The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Merck, PNC Financial, Express Scripts, VeriSign and Martin Marietta

For Immediate Release

Chicago, IL - February 17, 2017 - announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include Merck (NYSE: MRK - Free Report ), PNC Financial (NYSE: PNC - Free Report ), Express Scripts (NASDAQ: ESRX - Free Report ), VeriSign (NASDAQ: VRSN - Free Report ) and Martin Marietta (NYSE: MLM - Free Report ).

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Here are highlights from Thursday's Analyst Blog:

Q4 Earnings Season Scorecard and Top Analyst Reports

The Zacks Research Daily features the best research output of our analyst team. In today's write-up, we are featuring analyst reports on 16 major stocks, including reports on Merck (NYSE: MRK - Free Report ), PNC Financial (NYSE: PNC - Free Report ) and Express Scripts (NASDAQ: ESRX - Free Report ). These reports have been hand-picked from amongst the 70 or so stock research reports published by our analyst team today. You can see all of today's research reports here >>

In addition to these stock research reports, we are also giving you a real-time scorecard of the ongoing Q4 earnings season. We have a long history of closely monitoring earnings releases and presenting our analysis of emerging aggregate trends in the weekly Earnings Trends and Earnings Preview reports.

Our latest Earnings Trends report is: A Positive & Reassuring Earnings Picture

Q4 Earnings Scorecard( as of Thursday, February, 16 th )

Including all of this morning's releases, we now have Q4 results from 398 S&P 500 members, or 79.4% of the index's total membership. Total earnings for the 398 index members that have reported results already are up +8% on +5% higher revenues, with 68.8% beating EPS estimates and 55.3% beating revenue estimates.

This is better earnings and revenue growth performance than we have seen from this group of 398 S&P 500 members in other recent periods, even after adjusting for the strong growth from the Finance sector (earnings growth would be +5.4% excluding the Finance sector on +5% higher revenues).

The proportion of companies beating EPS and revenue estimates, however, is tracking below other recent periods. Only 41% of the index members are able to beat both EPS and revenue estimates, which compares to 47.2% in the preceding quarter for the same sample of 398 S&P 500 members (the 4-quarter average is 45.1% & the 12-quarter average is 44.6%).

Looking at Q4 as a whole, combining the actual results from the 398 index members with estimates from the still-to-come 102 companies, total earnings are expected to be up +7.4% from the same period last year on +3.9% higher revenues. As we have been pointing out all along, this Q4 growth pace continues to be the best growth pace in two years. Importantly, the strong Q4 growth is not a function of easy comparisons, but rather a result of actual gains. The fact is total earnings for the S&P 500 index are on track to reach an all-time quarterly record, surpassing the level achieved in 2014 Q4.

Estimates for the current period (2017 Q1) are holding up fairly well; they are coming down, but not at the pace as would typically expected. Total earnings for the index are currently expected to be up +7.3% in Q1, which is down from +10.3% on January 4th.

Today's Featured Research Reports

Merck shares have gained 28.7% over the last one year, outperforming the Zacks Large Cap Pharma industry which has gained 5.9% over the same period. Merck's fourth-quarter results were mixed. While earnings beat estimates, sales missed the same due to generic competition for several drugs. However, the Zacks analyst likes Merck's new products, especially Keytruda, which should continue to contribute meaningfully to the top line. Merck will continue to focus on cost-cutting initiatives to drive the bottom line. Merck has also made significant progress with its pipeline and is working on bringing new products to the market. However, generic competition and pricing pressure will continue to pressurize the top line . (You can read the full research report on Merck here >> )

Buy rated PNC Financial shares outperformed the Zacks Regional Banks industry, over the last three months gaining 15.5% vs. 13.8%. The company's fourth-quarter 2016 earnings surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate, reflecting a marginal rise in net interest income, partially offset by lower non-interest income and a rise in operating expenses. The Zacks analyst likes the company's efforts to generate positive operating leverage through its cost-saving initiatives. Also, management projects revenues to rise at a mid-single digit rate in 2017, aided by loan growth. Notably, the company's capital deployment activities are encouraging. (You can read the full research report on PNC Financial here >> )

Express Scripts shares have underperformed medical services market over the last three months. EWhile the company's guidance for 2017 was encouraging, tough competition in the Pharmacy Benefit Management space and the persistent drug pricing issue are expected to affect the share price. Express Scripts stands to benefit from increased generic utilization, shift toward mail orders, strong specialty growth and an aging population. The company is focused on the development of both specialty drugs and generics, which are expected to account for 50% of the total drug expenditure by 2018. (You can read the full research report on Express Scripts here>> )

Other noteworthy reports we are featuring today include VeriSign (NASDAQ: VRSN - Free Report ) and Martin Marietta (NYSE: MLM - Free Report ).

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About Zacks Equity Research

Zacks Equity Research provides the best of quantitative and qualitative analysis to help investors know what stocks to buy and which to sell for the long-term.

Continuous coverage is provided for a universe of 1,150 publicly traded stocks. Our analysts are organized by industry which gives them keen insights to developments that affect company profits and stock performance. Recommendations and target prices are six-month time horizons.

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Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Inherent in any investment is the potential for loss. This material is being provided for informational purposes only and nothing herein constitutes investment, legal, accounting or tax advice, or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold a security. No recommendation or advice is being given as to whether any investment is suitable for a particular investor. It should not be assumed that any investments in securities, companies, sectors or markets identified and described were or will be profitable. All information is current as of the date of herein and is subject to change without notice. Any views or opinions expressed may not reflect those of the firm as a whole. Zacks Investment Research does not engage in investment banking, market making or asset management activities of any securities. These returns are from hypothetical portfolios consisting of stocks with Zacks Rank = 1 that were rebalanced monthly with zero transaction costs. These are not the returns of actual portfolios of stocks. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index. Visit for information about the performance numbers displayed in this press release.

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Merck & Company, Inc. (MRK): Free Stock Analysis Report

PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (The) (PNC): Free Stock Analysis Report

Express Scripts Holding Company (ESRX): Free Stock Analysis Report

VeriSign, Inc. (VRSN): Free Stock Analysis Report

Martin Marietta Materials, Inc. (MLM): Free Stock Analysis Report

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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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