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Beware the Hype on Earnings: Jim Bianco


In the film Glengarry Glen Ross the art of the hard-sell sales pitch is distilled down to three simple letters: A, B, and C.

"A - Always, B - Be, C - Closing. Always Be Closing," lectures Alec Baldwin's character to his beaten-down gallery of salesman.

In some ways, as we stammer along the path of what is set to be the worst period of profit growth in two years, there seems to be a similar sort of re-branding effort underway that parallels the aforementioned hard sell.

"The 80% 'beat rate' is much higher than the 59% of companies that topped forecasts in the fourth quarter of 2011," extols a recent article, referring only to the percentage of reports that exceeded, or beat, so-called consensus estimates, while ignoring the actual pace of growth (or, in some cases, decline) in profits from a year ago.

"It's nothing extraordinary," says Jim Bianco, of Bianco Research, in the attached video. "It's only slightly above average." In fact, he says at this point in the cycle - when you've had about 150 companies report - since the end of the recession in 2009, about 77% of companies have beaten estimates and at least 50% topped estimates every quarter since 1998.

So what's with the sales pitch?

Part of it, he says, has to do with the fact that in the fourth quarter the beat ratio slumped to a 10-year low of 62%. Some of it can also be blamed on the fact that, with S&P 500 earnings up just 2%, there isn't anything better to talk about right now, including a dearth of guidance—good or bad.

"Let's call it what it is. Analysts stink at putting out these long-term forecasts," Bianco says. "That's why everyone always thinks the market is cheap, because they're using all these somewhat made-up forecasts out in the future.''

So for investors like Bianco, the big takeaway is to ignore the hype and stay defensive, which in his case means owning dividend-paying stocks while waiting out the storm.