $0.74 are down -34.2% and -51.6% over the last 90 days, respectively.

But it would be wrong to blame the Energy sector alone for the outsized negative revision to Q1 estimates that chart 1 above shows. The magnitude of negative revisions to Q1 estimates is still the highest of any other recent quarter after we isolate and exclude the Energy sector from the aggregate picture. We show that in chart 2 below which compares the magnitude of Q1 estimates on an ex-Energy basis.

Chart 2: Magnitude of Q1 Revisions outside of the Energy Sector



Chart 3 below looks at the same revisions trend from another angle. Instead of the magnitude of revisions in total earnings over the quarter to date period, here we are showing how the estimates of total earnings growth have evolved over this time period. We show the evolving aggregate growth picture for the S&P 500 index as a whole (green bars), as well as on an ex-Energy sector basis (grey bars).

Chart 3: Evolution of 2015 Q1 Growth Estimates

Chart 4 below shows the major sectors that have suffered the biggest negative revisions since the start of the quarter. Please note that each of the 16 Zacks sectors has suffered negative revisions; the Utilities sector has the lowest negative revision, but has nevertheless gone down.

Chart 4: Major Sectors with Big Negative Revisions

As you can see in chart 4, even the Technology sector has suffered negative revisions, with earnings for the sector now expected to be down -5.4% from the same period last year vs. expectations of +9.1% growth at the start of the quarter. Estimates for all the key sector players like Google (GOOGL - Free Report) , Microsoft (MSFT - Free Report) , Intel (INTC - Free Report) and IBM (IBM - Free Report) have come down since January.

Are Q1 Estimates Too Low?

The pronounced downshift in Q1 estimates has prompted some on Wall Street to start claiming that the revisions trend may have a gone bit too much; meaning that estimates have likely become too low. It is hard to find a basis for such a claim in real time, particularly given the global growth woes and still-high U.S dollar.

The market’s reaction to the results from the 10 S&P 500 members that have already reported Q1 results (all of these companies have reported fiscal February quarter results that get counted as part of the Q1 tally) doesn’t support the claim that estimates may be too low. The last two columns in the summary table below shows the price impact of each company’s earnings result for this quarter as well as the preceding one.

The table below presents the summary picture for Q1 contrasted with what companies actually reported in the 2014 Q4 earnings season.

This Week’s Reporting Calendar

As mentioned earlier, companies with fiscal quarters ending in February have been reporting quarterly results already and all of those get counted as part of our 2015 Q1 tally. As of Friday, March 20th, we have seen such results from 10 S&P 500 members already. This week, we will get results from 66 companies in total, including 8 S&P 500 members.

The chart below shows when 2015 Q1 earnings reports will come out on a weekly basis.



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Note: For a complete analysis of 2015 Q1 estimates, please check out our weekly Earnings Trends report.

Here is a list of the 66 companies reporting this week, including 8 S&P 500 members.
 

