U.S. Markets close in 1 hr 18 mins

Q4 Earnings Season Preview

Sheraz Mian

The Q4 earnings season has gotten underway already, but will really get going with the January 14th reports from the big banks. But this earnings season is not expected to change the market’s earnings view in any meaningful way.

We have seen already that growth was constrained in the first three quarters of the year and 2019 Q4 results are not expected to be any different. A big contributing factor holding growth back has been tough comparisons to the very high levels of profitability in 2018, when earnings were boosted by the tax cut legislation. We will see this factor in play for the Q4 earnings season as well. But the expectation is that positive growth resumes in 2020, which we will show a little later in this write-up.

We have three S&P 500 members on deck to report results this week: Lennar (LEN), Walgreens (WBA) and Constellation (STZ). All of these companies will be releasing results for their fiscal quarters ending in November, which we count as part of the December-quarter tally. This means that by the time JPMorgan (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC) and Citigroup (C) come out with their December-quarter results January 14th, we will have seen Q4 results from 20 S&P 500 members already.

We will touch on the results from the 16 S&P 500 members that have reported already a little later, but let’s take a look first at overall expectations for the quarter.

For 2019 Q4, total earnings (or aggregate net income) for the S&P 500 index are expected to be down -3.6% from the same period last year on +3.2% higher revenues, with 10 of the 16 Zacks sectors expected to have lower earnings than the year-earlier period.

As is typically the case, estimates for the period came down as the quarter got underway, as the chart below shows:


 
The magnitude of negative revisions that Q4 estimates suffered is in-line with historical trends for comparable periods.

Estimates have come down across the board, with 15 of the 16 Zacks sectors suffering negative revisions (Utilities is the only sector where estimates modestly ticked up). But not all sectors experienced the same magnitude of estimate cuts. Of the two biggest earnings contributors – Finance & Technology – estimates came down a lot more for the Finance sector than for the Technology space.

Sectors experiencing the biggest negative revisions include Autos, Aerospace, Industrial Products and Basic Materials.

The Autos sector was expected to enjoy earnings growth of +6.1% at the start of October, which has now dropped to a decline of -56%. This dramatic shift is primarily a function of how estimates for General Motors (GM) have evolved lately, with the current Zacks Consensus EPS of 6 cents for the automaker in Q4 down from $1.77 two months back.

The table below shows the summary picture for Q4, contrasted with what was actually achieved in the preceding earnings season:


 
Early Q4 Scorecard (as of Friday, January 3rd)

Total earnings for the 16 S&P 500 members that have reported results already are down -21.3% from the same period last year on +2.4% higher revenues, with 81.3% beating EPS estimates and 68.8% beating revenue estimates.

The comparison charts below put these results in the context of what this same group of 16 index members have been reporting in other recent periods. The first set of charts compare the beats percentages while the second set does a similar comparison for Q4 earnings and revenue growth rates:

Q4 EPS & Revenue Beats % Compared


 
Q4 Earnings & Revenue Growth Rates Compared



Expectations Beyond 2019 Q4

The chart below shows Q4 earnings and revenue growth expectations contrasted with what is expected in the following quarter and actual results in the preceding 4 quarters. As you can see, the growth pace is expected to start improving from next quarter onwards.


 
The chart below shows the earnings picture on an annual basis. As you can see, growth is expected to resume in 2020 and continue the following year, after the modest decline in 2019.



Estimates for full-year 2020 have come down over the last few months, but they still represent a material acceleration from the 2019 pace. The way 2020 Q1 and full-year 2020 expectations evolve in the coming weeks and months will depend to a large extent on management guidance and commentary as 2019 Q4 results come out.
 

Biggest Tech Breakthrough in a Generation

Be among the early investors in the new type of device that experts say could impact society as much as the discovery of electricity. Current technology will soon be outdated and replaced by these new devices. In the process, it’s expected to create 22 million jobs and generate $12.3 trillion in activity.

A select few stocks could skyrocket the most as rollout accelerates for this new tech. Early investors could see gains similar to buying Microsoft in the 1990s. Zacks’ just-released special report reveals 8 stocks to watch. The report is only available for a limited time.

See 8 breakthrough stocks now>>


Want the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report
 
Wells Fargo & Company (WFC) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. (WBA) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
Constellation Brands Inc (STZ) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
Lennar Corporation (LEN) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
Citigroup Inc. (C) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
To read this article on Zacks.com click here.
 
Zacks Investment Research