Groundhog’s Day Earnings Season… again. With the first month of results for Q4, operating earnings estimates for the S&P 500 continued their long slide from their optimistic highs set back in June of 2022 (Chart 1). The 20% drop in projected EPS didn’t stop the index from rallying +30% over those 19 months. Full-year 2023 operating EPS is now crystallizing around $210—a 7% gain from 2022’s results.
As we put a fork in the S&P 500’s Q3 earnings, our snail trail is now decidedly pointing south. However, the kink you see in Chart 1 should not be viewed as an EPS collapse. An accounting sleight of hand from Berkshire Hathaway—R.I.P. Charlie Munger—shaved off just under $3/share in EPS for the index. If that were added back, the quarterly estimate of $55 would be pretty much unchanged since the start of the summer.
A little over half of the S&P 500 reported earnings for calendar Q3-23 in October. Bottom-up operating EPS estimates for the quarter have remained basically flat since May. This is a positive development given the proclivity of EPS estimates to erode over time. We should note, however, that longer term, the decline in estimates for Q3 has been well above average—diminishing by 14% since April of 2022. If there will be another reporting window pop in EPS estimates for Q3 like we saw for Q1 and Q2, it will have to come in November.
An outstanding second half for Q2-23 earnings pushed the S&P 500 bottom-up EPS estimate from $51.30 to $54.92. Amazon and Nvidia were the two largest contributors to the August surge. With the entire index nearly done reporting, our current EPS estimate will end 11% below its high watermark ($61.56).
Q2-23 reporting is about halfway complete for firms in the S&P 500. Bottom-up operating EPS estimates for Q2 are once again sliding lower as we wade farther into earnings season. This attrition is not uncommon but it is certainly a break from Q1 announcements, where EPS estimates rose 5% over the course of reporting. Q1’s action was a bullish talking point for many who touted the end of higher-than-normal erosion in forward EPS estimates over the past year. Since peaking in April 2022 at $61.56, Q2’s EPS estimate has shrunk nearly 17% (Chart 1).