No holiday better describes earnings season than Halloween. When companies announce earnings, investors are hoping for treats but often times end up getting tricks. In our view, improving corporate earnings are the catalyst to improving stock market returns in the coming year. As we close out the best month for the stock market since 2011, we should review some of the tricks and treats of earnings season.
Apple reported earnings earlier this week and beat expectations on almost every level. IPhone sales continue to grow at a robust pace around the world. The company sold 48 million iPhones in the third quarter, up 22 percent from last year. Analysts expect the company to sell 79 million iPhones in the final quarter of the year. Average selling prices of the phones continue to rise, which enhances profitability and will lead to $60 billion in free cash flow this year alone.
As expected, the energy sector has had a rough time of it this earnings season. Earnings for the S&P 500 energy sector were expected to be down 73 percent this quarter and that indeed has been the case. During these distressing times all companies begin to dramatically scale back investment and reduce headcount. We feel that higher quality companies with good assets, low debt levels and quality management teams will benefit from the eventual rise in oil prices.
Trick and Treat
In no place is the bifurcations of earnings season more evident than in footwear. Nike reported earnings that beat analyst estimates by 12 percent and the stock responded with a nine percent pop the next day. Nike also reported a solid outlook for the coming quarters as well. Sketchers, on the other hand, tricked investors and missed earnings by a whopping 21 percent last week and the stock dropped 31.5 percent with the news.
Why have stocks responded so positively to a mixed earnings environment? Expectations for third quarter earnings had been lowered so much that companies have been able to meet and often beat those reduced forecasts. Also, the much advertised slowdown in China has not had as big of an impact on earnings as investors feared. While the investment slowdown in China has hurt some industrial companies, the Chinese consumer has actually helped the likes of both Apple and Nike.
Takeaways for the week
- There have been more treats than tricks this earnings season which has driven the S&P 500 higher by nine percent this month
- Earnings season continues to be very volatile and stock selection has been key