I should hope so. Otherwise we–investors–and the stock market would be in real big trouble.
Analysts have been flying blind for much of this just completed first quarter. Sure, the economy was going to improve and considering that comparisons would pit a quarter of recovery in 2021 against a quarter of pandemic recession in 2020, year over year gains in growth were gong to look spectacular.
But how spectacular? Analysts raised and kept raising their earnings estimates for the quarter. But we know from past history that analyst projections always lag. Both when earnings are soaring and also when earnings are plunging. Nobody wants to get left too far behind, but no one wants to squander all credibility by getting too far ahead. It didn’t help that many companies pulled their guidance during the pandemic.
So upgrades in a rising earnings environment fall behind.
Data from Refinitiv published yesterday show that companies are beating estimates at a historic rate and that the amount by which they are beating projections is also at a historic high. Of the Standard & Poor’s 500 companies reporting so far, 86.8% have beat Wall Street projections. The average beat is a huge 23.5%. According to Refinitiv (where data goes back to 1994) that’s the highest percentage of companies to beat estimates for a quarter on record and also the largest average beat on record.
Three things to think about.
First, analysts always lag–and we should expect them to lag even more than usual considering that the economy plunged into a deep recession and then recovered unusually quickly. Don’t get too excited.
Second, watch to see how fast and far analysts are raising earnings estimates for the second quarter that ends on June 30. Going into this quarter, earnings were expected to climb by nearly 30% year over year in the first quarter, but by an even greater near 50% year over year in the second quarter. I’d expect analysts to start playing catch up with estimates for second quarter earnings right about NOW. But I still expect that their upgrades will lag the actual results when they get reported in July. In other words look for another quarter of lots and lots of earnings beats–although maybe not quite to the same degree as for the first quarter.
Third, analysts are already starting to look beyond the extraordinary earnings growth in 2021 in comparison to 2020 to the 2022 growth comparisons that will use the 30% and 50% year over year growth rates from the first quarters of 2021 for a new base for calculations. We’ve already seen this trend in analyst comments on Apple’s (AAPL) earnings report this week. Growth in 2021 will be too good, the worry goes, and that will make 2022 comparisons really, really tough. Any company–and Apple may be one of them, analysts said after earnings–that has a not-so-unusual slump in new product introductions (Hey, it happens. Even Apple can’t come up with “revolutionary” product improvements every year) in 2022 could be looking at a huge drop in the earnings growth rate for 2022.