We consider earnings season a success based on the amount of upside to prior estimates generated by S&P 500 Index companies despite several headwinds. Companies handily beat expectations to get first quarter earnings up to flat, as shown in the LPL Chart of the Day.
When earnings season began in mid-April, consensus estimates called for a 4–5% drop in S&P 500 earnings, according to FactSet data. Beating results by this much is impressive considering persistent trade uncertainty and the drag on overseas profits from a strong U.S. dollar. Also consider that the median stock in the S&P 500 has grown earnings several percentage points faster because a few large companies are dragging down the market-cap-weighted calculation.
Resilient estimates are also encouraging. Since April 15, the 2019 consensus estimate for S&P 500 earnings per share has risen slightly to $168 (a 4% year-over-year increase). We consider that a win given that estimates typically fall during earnings season.
“Escalating trade uncertainty and the threat of more tariffs are huge wild cards for corporate profits,” said LPL Chief Investment Strategist John Lynch. “We are hopeful that significant progress can be made on the trade front next month, when President Trump and China’s President Xi are expected to meet at the G20 summit. A prolonged impasse that lasts through the summer would make mid-single-digit earnings growth difficult to achieve in 2019.”
Our base case remains that we will get a trade deal with China early this summer and consensus expectations for 3–4% earnings growth may prove to be conservative. Earnings are hardly booming, but with a continued economic expansion, low inflation, and low interest rates, we see enough earnings growth ahead to push stocks up to our year-end S&P 500 fair value target of 3,000—though it probably won’t get there in a straight line.
See our Weekly Market Commentary due later today for our earnings season recap and some key takeaways beyond the numbers.
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