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Ahead of Wall Street - Oct. 19, 2012

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Friday, October 19, 2012

The revenue miss from General Electric (GE - Free Report) this morning and Google yesterday spotlight a trend we have been seeing repeatedly this earnings season. Companies are finding it difficult to achieve revenue gains and the trend is widespread, with even the Technology sector not immune. This dour state of the corporate earnings picture will likely be the dominant theme of today’s trading action, even if the September Existing Home sales data coming out a little later adds further to the improving sentiment on the housing sector.  

Here is the (almost) real-time scorecard of the reporting season as of Friday morning, October 19th. With results from 114 companies in the S&P 500 or 22.8% of the index’s total membership, in hand, total earnings are down 2.8% from the same period last year, with 55.3% of the companies beating earnings expectations. Total revenues are up 1.3% from the same period last year, but only 34.2% of the companies are coming ahead of revenue expectations.

With these 114 companies accounting for 34.1% of total S&P 500 quarterly earnings, we have a decent enough sample size to draw conclusions from. And the bottom line conclusion is that the earnings picture does not look very inspiring. We knew that third quarter earnings will be weak as expectations had fallen quite a bit ahead of the start of the reporting season. But it seems like everybody was (kind of) hoping that the actual results would be better. But they are not. At least, not yet.

When even reliable performers like Google, Microsoft (MSFT - Free Report) and Intel (INTC - Free Report) can’t grow their earnings, then you know that we have a serious growth problem. But lack of growth aside, positive surprises are also at their lowest level in a while.

Of the companies that have already reported results, only 55.3% have beat earnings expectations. In the second quarter of 2012, which was by no means strong either, we had 65.8% of these same companies come out with positive earnings surprises, while the ‘beat ratio’ for these same companies has averaged 70.6% over the last four quarters. The 34.2% ‘beat ratio’ on the revenue side compares to 37.7% for the same group of companies in the second quarter.

Guidance for the current quarter and beyond is also on the tentative side, which puts current expectations for the fourth quarter and beyond. I have been of the view that consensus expectations of a turnaround in earnings in the fourth quarter and beyond were overly optimistic. I am getting more convinced of that view given how the third quarter reporting season has progressed thus far.

Sheraz Mian
Director of Research

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