Q3 Earnings: Strong Medicine for Frayed Nerves

Feeling financial anxiety? You’re not alone. In a recent nationwide poll, three quarters of working Americans (74%) reported that they’re stressed about their personal finances.

This stress is manifest lately on Wall Street, as worrisome headlines trigger sharp intraday volatility. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) currently hovers at about 20. A VIX reading of 20 or above indicates increasing fear in the markets.

Don’t get whipsawed by the latest news about the Israel-Hamas and Russia-Ukraine wars, or by the sheer idiocy emanating from Washington, DC.

War is, regrettably, integral to the human condition. As awful as they are, these conflicts come and go.

As for domestic political strife, Republicans in the U.S. House late Wednesday eventually elected a new speaker, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), their fourth candidate after Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was defenestrated by far-right hardliners. The GOP-controlled House has been derided lately as a “clown car,” but at least the car now has a new driver.

Keep your eye on the long game…and on the numbers. Projected third quarter corporate earnings growth is encouraging, providing strong medicine for frayed investor nerves.

So far, operating results as a whole are exceeding expectations, helping to lift the stock market out of its October doldrums.

For Q3 2023, with about 17% of S&P 500 companies reporting actual results, 73% of S&P 500 companies have reported a positive earnings surprise and 66% of S&P 500 companies have reported a positive revenue surprise, according to the latest data from research firm FactSet.

Q3 corporate earnings growth for the S&P 500 is currently projected to come in at -0.3%, but improve over time.

Analysts expect year-over-year earnings growth of 6.7% for Q4 2023. For calendar year (CY) 2023, analysts predict year-over-year earnings growth of 0.7%. For CY 2024, analysts are calling for growth of 12.2%.

The big banks kicked off earnings season earlier this month, with strong numbers that surprised on the upside. Now it’s Big Tech’s turn, and the early signs are auspicious.

Roughly 50% (22 out of 45) of the companies in the technology sector that issued earnings guidance for the third quarter issued positive guidance. In aggregate, analysts increased earnings estimates for companies in this sector by 4.1% during the quarter.

Looking ahead for the tech sector, analysts are predicting earnings growth rates of 13.4%, 17.4%, and 13.7% for Q4 2023, Q1 2024, and Q2 2024, respectively. The following chart breaks down the numbers by segment:

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) on Tuesday posted quarterly earnings results that surpassed consensus expectations on the top and bottom lines.

For the quarter, MSFT reported adjusted earnings per share (EPS) of $2.99, beating the EPS estimate of $2.66 and higher than the $2.35 reported in the year-ago quarter.

Microsoft’s revenue reached $56.5 billion, blowing past estimates of $54.5 billion. Significantly, Microsoft’s Intelligent Cloud unit, which includes the company’s cloud-computing product Azure, racked up revenue of $24.3 billion, beating analyst expectations of $23.6 billion. For the quarter, revenue from Microsoft’s cloud-computing segment jumped 29% year over year.

Much of the impetus for MSFT’s cloud-based outperformance was driven by artificial intelligence (AI) applications. The AI mania this year has faded somewhat, which was to be expected, but AI remains a powerful megatrend.

WATCH THIS VIDEO: Navigating Treacherous Financial Waters

Alphabet (NSDQ: GOOGL) also reported operating results on Tuesday that were generally positive, but with a caveat.

For the quarter, Alphabet’s EPS came in at $1.55, well above expectations of $1.45. Alphabet also beat on revenue, which came in at $76.69 billion versus expectations of $75.97 billion.

The Google parent’s Q3 revenue represented year-over-year growth of 11%, largely from increased advertising (see chart).

Alphabet racked up growth in advertising revenue, reporting $59.65 billion, up from $54.48 billion a year ago.

That said, lower-than-expected cloud revenue disappointed Wall Street. Revenue from the company’s Google Cloud unit totaled $8.41 billion vs. $8.64 billion expected.

Regardless, in numbers that bode well for the tech sector and overall economy, GOOGL’s cloud unit generated a 22% year-over-year increase in revenue. What’s more, Alphabet’s cloud segment reported an operating profit of $266 million vs. a year-ago loss of $440 million.

Also this week, Swedish-based music streaming service Spotify (NSDQ: SPOT) reported a profit of 65 million euros, which equals $68.9 million. EPS came in at 33 euro cents, compared to an expected loss of 22 euro cents. Revenue also defied estimates, reaching 3.36 billion euros compared to projections of 3.33 billion euros. Spotify gained 226 million customers vs. estimates of 224 million.

Snapchat parent Snap (NYSE: SNAP) on Tuesday reported a return to sales growth in the September quarter, after two straight quarters of declining sales.

Big Tech’s comeback…

After the closing bell Wednesday, International Business Machines (NYSE: IBM), Meta Platforms (NSDQ: META), and enterprise cloud solutions provider ServiceNow (NYSE: NOW) all reported robust Q3 operating results, underscoring the tech sector’s comeback.

IBM’s revenue in Q3 rose about 5% year-over-year to $14.8 billion, vs. the estimate of $14.7 billion. Adjusted EPS came in at $2.20, vs. the estimate of $2.12. Net income reached $1.7 billion, compared with a net loss of $3.2 billion in the same quarter one year ago. Big Blue’s big bet on AI is paying off.

Meta’s EPS came in at $4.39 vs. the estimate of $3.63. Revenue was $34.1 billion vs. the estimate of $33.5 billion, for a year-over-year jump of 23%.

ServiceNow reported Q3 EPS of $2.92, $0.36 better than the analyst estimate of $2.56. Revenue for the quarter came in at $2.29 billion vs. the consensus estimate of $2.27 billion.

Largely due to earnings optimism, the main U.S. stock market indices closed sharply higher Tuesday, after a string of losing days. However, the equity indices on Wednesday closed lower, as worries about next week’s Federal Reserve monetary policy meeting helped push the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yield to within a whisker of 5.0%, overshadowing (for now) the good news on tech earnings.

Fifty years of financial Rx…

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John Persinos is the editorial director of Investing Daily.

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