NEW YORK – Like that last roll of ultra-thin toilet paper left on the shelves or the latest Star Wars movies, it’s tough to be disappointed in something when expectations were low to begin with. That’s how Wall Street is approaching the upcoming earnings season for companies.
CEOs across the country are preparing to tell their investors in upcoming weeks how they fared from April through June, and the forecast is uniformly dismal. The quarter coincided with the height of lockdowns ordered by governments to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which bludgeoned the economy into a sudden recession.
As job losses mounted, analysts repeatedly cut their forecasts for corporate profits. Now, they say profits for big U.S. companies in the S&P 500 plummeted about 44% from a year earlier. If they’re right, it would be the steepest drop since a 69% plunge during the depths of the Great Recession at the end of 2008, according to FactSet.
Earnings reporting season gets underway in earnest on Tuesday, when Delta Air Lines and several of the country's biggest banks are scheduled to release their results.
To see how swiftly the bottom gave out, consider Delta. When the quarter began in April, Wall Street was forecasting a loss as fliers nervous about the new virus increasingly stuck to the ground. They were looking for a loss of $2 per share.
But by mid-April, TSA checkpoints at airports were seeing only 5% of the passenger levels of a year earlier. Now, Wall Street forecasts Delta lost $4.31 per share for the quarter, a whiplash turnaround from its profit of $2.35 per share a year earlier, according to FactSet.
Given the uncertainty created by the pandemic, many CEOs have abandoned their forecasts for second-quarter results, which could leave Wall Street’s estimates more inaccurate than usual. More than 400 of S&P 500 companies have failed to provide guidance to analysts for the quarter, according to Mark Hackett, Nationwide’s chief of investment research.
Earnings reports tend to matter deeply to investors because corporate profits are the lifeblood of the stock market, with prices tending to track the path of earnings over the long term. The good news for markets is that investors may not care as much this time around.