Q3 Earnings Season Preview

Note: The following is an excerpt from this week’s Earnings Trends report. You can access the full report that contains detailed historical actual and estimates for the current and following periods, please click here>>>

Here are the key points:


  • Recent earnings releases suggest that the positive momentum we started seeing in the overall earnings picture in early July is still in place and reflects favorable trends in the U.S. economy.


  • For 2020 Q3, total S&P 500 earnings are expected to decline -23.1% on -2.9% lower revenues. This is an improvement from the -26.5% earnings decline expected at the start of July and follows the -32.1% earnings drop in Q2.


  • Sectors with the weakest Q3 growth outlook remain the social-distancing exposed spaces like Transportation (-122.8% earnings decline), Energy (-100.8%), and Consumer Discretionary (-86.7%).


  • Out of the total 16 Zacks sectors, 14 sectors are expected to experience earnings declines in Q3, with Construction and Medical as the only sectors expected to show earnings growth.


  • Utilities (-3.4%), Technology (-4.0%), and Retail (-6.1%) are the sectors with the lowest expected earnings declines in Q3.


  • Q3 earnings for the Finance, Industrial Products and Basic Materials sectors are expected to be down -25.8%, -26.0% and -28.5% from the year-earlier period, respectively.


  • For full-year 2020, total earnings for the S&P 500 index are currently expected to be down -20.8% on -4.6% lower revenues. As with Q3 estimates, full-year estimates have improved since early July.


  • Growth is expected to resume next year, thanks to easy comparisons, but the dollar level of earnings in 2021 will still be below the 2019 level.


  • The implied ‘EPS’ for the S&P 500 index, calculated using current 2020 P/E of 26.1X and index close, as of September 22nd, is $126.90, down from $160.14 in 2019. Using the same methodology, the index ‘EPS’ works out to $159.07 for 2021 (P/E of 20.8X). The multiples for 2020 and 2021 have been calculated using the index’s total market cap and aggregate bottom-up earnings for each year. 


  • Please note that while full-year 2021 earnings for the S&P 500 index are currently expected to be up +25.3% from the 2020 level, the absolute dollar amount of 2021 earnings estimates remain below the 2019 level.


  • For the small-cap S&P 600 index, Q3 earnings are expected to be down -39.1% from the same period last year on -6.5% lower revenues, which would follow a -64.4% decline on -20.0% lower revenues in 2020 Q2.


  • For full-year 2020, the S&P 600 index is expected to experience a -38.9% decline in earnings on -6.9% lower revenues, with easy comps pushing earnings growth to +42.3% in 2021.


The Q3 earnings season will really get underway after the big banks come out with quarterly results on October 20th. But we will have counted almost two dozen companies to have reported Q3 results by that time, as we and other data vendors consider companies currently reporting their fiscal quarters ending in August as part of the Q3 tally.

Using that definition, we count the eight S&P 500 members that reported quarterly results in recent days, which includes the likes of Nike (NKE), Oracle (ORCL), Adobe (ADBE), Lennar (LEN) and FedEx (FDX). And all eight of these reports have been very good, with FedEx’s blowout numbers and favorable commentary not only reconfirming the pandemic-driven momentum in online sales, but also pointing towards favorable trends in the U.S. economy.

It is premature to read too much into such a small number of reports, but these early reports nevertheless raise hopes that the Q3 reporting cycle will show an incrementally improving outlook for operators in a variety of sectors.

We saw some of these improvements in the last reporting cycle (2020 Q2) as well, which helped turn the estimate revisions around, as you can see in the chart below that captures the revisions trend for Q3.














We are seeing a similar improvement in estimates for Q4 2020 and full-year 2021 as well. The chart below shows the quarterly earnings and revenue growth picture.














The chart below shows the overall earnings picture on an annual basis.














The recent flow of economic readings has been broadly positive, suggesting that the hoped-for recovery is firmly in place. This is showing up in earnings estimates as well, as indicated earlier. The hope is that this improving trend can be sustained even as the underlying health issue remains unresolved.

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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.


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