The Earnings Recession Continues

Earnings growth for the S&P 500 index is on track for another decline in the ongoing Q4 earnings season, the third back-to-back quarter of negative earnings growth. The earnings recession isn’t expected to end any time soon as the picture for the current and coming quarters isn’t showing much improvement either. 
 
In terms of the Q4 scorecard, we now have results from 92 S&P 500 members that combined account for 24.8% of the index’s total market capitalization. Total earnings for these 92 index members are down -1.4% from the same period last year on -1.8% lower revenues, with 73.9% beating EPS estimates and 45.7% beating revenue estimates. While the growth rates (both earnings and revenue) are below what we saw from the same group of companies in 2015 Q3 and the 4-quarter average, the beat ratios (the ratio of companies beating consensus estimates) are showing an improvement. The 73.9% EPS beat ratio for Q4 at this stage is tracking above what we had seen from these same companies in other recent periods; even the revenue beat ratio at this stage is better than what we saw in Q3 and about in-line with the 4-quarter average. The favorable comparisons for beat ratios could be interpreted to mean that estimates may have fallen too much in the run up to the start of the Q4 earnings season. 
 
Finance is giving the growth picture a decent boost at this stage of the reporting cycle, with total earnings for the sector up +10.5% on +1.4% higher revenues, with 71.4% beating EPS estimates and an above-average 64.3% beating revenue estimates. Easy comparisons at Citigroup (C ) are helping the sector’s growth pace. Excluding Citigroup, the Finance sector’s Q4 growth at this stage would be a decline of -0.3%. Excluding Finance as a whole, earnings growth for the other S&P 500 members that have reported results would be down even more – down -7.8% on -2.9% lower revenues. 
 
Apple’s (AAPL - Analyst Report) earnings are expected to be essentially flat from the year-earlier level. But a significant positive surprise from the iPhone maker will materially change these growth numbers. After all, Apple isn’t just any company; it’s the largest company out there. In fact, Apple is on track to bring in more earnings in Q4 than 12 of the 16 individual sectors in the S&P 500 index. The stock has been under pressure lately, though it has held up better than the broader market in the year-to-date period. 
 
For Q4 as a whole, combing the actual results from the 92 index members that have reported with estimates for the still-to-come 408 companies is for earnings decline of -6.5% on -4.7% lower revenues. 
 
Estimates for 2016 Q1 have started coming down in a big way lately, with total earnings for the S&P 500 index currently expected to be down -4.3% from the same period last year. History tells us that these estimates will go down even more as we move further into the Q4 reporting cycle. And not all of the negative revision is due to oil; estimates for other sectors are coming down as well. On an ex-Energy basis, earnings for the index would be flat from the year-earlier level.

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