Earnings season is almost here and companies are warning the results won’t be pretty

The US flag flies over shipping cranes and containers in Long Beach, California on March 4, 2019.

Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images

This upcoming earnings season is shaping up to be a weak one.

Because of uncertainty around trade wars and global growth, a bulk of U.S. companies are lowering the bar for their second-quarter earnings. Of the 114 companies that have issued earnings guidance for the period, 77% have issued negative forecasts, according to data from FactSet.

Thanks in part to those warnings, earnings are estimated by analysts to have declined by 2.9% year over year in the second quarter. At the start of the period, analysts expected earnings to be basically flat. If that estimate for a decline holds up, it would mark the first time the S&P 500 has reported two straight quarters of year-over-year decline in earnings in three years, according to FactSet.

“That says it all about the trajectory now of earnings,” Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer of Bleakley Advisory Group, told CNBC Thursday. Boockvar said the two “key tells this week” have been disappointing second-quarter results from MSC Industrial Direct and Fastenal, both of which cited a slowing business environment.

“These companies lie at the heart of the industrial and construction world,” Boockvar said.

Minnesota-based Fastenal was among the first companies to give investors a glimpse into the corporate cost of tariffs. The largest fastener distributor in North America said in its second-quarter earnings report this week that the trade war has damaged its business and outlined the difficulty of countering the losses.

“While we successfully raised prices as one element of our strategy to offset tariffs placed to date on products sourced from China, those increases were not sufficient to also counter general inflation in the marketplace,” Fastenal said in a press release.

Tech and materials weak

Sectors like materials and information technology are projected to report the biggest year-over-year declines. The materials sector has recorded the biggest drop in expected earnings growth, nosediving from a 3.2% drop in the beginning of this quarter to a 16.2% drop this week, according to FactSet.

There has been little progress publicly on a trade deal since the United States and China reached a truce at the G-20 summit in Japan. Last week, China’s Ministry of Commerce said that the U.S. has to lift all tariffs placed on Chinese goods if there is to be a trade deal.

“With about two months past the recent tariff round, we expect to hear more details on the impact from companies this earnings season,” Bank of America equity and quant strategist, Savita Subramanian, said in a note to clients this week.

Still, Wall Street is shrugging off the earnings picture thanks to new hope of a July rate cut. The Dow Jones Industrial Average notched a record high on Thursday, breaking above 27,000 for the first time in its history. The S&P 500 climbed above the 3,000 level for the first time Wednesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said business investments across the U.S. have slowed “notably” as uncertainties weigh on the economic outlook. As a result, expectations of an upcoming rate cut grew. Market expectations for a rate cut in July are at 100%, according to the CME Group’s FedWatch tool.

There are some bright spots though. Five sectors are projected to notch earnings growth, including utilities and healthcare sectors. When it comes to revenue, just three of the eleven sectors are projected to report a decline.

Next week should paint a fuller picture with Citi kicking off second-quarter earnings Monday. Names like Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan will also report, as well as Microsoft, UniteHealth, IBM, Philip Morris, United Airlines, and Netflix.

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