Fundamentally Speaking: Earning Season’s Good, Bad & Ugly

With the third quarter of 2019 reporting season mostly behind us, we can take a look at what happened with earnings to see what’s real, what’s not, and what it will mean for the markets going forward.

The Good

As always is the case, the majority of companies beat their quarterly estimates, as noted by Bespoke Investment Group.

 

With 73% of companies beating estimates, it certainly suggests that companies in the S&P 500 are firing on all cylinders, which should support higher asset prices.

However, as they say, the “Devil is in the details.” 

The Bad

As I noted previously:

One of the reasons given for the push to new highs was the ‘better than expected’ earnings reports coming in. As noted by FactSet: 

“73% have reported actual EPS above the mean EPS estimate…The percentage of companies reporting EPS above the mean EPS estimate is above the 1-year (76%) average and above the 5-year (72%) average.”

The problem is the ‘beat rate’ was simply due to the consistent ‘lowering of the bar’ as shown in the chart below:

 

Beginning in mid-October last year, estimates for both 2019 and 2020 crashed. 

This is why I call it ‘Millennial Soccer.’ 

Earnings season is now a ‘game’ where scores aren’t kept, the media cheers, and everyone gets a ‘participation trophy’ just for showing up.

Let’s take a look at what really happened with earnings.

During Q3-2019, quarterly operating earnings declined from $40.14 to $40.05 or -0.25%. While operating earnings are completely useless for analysis, as they exclude all the “bad stuff” and mostly fudge the rest, reported earnings declined by from $34.93 to $34.33 or -1.75%.

While those seem like very small declines in actual numbers, context becomes very important. In Q3-2018, quarterly operating earnings were $41.38 and reported earnings were $36.36. In other words, over the last year operating earnings have declined by -3.21% and reported earnings fell by -5.58%. At the same time, the S&P 500 index has advanced by 7.08%.

 

It’s actually worse.

Despite the rise in the S&P 500 index, both Operating and Reported earnings have fallen despite the effect of substantially lower tax rates and massive corporate share repurchases, which reduce the denominator of the EPS calculation.

Steve Goldstein recently penned for MarketWatch

“Research published by the French bank Societe Generale shows that S&P 500 companies have bought back the equivalent of 22% of the index’s market capitalization since 2010, with more than 80% of the companies having a program in place.

The low cost of debt is one reason for the surge, with interest rates not that far above zero, and President Trump’s package of tax cuts in 2017 further triggered a big repatriation of cash held abroad. Since the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, non-financial U.S. companies have reduced their foreign earnings held abroad by $601 billion.

This repatriation may have run its course, and stock buybacks should decline from here, but they will still be substantial.”

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Disclaimer: Real Investment Advice is powered by RIA Advisors, an investment advisory firm located in Houston, Texas with more than $800 million under management. As a team of certified and ...

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