Tech Sector Resumes Growth Mode

  • Total S&P 500 earnings for the first quarter of 2024 are expected to be up +2.2% from the same period last year on +3.5% higher revenues. This follows the +6.4% earnings growth on +3.4% higher revenues in 2023 Q4.

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  • As was the case in the preceding two quarters, the Tech sector remains a key growth driver in 2024 Q1. Had it not been for the robust Tech sector earnings growth, total earnings for the rest of the index would be modestly in negative territory.

 

  • Half of the 16 Zacks sectors are expected to enjoy positive earnings growth in Q1, with the Tech (earnings growth of +18.5%), Retail (+13.3%), Aerospace (+8.1%), Utilities (+7.3%) sectors enjoying notable year-over-year growth.

 

  • Q1 earnings for the remaining 8 Zacks sectors are expected to be below the year-earlier level, with the Energy (decline of -24.8%), Basic Materials (-26.4%), Autos (-24.8%) and Transportation (-14.8%) as the major decliners.

 

As we look ahead to the 2024 Q1 earnings season, whose early results have already started coming out, it is important to keep in mind where we have been in recent quarters and what is expected for the next few periods.

The chart below shows current Q1 earnings and revenue growth expectations in the context of what has been actually achieved over the preceding four quarters and what is currently expected from the following three periods.

Zacks Investment Research

Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

 

You can see in this chart that earnings growth turned positive in the 2023 Q3 after remaining modestly in negative territory for the three quarters before that period. Two notable developments helped push the aggregate growth picture into positive territory – the Tech sector resumed its traditional growth-driver status, and net margins turned positive.

Expectations for 2024 Q1 and beyond show that the Tech sector is expected to remain a core growth driver, and the margin outlook will continue to improve.

As noted in the chart above, 2024 Q1 earnings are expected to increase +2.2% from the same period last year on +3.5% higher revenues.

The chart below shows how estimates for 2024 Q1 have evolved in recent months.

Zacks Investment Research

Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

 

Please note that the magnitude of negative revisions to Q1 estimates compares favorably to what we had seen in the comparable period for 2023 Q4.

Since the start of Q1, estimates have come down for 10 of the 16 Zacks sectors. The sectors suffering the biggest estimate cuts include Energy, Basic Materials, Transportation, Autos, and Aerospace.

On the positive side, estimates have been raised for 6 of the 16 Zacks sectors since the quarter got underway, with the Retail, Tech, and Utilities sectors enjoying notable positive revisions.

The revisions trend noted here for 2024 Q1 also represents what’s happening to full-year 2024 estimates. While estimates in the aggregate are coming down, several major sectors, including the Tech sector, are still enjoying positive estimate revisions.

The chart below shows how estimates for full-year 2024 have evolved.

Zacks Investment Research

Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

The chart below shows how full-year earnings expectations for the Tech sector have evolved over this period.

Zacks Investment Research

Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

This favorable earnings outlook for the Tech sector should reassure us all of the fundamental underpinnings of the group’s stock-market momentum. One can quibble over the appropriate valuation level for an individual Tech stock, but we can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that the group’s stock market momentum should remain in place as long as the revisions trend remains favorable.

For the Tech sector as a whole, 2024 Q1 earnings are expected to be up +18.5% on +7.8% higher revenues. This would follow the sector’s +27.4% higher earnings in 2023 Q4 on +8.5% revenue growth.

The strong quarterly results from Oracle (ORCL) give us a good start to this reporting cycle for the Tech space. Adobe (ADBE) will most likely also confirm these trends in its quarterly report.

Had it not been for the Tech sector’s growth, aggregate earnings for the remainder of the S&P 500 index would be modestly in negative territory.

Below, we show the overall earnings picture for the S&P 500 index on an annual basis.

Zacks Investment Research

Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

Given the expected moderation in the U.S. economy’s growth trajectory due to the cumulative effects of Fed tightening, these estimates likely need to come down. But the +2.9% revenue growth expectation is hardly aggressive, considering that the U.S. economy produced a nominal GDP growth rate in excess of +6% last year.

The rest of the 2024 earnings growth is coming from margin expansion, with 2024 net margins for the index going back to the 2021 level. Embedded in this margin expectation is the view that the inflation cycle has run its course, and the Tech sector will continue to enjoy the benefits of AI and other innovations. We don’t see this margin (or revenue) outlook as unreasonable or out-of-sync with the economic ground reality.

 

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