When a Quarter Is Worth More Than 25 Cents

August 20, 2020

Source: FactSet, BofA US Equity and Quant Strategy Source: FactSet, BofA US Equity and Quant Strategy

As a long-term investor, my focus is on long-term results. Long-term return on capital, trends in sales and profit margins and balance sheet strength are all more important than each quarter’s earnings results. However, given the incredible shifts in the economic and financial markets over the past few months, even I would be remiss to not acknowledge how interesting earnings results have been and are likely to be for the second and third quarters of 2020. Which businesses have thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdowns? Which companies have struggled due to balance sheet stress during a lower sales and earnings period? From an investment perspective, 2020 is almost like a laboratory experiment or an acid test of the corporate world highlighting each company's strengths and weaknesses.

Another factor clouding the results of corporate profitability and each company’s success or failure is the concentration in the stock market indexes, which has been well documented over the past few months. The strong performance of the big five (Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Google) is frankly obscuring the results for the vast majority of stock market participants, skewing the perception of what is actually happening for most publicly traded companies. This is why a keen eye on bottom-up fundamentals is critically important today. Just because the broad stock market is up does not mean that all companies are doing well. For example, according to FactSet data, large-cap company profits declined roughly 34% during the second quarter. But the total aggregate earnings of small-cap companies actually fell into negative territory. Accordingly, while the S&P 500 Index’s performance is now positive year-to-date, small-cap stocks remain negative. 

Case in point, during the stock market decline earlier this year, analyst estimates became increasingly negative as multitudes of companies declined to give any earnings guidance for the remainder of 2020. And who could blame these companies given the uncertainty in their businesses and the economy? But this lack of guidance and ensuing analyst inaccuracy is leading to an incredible disparity in earnings results and earnings bets across the markets. Per SunTrust, the percentage of companies beating analyst estimates (84%) is the highest in more than 15 years. Further, we have witnessed earnings revisions in an incredibly wide range, as reflected in this week’s chart. In these revisions segmented by market sector, we can see a clearer picture of the impact the recent crisis is having on specific sectors and industries.

Key Takeaway

In closing, while the broad stock market continues to surge to new all-time highs, the concentration of the major indexes and the influence of just a few companies may not be telling the whole story accurately. As an analyst, it’s my job to attempt to see through the noise and to identify individual opportunities while also seeking to avoid pitfalls and market risk. Observing recent results and uncovering strong business models and management teams that are doing a good job navigating this period of uncertainty can help add value over the coming years. Bottom-up fundamentals and independent research will be my guide along this journey in interpreting this truly unprecedented time in the market.

Tags: Earnings | Markets | Stocks | Investment strategy

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The material provided here is for informational use only. The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Penn Mutual Asset Management.

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