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An earnings recession is looming

S&P 500 EPS on track to suffer back-to-back quarterly declines for first time since the Great Recession

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S&P 500 EPS set for another fall

Third-quarter earnings are on track for the first earnings recession for S&P 500 companies since the Great Recession six years ago.

With 70% of the S&P 500 having reported results through Monday morning, the average blended estimate for earnings per share, which includes already-reported and estimates of yet-to-be-reported results, is a year-over-year decline of 2%, according to FactSet. That follows a decline of 0.44% in the first quarter.

The third-quarter EPS outlook has worsened over the last several months, from expectations of a 1.3% decline as of June 30, according to FactSet.

Year-over-year change in average aggregate third-quarter EPS and revenue for the S&P 500
With 352 of 505 (69.7%) of S&P 500 companies having reportedChange from year ago (blended estimate*)Estimate of change as of June 30Year-ago change in Q2
Source: FactSet Research
*Blended estimate combines actual results and estimated results for companies yet to report
The last time there were back-to-back quarters of declining earnings-- which can be considered an earnings recession—was the third-quarter of 2009. An economic recession is defined by many as two-straight quarters of contraction in gross domestic production.The current average blended estimate for S&P 500 revenue is a decline of 3.0%. That would mark the third-straight quarter of declines, which hasn’t happened since the four-quarter streak of falling revenue through the third quarter of 2009.

The energy sector remains the main reason for the declines in earnings and revenue, but it’s not the only sector to blame. The materials and industrials sectors are also expected to suffer earnings and revenue declines, while the consumer staples sector is heading for an earnings decline but a revenue increase.

SectorBlended estimate for YOY change in EPS through early Monday (%)Blended estimate for YOY change in revenue through early Monday (%)
Consumer discretionary+12.2+4.0
Consumer staples-0.74+1.5
Health Care+13.8+9.3
Information Technology+3.1+1.5
Telecommunication services+22.9+11.8
Source: FactSet Research

If the energy sector was excluded, the blended earnings growth rate for the S&P 500 would swing to growth of 5.0%, while the estimate for revenue would show growth of 2.2%, according to FactSet.

Goldman Sachs portfolio strategist David Kostin said the third-quarter reporting season can so far be summed up as “adequate” earnings and “dismal” sales.

“Disappointing sales results reflect below-average [third-quarter] economic growth,” Kostin wrote in a note to clients.

The S&P 500 index has reflected the lackluster earnings performance, as it declined 0.2% during the second quarter and dropped 6.9% during the third-quarter.

S&P 500 IndexMar 15May 15Jul 15Sep 15Nov 15Source: MarketWatch


Investors shouldn’t expect earnings or sales to show growth in the current quarter, however, just because the S&P 500 has run up 9% since the end of September. Fourth-quarter earnings are expected to decline 2.8% and revenue is expected to fall 2.4%, according to FactSet.

“Looking at future quarters, analysts do not currently project earnings growth and revenue growth to return until Q1 2016,” said John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet.

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