Record Earnings? That's Right...Record

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Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange, April 30, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Record quarterly earnings. That's right. Record. First-quarter earnings for the S&P 500 currently stand at $26.44, according to S&P Capital IQ, the highest ever for a single quarter, beating the prior record of $26.36 for the fourth quarter of 2012.

How is it possible, when it appears so many companies are missing and there is such poor top-line growth? About 70 percent of companies are beating estimates. Especially strong have been health care (72 percent beat), financials (75 percent beat), and even technology, where 70 percent have beat. Those are the three largest sectors in the S&P 500.

Companies are not just beating, they are beating on average by 5.7 percent-that is about the historical norm.

By the way, projections are for earnings growth of 7 percent this year. The market seems to be happy with anything around 5 percent earnings growth.

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With earnings season two-thirds completed, we are still seeing an abnormally high level of revenue misses. Of 13 major companies reporting since the close last night, eight have missed revenue expectations, including Hyatt (NYSE:H), Knight Capital Group (KCG), Merck (MRK), SPX (SPW), and Time Warner (TWX).

The big story this quarter, as I have repeatedly emphasized, has been the revenue misses, with only 43 percent of companies reporting beating on the top line.

This quarter: Earnings growth of 4.1 percent; revenue growth of 1.8 percent.

Elsewhere:

1) May Day! Most of Europe is closed (the U.K. is open), as is China, which is closed for the third straight day (its market will reopen tomorrow).

2) Deflation again rears its head: Commodities are under pressure today, with silver, copper, aluminum, zinc, oil, and heating oil all down more than one percent.

3) Federal Reserve meeting today, though there is no Bernanke press conference. Traders will be looking for comments from the Fed on inflation , since any indications that inflation is under control will give the Fed more room to continue its quantitative-easing policies.

4) Another multi-industry disappoints: SPX, big in fluids (pumps, valves, mixers, heat exchangers, and dehydration and filtration technologies for food and beverage, general industrial processing, and cooling systems), misses on the top and bottom line. It also cut its full-year outlook, mostly on weakness in Europe.

5) Costco Wholesale (COST), American Express (AXP), and PepsiCo (PEP) are the latest companies to raise dividends. So far this year, 175 companies in the S&P 500 have raised their dividend; nine have cut.

6) How tough is traditional broadcasting? Very. Just look at the revenue numbers for our parent company, Comcast (CMCSA). Cable revenue was up 6.4 percent, but broadcast revenue (NBC) was DOWN 18.5 percent. Ouch. One bright spot: Theme park revenue up 12.2 percent.


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