Company Ticker Current Qtr Year-Ago Qtr Last EPS Surprise % Report Day Time
FMSA HOLDINGS FMSA 0.28 N/A 34.62 Monday BTO
VERITIV CORP VRTV 0.36 N/A -0.75 Monday BTO
AVINO SILVER&GD ASM N/A -0.05 -75 Monday BTO
BIOLINE RX LTD BLRX -0.13 -0.2 81.82 Monday BTO
GEOPARK LTD GPRK 0.11 0.13 -48.15 Monday BTO
SINOVAC BIOTECH SVA 0.03 0.09 100 Monday BTO
IDREAMSKY ADR DSKY 0.18 N/A -540 Monday BTO
VERICEL CORP VCEL -0.18 -0.97 -4 Monday AMC
FLEXION THERAPT FLXN -0.46 N/A 16.67 Monday AMC
CONCORD MED-ADR CCM 0.16 0.05 71.43 Monday AMC
MCCORMICK & CO MKC 0.64 0.62 1.75 Tuesday BTO
G-III APPAREL GIII 0.83 0.62 6.92 Tuesday BTO
HD SUPPLY HLDGS HDS 0.1 0 3.77 Tuesday BTO
IHS INC-A IHS 0.95 0.86 29.29 Tuesday BTO
EPIRUS BIOPHARM EPRS -1.01 -3.6 -197.67 Tuesday BTO
GENVEC INC GNVC 0.09 -0.07 -11.11 Tuesday BTO
HIGHPOWER INTL HPJ 0.12 0.09 N/A Tuesday BTO
SONIC CORP SONC 0.12 0.07 12.5 Tuesday AMC
HEALTHEQUITY HQY 0.02 N/A 25 Tuesday AMC
STEELCASE INC SCS 0.21 0.18 11.54 Tuesday AMC
AMPHASTAR PHARM AMPH -0.06 0.05 0 Tuesday AMC
CHRISTOPHER&BNK CBK -0.1 -0.01 33.33 Tuesday AMC
EXFO INC EXFO 0.01 0 100 Tuesday AMC
TURQUOISE HILL TRQ 0.06 0.1 100 Tuesday AMC
WOLSELEY -ADR WOSYY N/A N/A N/A Tuesday N/A
PAYCHEX INC PAYX 0.46 0.44 2.17 Wednesday BTO
APOLLO GROUP APOL -0.14 0.28 7.32 Wednesday BTO
LEIDOS HOLDINGS LDOS 0.48 0.56 25 Wednesday BTO
YINGLI GREEN EN YGE -0.14 -0.31 15.38 Wednesday BTO
DESTINATION XL DXLG 0.03 0 20 Wednesday BTO
VERMILLION INC VRML -0.08 -0.07 N/A Wednesday BTO
FRANCESCAS HLDG FRAN 0.2 0.27 0 Wednesday BTO
RED HAT INC RHT 0.28 0.28 11.11 Wednesday AMC
PVH CORP PVH 1.72 1.43 3.23 Wednesday AMC
FIVE BELOW INC FIVE 0.6 0.47 0 Wednesday AMC
PAC SUNWEAR CAL PSUN -0.11 -0.17 40 Wednesday AMC
FRANCO NV CP FNV 0.2 0.21 4.55 Wednesday AMC
TASEKO MINES LT TGB -0.03 -0.03 -700 Wednesday AMC
INOVALON HLDGS INOV 0.11 N/A N/A Wednesday AMC
USD PARTNERS USDP 0.26 N/A N/A Wednesday AMC
ALEXCO RESOURCE AXU -0.02 -0.01 50 Wednesday AMC
MONOGRAM REIT MORE 0.1 N/A N/A Wednesday AMC
SILVERCREST MIN SVLC N/A 0.01 -25 Wednesday AMC
WORTHINGTON IND WOR 0.39 0.58 -19.12 Wednesday AMC
ACCENTURE PLC ACN 1.07 1.03 8.4 Thursday BTO
CONAGRA FOODS CAG 0.53 0.62 0 Thursday BTO
FREDS INC FRED 0.01 0.17 -14.29 Thursday BTO
LAKE SHORE GOLD LSG 0 0 -33.33 Thursday BTO
LULULEMON ATHLT LULU 0.73 0.75 10.53 Thursday BTO
SIGNET JEWELERS SIG 3.03 2.18 23.53 Thursday BTO
COMMERCIAL METL CMC 0.19 0.12 28 Thursday BTO
NEOGEN CORP NEOG 0.23 0.18 -4.55 Thursday BTO
CHINA AUTO SYS CAAS 0.27 0.26 14.29 Thursday BTO
WINNEBAGO WGO 0.38 0.35 -17.78 Thursday BTO
GAMESTOP CORP GME 2.16 1.9 -8.06 Thursday AMC
NV5 HOLDING INC NVEE 0.21 0.07 14.81 Thursday AMC
OXFORD INDS INC OXM 1.04 0.89 -75 Thursday AMC
ROKA BIOSC INC ROKA -0.54 N/A -30.61 Thursday AMC
UPLAND SOFTWARE UPLD -0.24 N/A -77.78 Thursday AMC
GEVO INC GEVO -0.11 -0.35 27.78 Thursday AMC
VOXELJET AG-ADR VJET -0.06 -0.23 -100 Thursday AMC
BLACKBERRY LTD BBRY -0.02 -0.08 116.67 Friday BTO
FINISH LINE-CLA FINL 0.84 0.87 -300 Friday BTO
SPARK ENERGY SPKE 0.85 N/A -75 Friday BTO
ERSTE GROUP BNK EBKDY N/A -0.62 N/A Friday AMC
CEMIG SA -ADR CIG N/A N/A N/A Friday N/A


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