We have reached the midpoint of the first-quarter earnings season, having already seen a barrage of positive earnings and revenue surprises. Notwithstanding this positive trend, the overall earnings picture remains drab for the quarter.
Per our latest Earnings Trend report , total earnings for the 209 S&P 500 members that reported as of Apr 27 were down 5.5% year over year on a 1.6% decline in sales. First-quarter earnings for the S&P 500 companies are expected to dip 8% year over year on 1% lower revenues. This, if it eventually materializes, will mark the 4th straight quarter of earnings decline for the benchmark index.
Looking at the chemical space, a number of companies have racked up forecast-topping earnings despite a slew of macro-level and industry-specific headwinds. Among the chemical companies that have already come out with their results, we saw solid earnings beats from chemical bellwethers such as DuPont DD and Dow Chemical DOW and positive surprises from other prominent names like Eastman Chemical EMN , Air Products APD and PPG Industries PPG .
The chemical industry is gradually gaining strength after being roiled by global economic crisis. The industry's recovery momentum is expected to continue in 2016, supported by continued strength in the automotive market, positive trends in the construction space and significant shale-linked capital investment.
Chemical makers are gaining from strategic measures including expansion into high-growth markets, aggressive cost management and productivity actions as well as acquisitions. However, the industry is not devoid of challenges as a still weak agriculture market, a strong dollar, soft demand in the energy space (given low oil prices ), lumpiness in Europe and slowdown in China continue to weigh on the performance of these companies.
The chemical industry falls under the broader Basic Materials sector which is among the sectors that have experienced double-digit earnings declines in the first quarter based on the earnings scorecard as of Apr 27. Earnings for the sector participants in the S&P 500 index are down -20.7% from the same period last year on -13.3% lower revenues. The sector is among 9 of the 16 Zacks sectors that are expected to see negative earnings growth in the first quarter with an expected earnings decline of 18.4% on 8.5% lower sales.
Let's take a sneak peek at two chemical companies that are scheduled to report their first-quarter results early next week.
FMC Corp.FMC , which will report after the bell on May 2, remains hamstrung by several challenges including weak agriculture market conditions and significant currency headwinds. Agricultural market conditions in Brazil remain weak, reflected by still soft demand for crop protection products. Moreover, elevated channel inventory levels and low farm incomes are expected to affect agricultural markets in North America this year. A slump in the value of the Brazilian real has also created significant headwinds for the company's Agricultural Solutions segment. (Read more: FMC Corp.: Will It Beat Earnings Again Amid Woes? )
FMC Corp.'s Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) combined with an Earnings ESP of 0.00% makes surprise prediction difficult. The company has beaten the Zacks Consensus Estimate in 2 of the trailing 4 quarters while missing twice with an average earnings beat of 5.29%.
Ecolab Inc.ECL , which will report its first-quarter numbers ahead of the bell on May 3, is expected to benefit from realization of targeted synergies associated with acquisitions. While the company is exposed to headwinds such as unfavorable currency translation and Venezuela deconsolidation, a robust product portfolio, new product launches and an expanding customer base should drive organic sales. (Read more: Will Ecolab's Earnings Surprise Investors in Q1? )
Ecolab's Zacks Rank #4 (Sell) coupled with an Earnings ESP of 0.00% makes surprise prediction difficult. The company has posted negative earnings surprise of 0.71% on an average over the trailing 4 quarters.
Stay tuned! Check back later for our earnings coverage of these stocks.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.