Tags: S&P 500 | Earnings | Estimates | Profits

S&P 500 Earnings Top Estimates at Fastest Pace in Four Years

Wednesday, 05 Nov 2014 08:48 AM

Standard & Poor’s 500 Index companies are beating analysts’ estimates at the fastest pace in four years, underscoring the strength of the U.S. economy’s recovery from the longest recession since the Great Depression.

More than 81 percent of the 410 S&P 500 members that have reported results so far this quarter have topped projections, led by companies from Caterpillar Inc. and Time Warner Inc. to Exxon Mobil Corp. That’s the highest rate since the first quarter of 2010 and exceeds the 58 percent ratio for members of the Stoxx Europe 600 Index and the 52 percent for the MSCI Asia Pacific Index, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Recent economic data point to improvements in the U.S. labor market and consumer sentiment, which, combined with the lowest costs at the gas pump in four years and the fastest pace of payroll gains in more than a decade, are projected to help lift consumer spending. While rivals in Europe and Asia grapple with slowing growth, U.S. companies are taking advantage of technologies such as fracking, 3-D printing, apps and cloud computing to lower costs and lift earnings to record levels.

“It’s a tremendous earnings environment with technology gains and with the slow, steady — what we call plow-horse — economy,” said Brian Wesbury, chief economist at First Trust Portfolios LP, who was fourth in a Bloomberg ranking of top forecasters of the U.S. economy last quarter. “That’s why earnings keep beating these pessimistic forecasts.”

Time Warner, Caterpillar

S&P 500 companies that surprised investors the most with higher-than-expected earnings this season so far included Yahoo! Inc., Legg Mason Inc. and Tenet Healthcare Corp., data compiled by Bloomberg show. Yahoo, the Sunnyvale, California-based Web portal undergoing a turnaround, has been investing in content and other features to attract users and advertisers.

Time Warner, which rebuffed a takeover attempt from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc. during the quarter, beat profit estimates as fees received for its TV channels rose. Caterpillar, the largest construction-equipment maker, benefited from rising sales of machinery for the oil and gas industry.

Even oil companies reported higher-than-estimated profits in the face of falling oil prices. Exxon Mobil and Chevron Corp. increased profits as slumping crude prices made it cheaper to manufacture gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

Share buybacks also helped increase corporate profits and stock prices, said Tony Dwyer, an equity strategist with Canaccord Genuity Securities LLC in New York.

‘Great Quarter’

“It’s a great quarter,” Dwyer said. “It’s a combination of moderate top-line growth with the positive implication of buybacks and cost control.”

Among companies that fell short were consumer and retail companies. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Mattel Inc., Priceline Group Inc., Urban Outfitters Inc. and Netflix Inc. posted disappointing earnings or outlooks, a sign that shoppers remain guarded. Consumer spending, which accounts for almost 70 percent of the economy, has been restrained this year.

“In the process of this recovery, revenue growth has remained anemic at worst and modest at best,” said John Stoltzfus, chief market strategist at Oppenheimer & Co. “Everything is more prone to be more modest than robust. That’s ultimately better. If we have no boom, then we have no bubble, no bust. We’ll take it.”

Still, recent economic indicators “look very supportive for the current economic expansion to show increased sustainability even as we have weakness outside of our borders,” Stoltzfus said.

European Gloom

The outlook is indeed looking bleaker in Europe. The European Commission cut its growth forecasts for the euro area as the bloc’s largest economies struggle to recover from two recessions in six years. Weak economies and high unemployment have hurt European results, with companies from Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc to Nestle SA cutting their forecasts.

The S&P 500 Index is still trading near record highs, even though investors’ anxiety about the global economy, the possible spread of Ebola and the stronger dollar has been weighing on stocks day in and day out in the past months,

And then there’s the planned ending of the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented asset-purchase program. Chair Janet Yellen is completing the two years of bond purchases that started under her predecessor, Ben S. Bernanke.

Regardless of the Fed, companies will continue to improve earnings by being more productive, said Wesbury, the First Trust Portfolios chief economist. Quantitative easing and government actions aren’t driving the economy, he said.

“It’s not a sugar-high; these companies are truly more profitable,” Wesbury said. “Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen — they don’t write apps, they don’t frack wells.”

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Standard & Poor’s 500 Index companies are beating analysts’ estimates at the fastest pace in four years, underscoring the strength of the U.S. economy’s recovery from the longest recession since the Great Depression.
S&P 500, Earnings, Estimates, Profits
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2014-48-05
Wednesday, 05 Nov 2014 08:48 AM
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