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Earnings Outlook

Our overall take on the ongoing Q3 earnings season has been a favorable one, reflecting the improving trends in growth, the preponderance of positive surprises and the relative stability in current-quarter estimates. While the growth picture is still favorable, with Q3 earnings growth on track to be in positive territory for the first time in six quarters, the latter two attributes have started losing ground. Positive surprises are no longer tracking above historical periods and, more importantly, estimates for 2016 Q4 have started coming down in a meaningful way.

The acceleration in estimate cuts for the current period over the last few days, if it persists through the remainder of this earnings season, will be a big negative for the earnings picture that was starting to improvement.

Total Q4 earnings for the S&P 500 index are currently expected to be up +2.9% from the same period last year, which has dropped from +4.9% last week and +5.2% in early October. While Q4 estimates for the Technology and Finance sectors, the two largest in the S&P 500 index, have held up nicely, they have come down for the Retail, Basic Materials, Industrials and Auto sectors in recent days.

Earnings for the Retail sector are now expected to be down -14.3% in Q4, which is a drop from the +4.5% growth expected just last week. A number of retailers have suffered negative revisions in recent days, but the cuts are most pronounced for Amazon (AMZN - Free Report) following the ecommerce giant’s mixed quarterly results. The current Zacks Consensus EPS for Amazon of $1.63 for Q4 has come down -24.9% over the last few days as analysts factor in lower margins for the retailer given the continued spending growth. Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG - Free Report) is another retailer that as suffered notable estimate cuts in recent days.

For the Industrial Products sector, Q4 earnings growth has dropped from +9.5% last week to +2.4% today, with the -36% cuts to Caterpillar’s (CAT - Free Report) estimates as the big driver.

The negative revisions trend is broad-based for the Basic Materials sector whose Q4 earnings growth expectations have been cut into half over the past week. Major Basic Materials companies suffering negative revisions to Q4 estimates include Freeport-McMoRan (FCX - Free Report) , PPG Industries (PPG - Free Report) , International Paper (IP - Free Report) and others.

The Q3 Scorecard (as of 11/1/2016)

We now have Q3 results from 332 S&P 500 members that combined account for 74.1% of the index’s total market capitalization. Total earnings for these 332 companies are up +1.9% from the period last year, with 72.9% beating EPS estimates. Total revenues for these companies are up +1.3%, with 55.4% beating top-line estimates.

Here is the current scorecard for the 332 S&P 500 companies that have reported results already

This is better growth performance than we have seen from the same group of 332 index members in other recent periods, as the left-hand chart comparing Q3 earnings and revenue growth with earlier periods shows. The proportion of companies beating EPS and revenue estimates (right-hand chart) is about in-line with other recent periods.

Combining the actual results from the 332 index members with estimates from the still-to-come 168 companies, total Q3 earnings are expected to be up +2.1% from the same period last year on +1.4% higher revenues. This will be the first earnings growth for the index after 5 back-to-back quarters of earnings declines.

The chart below contrasts the +2.1% expected growth for Q3 with actual declines for the preceding 5 quarters and estimates for the following four quarters.

The +2.9% growth pace expected in the current period is a sharp drop from what was expected just a few days. This isn't something new - estimates have been coming down for almost three years now. But estimates for Q3 didn't fall by as much as had been the case in the preceding quarters and many of us were hoping that Q4 estimates will behave the same way. But that's not how it is shaping up, at least at this stage.

Sheraz Mian

Director of Research

Note: Sheraz Mian regularly provides earnings analysis on Zacks.com and appears frequently in the print and electronic media. His weekly earnings related articles include Earnings Trends and Earnings Preview.

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