A Memorable Earnings Season
Q1 revenues, earnings, and margins are now available for the S&P 500. Revenues per share dropped 2.7% q/q during Q1. Earnings per share, based on Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S (TR) data, fell 1.3% q/q. So in what sense was the Q1 reporting season “memorable,” as stated in the title of today’s commentary?
For starters, the S&P 500 rose to a new record high of 2415.82 on May 26. The S&P 400 and S&P 600 stock price indexes continued to mark time at their recent record highs. Industry analysts remained upbeat about earnings for this year and next year, as reflected by the record highs in the S&P 500/400/600 forward earnings.
This all happened despite a growing realization that President Trump’s economic agenda is likely to be slowed by Washington’s swampy ways. I came to that epiphany on May 18 and adjusted my earnings estimates accordingly, pushing the corporate tax cut into 2018 from 2017. Without a tax cut, I estimate that S&P 500 earnings per share will be $130.00 this year and $136.75 next year. With the tax cut in 2018, my estimate for next year gets raised to $150.00. Let’s have a closer look at the results of the latest reporting season:
(1) Good growth. Of course, the apparent weakness in Q1’s revenues and earnings on a q/q basis is mostly seasonal in nature. The first quarter of the year tends to be the weakest one of the year. On a y/y basis, revenues per share rose 6.9%, the fastest since Q4-2011. Earnings per share rose 14.5% y/y, the best growth since Q3-2011.
I argued that the S&P 500 revenues recession during 2015—when y/y growth rates were down each quarter—was mostly attributable to the plunge in the revenues of the energy sector. The revenue growth rates, which turned slightly positive during Q1-2016, have been increasing since then. It was last summer that I declared the end of the earnings recession. The y/y growth rate of earnings turned positive during Q3-2016 at 4.2%, rose to 5.9% during Q4-2016, and chalked up 14.5% at the start of this year.
(2) High & stable margin. The profit margin of the S&P 500, based on TR data, rebounded sharply from a record low of 2.4% during Q4-2008 back to its previous cyclical peak of 9.6% during Q3-2011. There was lots of growling by the perma-bears that it would soon revert to its mean. Instead, it continued to rise to a new record high of 10.7% during Q3-2016. It has remained around there since then, registering 10.5% during Q1....MORE