We may not see an earnings recession after all.
In a note on Friday, FactSet’s Jonathan Butters noted that this week, earnings growth for S&P 500 companies rose to 0.1%, turning positive for the first time since January.
This turn to growth from corporate earnings comes amid fears that the American corporate sector was headed for an “earnings recession,” or a decline in profitability compared to last year.
These fears and predictions came as both the decline in oil prices and the strong US dollar were set to be a drag on profits and sales.
In his note, Butters writes that, “Of the 447 companies that have reported earnings to date for Q1 2015, 71% have reported earnings above the mean estimate and 45% have reported sales above the mean estimate.”
And in his note, Butters said one big thing is driving this turn to growth for earnings: companies are crushing expectations.
The aggregate amount by which companies are reporting earnings above estimates for Q1 (6.4%) is well above the 5-year average (5.4%). In fact, if 6.4% is the final surprise percentage for the quarter, it will mark the highest surprise percentage for a quarter since Q1 2011 (7.0%). Thus, the above average surprise percentage for Q1 is the main driver of the above average increase in the Q1 earnings growth rate since March 31.
Earlier in earnings season, we looked at comments from Morgan Stanley’s Adam Parker, who said that analysts typically make several downward revisions throughout any given year. And due to the oil crash, many analysts had slashed expectations for the sector in the first quarter.
But so far this quarter, the energy sector is exactly where the earnings surprises are coming from. Energy stocks are currently logging an earnings surprise rate of 28%, putting this sector miles ahead of Health Care, which has a surprise rate of 10.5%.
Fundstrat’s Tom Lee has also noted that energy companies have seen the biggest “magnitude of surprise” in first quarter earnings, meaning this sector has the highest share of companies beating estimates against those that are missing forecasts.
And among the companies topping expectations this quarter are energy giants like Halliburton, ExxonMobil and Chevron.
Here’s the big rise in the earnings growth rate, which accelerated mid-April when the number of weekly earnings reports really started to pick up.
And here’s the breakdown in earnings surprise by sector:
And so after some gloomy predictions, first quarter earnings haven’t turned out so bad after all.