3 Things to Know About Q1 Earnings Season - Earnings Trends

The following is an excerpt from this week's Earnings Trends article. To see the full article, please click here .

We are still a few days away from the end of the March quarter, but the 2015 Q1 earnings season has already gotten underway. We have seen results from 8 S&P 500 members and the tally will reach 19 by the end of the month. Please note that all of these early reports are from companies with fiscal quarters ending in February; we count all of these as part of our Q1 tally.

The actual results from these early reporters appear good enough in terms of growth rates and beat ratios. But investors seem unimpressed with the results thus far. The 'price impact' column in the summary table below for the 8 S&P 500 members clearly shows investors' disappointment with the result thus far, particularly for FedEx ( FDX ), Adobe ( ADBE ) and Cintas ( CTAS ).

As we all know, estimates for Q1 took a lot of beating over the last few months, with many suspecting that the negative revisions trend may have gone a bit too far. But judging from the market's reaction to the admittedly small sample of reports, expectations may not be low enough. That said, it is way too early a stage to analyze the Q1 results.

For the 2015 Q1 earnings season as a whole, here are the 3 key points to keep in mind.

First , the magnitude of negative revisions for Q1 is greater than what we have seen for any other recent quarter. The Energy sector is undoubtedly the big reason why the revisions trend for Q1 stands out to this extent, but the picture isn't much better outside of the Energy sector either.

The chart below shows the evolution of 2015 Q1 total earnings growth estimates, with and without the Energy sector.

Second , it's not just the growth rate that is so low in Q1; total aggregate earnings for the S&P 500 companies are expected to be the lowest since the fourth quarter of 2012. Aggregate earnings have been in record territory in recent quarters, with each of the preceding three quarters producing all-time record quarterly totals.

The chart below shows the aggregate earnings tally for the S&P 500 index

Third , growth estimates for the first half of the year have taken a severe beating over the last few months, with positive growth estimates getting replaced by outright earnings declines. The chart below shows the evolution of 2015 Q1 and Q2 earnings growth estimates since mid-December 2014. As you can see, positive growth in the first half of the year has evaporated.

The revisions trend has been negative for more than two years now, with the trend gaining pace over the last few months under the combined effect of Energy sector weakness, dollar strength, and global growth worries. The resulting negative tone of management guidance notwithstanding, estimates for outer quarters still represent a material ramp up in growth going forward, with estimates for 2015 Q4 representing a new all-time quarterly record. What this means is that there is still plenty of downside risk to estimates for the coming quarters.

To see the full Earnings Trends report, please click here .

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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