Big US Stocks’ Q2’19 Fundamentals

The US stock markets are becoming more unstable, fueling mounting anxiety about what’s likely coming. After surging to new all-time record highs in late July, stocks plunged in a sharp pullback as the US-China trade war escalated. Stock markets’ resiliency in the face of bearish news is partially determined by how companies are faring fundamentally. The big US stocks’ just-reported Q2’19 results illuminate these key indicators.

Four times a year publicly-traded companies release treasure troves of valuable information in the form of quarterly reports. Required by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, these 10-Qs and 10-Ks contain the best fundamental data available to traders. They dispel all the sentiment distortions inevitably surrounding prevailing stock-price levels, revealing corporations’ underlying hard fundamental realities.

The deadline for filing 10-Qs for “large accelerated filers” is 40 days after fiscal quarter-ends. The SEC defines this as companies with market capitalizations over $700m. That easily includes every stock in the flagship S&P 500 stock index (SPX), which contains the biggest and best American companies. The middle of this week marked 38 days since the end of Q2, so almost all the big US stocks have reported.

The SPX is the world’s most-important stock index by far, with its components commanding a staggering collective market cap of $25.8t at the end of Q2! The vast majority of investors own the big US stocks of the SPX, as some combination of them are usually the top holdings of nearly every investment fund. That includes retirement capital, so the fortunes of the big US stocks are crucial for Americans’ overall wealth.

The huge ETFs that track the S&P 500 dominate the increasingly-popular passive-investment strategies as well. The SPY SPDR S&P 500 ETF, IVV iShares Core S&P 500 ETF, and VOO Vanguard S&P 500 ETF are the 3 largest ETFs in the world. This week they reported colossal net assets running $258.5b, $179.3b, and $115.8b respectively! The big SPX companies overwhelmingly drive the entire stock markets.

Q2’19 proved quite volatile in the US stock markets, leading to increasing unease. The SPX surged 3.9% higher in April, hitting 4 new record closing highs. That capped an unbelievable 25.3% rocketing over just 4.2 months, a crazy move higher. That was driven by extreme Fed dovishness, as it panicked following the SPX’s severe 19.8% near-bear correction that bottomed in late December. Euphoria reigned supreme.

But the big US stocks couldn’t stay at such lofty heights, so the SPX fell on balance through May on the way to a 6.8% pullback by early June. China reneged on major trade commitments it made to the US over a year through 10 rounds of high-level trade talks. So Trump ramped tariffs on a $200b tranche of annual Chinese imports into the US from 10% to 25%. US-China trade-war news was a key market driver in Q2.

That considerable selloff was reversed by a hyper-dovish Fed riding to the rescue. First, its chairman said the Fed was ready to start cutting rates again, and later top Fed officials’ collective outlook for future rates shifted from one hike to one cut. The SPX blasted 7.6% higher in a few weeks on that, achieving another new record high in late June. The US-China trade war and Fed jawboning and actions will keep fueling volatility.

Every quarter I analyze the top 34 SPX/SPY component stocks ranked by market cap. This is just an arbitrary number that fits neatly into the tables below, but a dominant sample of the SPX. As Q2 waned, these American giants alone commanded fully 44.2% of the SPX’s total weighting! Their $11.4t collective market cap exceeded that of the bottom 439 SPX companies. Big US stocks’ importance cannot be overstated.

I wade through the 10-Q or 10-K SEC filings of these top SPX companies for a ton of fundamental data I feed into a spreadsheet for analysis. The highlights make it into these tables below. They start with each company’s symbol, weighting in the SPX and SPY, and market cap as of the final trading day of Q2’19. That’s followed by the year-over-year change in each company’s market capitalization, an important metric.

Major US corporations have been engaged in a wildly-unprecedented stock-buyback binge ever since the Fed forced interest rates to the zero lower bound during 2008’s stock panic. Thus the appreciation in their share prices also reflects shrinking shares outstanding. Looking at market-cap changes instead of just underlying share-price changes effectively normalizes out stock buybacks, offering purer views of value.

That’s followed by quarterly sales along with their YoY change. Top-line revenues are one of the best indicators of businesses’ health. While profits can be easily manipulated quarter to quarter by playing with all kinds of accounting estimates, sales are tougher to artificially inflate. Ultimately sales growth is necessary for companies to expand, as bottom-line profits growth driven by cost-cutting is inherently limited.

Operating cash flows are also important, showing how much capital companies’ businesses are actually generating. Companies must be cash-flow-positive to survive and thrive, using their existing capital to make more cash. Unfortunately many companies now obscure quarterly OCFs by reporting them in year-to-date terms, lumping multiple quarters together. So if necessary to get Q2’s OCFs, I subtracted prior quarters’.

Next, are the actual hard quarterly earnings that must be reported to the SEC under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Lamentably companies now tend to use fake pro-forma earnings to downplay real GAAP results. These are derided as EBS profits, Everything but the Bad Stuff! Certain expenses are simply ignored on a pro-forma basis to artificially inflate reported corporate profits, often misleading traders.

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