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Is the Earnings Picture Improving?

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The following is an excerpt from this week's Earnings Trends article.  To access the full piece, please click here.

The Q1 earnings season is in full swing with results from 71 S&P 500 members accounting for 19.9% of the index’s total market capitalization. While growth remains problematic, actual results are turning out to be less bad relative to the low levels to which estimates had fallen ahead of this reporting cycle. More companies are coming out with positive surprises, in both earnings as well as revenues, and estimates for the current period (2016 Q2) are not falling as much as was the case at the comparable stage in the prior earnings season.

We should keep in mind however that it is still relatively early in the Q1 reporting cycle and the sample of reports at this stage is heavily weighted towards the Finance sector.   

Total earnings for the 71 S&P 500 members that have reported results are down -9.0% from the same period last year on +0.6% higher revenues, with 80.3% beating EPS estimates and 54.9% coming ahead of top-line expectations. The side-by-side charts below compare the results thus far with what we have seen from the same group of 71 S&P 500 members in other recent periods.

The left-hand side chart compares the Q1 earnings and revenue growth rates while the right side chart compares the percentage of companies coming out with positive earnings and revenue surprises. As you can see, the growth pace is notably weaker relative to the 4-quarter and 12-quarter averages, but positive surprises are more numerous relative to historical periods.

The chart below shows the proportion of the 71 index members that have beat both EPS and revenue estimates. Even on this metric, positive surprises are more numerous relative to historical periods.

The blended growth picture for Q1, combining the actual results from the 71 that have reported with estimates for the still-to-come 429 index members, shows total earnings declining -9.7% from the same period last year on -0.8% lower revenues. This would be the 4th quarter in a row of earnings declines for the index.

Estimates for the current period (2016 Q2) are for further declines, total earnings for the S&P 500 index expected to be down -4.5% from the same period last year -0.5% lower revenues. Q2 estimates have been coming down in recent days, but the magnitude of negative revisions is lower relative to what we experienced in the comparable period in the 2015 Q4 earnings season.

The chart below shows Q1 growth expectations contrasted with what was actually achieved in the preceding three quarters and estimates for the following four periods. As you can see in the chart below, all of this year’s growth is dependent on estimates for the back-half of the year.

Many see the Q1 earnings season as the inflection point for corporate earnings, with the growth picture starting improve from Q2 onwards and turning positive in the back half of the year. The relatively more numerous positive surprises and the fewer negative revisions to current-period estimates would support that view. But the proof of this narrative will become clear in the coming days as more companies report Q1 results and provide color on the evolving business picture.

To access the full Earnings Trends article, please click here.

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