ETF Securities Research Blog

US Earnings highlight a worrying trend

The US earnings season looks grim and current valuations are not justified given such weakness in earnings.

In aggregate we have seen a Q1 2016 versus Q1 2015 decline in net income of 7.2%, not as bad as last earnings season where Q4 2015 fell 8.1%, but it’s the continuation of the trend that is worrying. Aggregate net income has fallen to levels not seen since September 2012 based on the 95% of companies that have reported. Furthermore, it’s not just an earnings issue – revenues have fallen by a similar amount.

Earnings season

Analysts have heavily downgraded their expectations to earnings by 9% since February, when the estimates are first made. The downward revisions to the outlook represents the most aggressive since the credit crisis and perversely has led to results beating expectations 70% of the time.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, defensive sectors such as consumer staples, healthcare, utilities and telecoms have all had positive net income and revenues.

Perhaps the most astonishing point is that Apples’ net income and revenues comprise 2.1% and 4.5% respectively for the S&P500, stripping it out of the results highlight they are a significant contributor to this earnings season’s quarterly falls. With Apple’s results, net income fell 4.8% versus Q4 2015, without Apple net income fell only 1.8%. The other area of weakness is the energy sector which accounts for more than half of the fall in net income – if the weak energy sector and Apple are removed from the results, the earnings season has shown quarterly net income growth of 1.5%.

US earnings FCF

Whilst this is positive news to some extent, the final nail on the coffin for this earnings season has been the rapidly dwindling levels of free cash flow (cash generation after capital expenditures), which is now at the lowest (with or without Apple) since December 2008, just after the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

US equities at current valuations are not justified given such weakness in earnings.