By Jeremy C. Owens, MarketWatch , Emily Bary
Fears of recession and trade-war casualties make second-quarter results more critical than usual
Second-quarter earnings are usually pretty sleepy, with forecasts for the back-to-school and holiday periods tucked away for later review amid summer vacation schedules.
You may want to pay attention this year, though.
An earnings recession is forecast for the S&P 500 index , and could stick around amid 25% U.S. tariffs on some goods coming from China and the potential threat of more if talks between the countries continue to fail. Executives' forecasts and disclosures could portend rising prices to avoid the hit of tariffs, or cutbacks to weather the storm.
Full preview: With trade tensions escalating, here are 5 things to know about this earnings season ()
The tech companies that have been driving corporate earnings for much of the past decade are a major culprit in the potential recession, with the information-technology sector expected to shrink by 12%, largely thanks to an inventory glut for semiconductor companies. Big Tech, which has largely been separated out into other sectors, are suffering from slowing growth and the costs of sudden and acute government oversight.
Read more: All the chips are on the table in tumultuous time for tech ()
The onslaught of numbers that will determine whether an earnings recession is upon us, and the commentary from top executives that will be parsed for trade-war fears and reactions, begins this week. Seven of the 30 Dow Jones Industrial Average components are expected to post second-quarter results, including the most valuable company in the land and most of the major banks.
The financial sector is expected to grow earnings this quarter, but that could change quickly this week with reports from big banks. Things haven't exactly gotten off to a good start for the banks, as Jefferies Financial Group Inc. (JEF) posted falling profits earlier in the month ().
Expect J.P. Morgan Inc. (JPM), Goldman Sachs Group Inc.(GS), Wells Fargo Corp. (WFC), and Bank of America Corp. (BAC) executives to discuss the impacts of potential interest rate moves amid hints from the Federal Reserve that a future rate cut may be near. Wells Fargo analyst Mike Mayo suggests banks could be in for a year "more parallel with 1995," when the stocks outperformed peers.
From Philip Van Doorn: Banks should shine among S&P 500 stocks this earnings season ()
American Express Co. (AXP) will close out the week for the financial sector on Friday. The Dow component set a wide full-year earnings outlook this year amid uncertainty over macroeconomic conditions and customer-growth trends. It will be worth looking for any narrowing in the earnings forecast, according to Jefferies analyst John Hecht, who believes the company might be able to drive expense leverage.
Though U.S. car sales are on the decline, Progressive Corp. (PGR) has opportunities to boost its business as the insurance business increasingly consolidates among the top players. Look for positive profit impacts that could result from Progressive's tech adoption, according to Raymond James analyst C. Gregory Peters, who points to mobile apps that help with analytics as well as tools that automate claims. The company posts its numbers on Wednesday.
The antitrust targets of yesteryear
While most of Big Tech waits to see what happens in reported antitrust investigations (Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), antitrust targets in their earlier days, will report this week with no thoughts of government intervention.), two tech veterans of the process move along with little empathy.
For more: Big Tech was built by the same type of antitrust actions that could now tear it down ()
Microsoft has lapped Apple Inc. (AAPL), Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) and Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL) (GOOGL) in the current race for a trillion-dollar market cap, and will wrap up a second consecutive strong fiscal year with its report Thursday. With its growing challenge to Amazon's AWS and a huge software business that has transitioned to cloud, the company's results should serve as "an important data point" for overall cloud spending across the industry, according to Wells Fargo analyst Aaron Rakers.
Microsoft earnings: Trillion-dollar valuation is banking on continuing cloud growth ()
Big Blue closed its Red Hat acquisition, and will certainly discuss the outlook with its open-source subsidiary on-board, but expect the company to hold most of that information for its investor day in early August. The coming report presents an opportunity for IBM to reassure investors about the strength of its existing business, which has struggled in recent quarters (), while providing an indication of whether companies have been holding off on big software deals due to macroeconomic concerns.
IBM earnings: What's the plan for Red Hat? ()
IBM posts results on Wednesday afternoon, along with eBay Inc. (EBAY), which is trying to squeeze more revenue out of its payments and advertising businesses while slowly taking control of payments () from PayPal Holdings Inc. (PYPL) Though those are "key catalysts" for eBay, in the view of RBC's Mark Mahaney, the company still needs to improve its fundamentals: EBay's revenue is expected to increase by just 2.5%, while analysts project a 2.5% drop in gross merchandise volume.
In good health?
Dow components UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH) and Johnson & Johnson Inc. (JNJ) both have clouds hanging over them, and the companies will look to change the narrative with their coming results. Though it's doubtful that a "Medicare for All" policy would get enacted if a Democratic presidential candidate won in 2020, UnitedHealth and other insurers face some policy uncertainty ( ), even as they've shown strong financial numbers lately.
What to watch for in health sector: Policy, patent expirations and big purchases ()
Raymond James's John Ransom points to "the disconnect between strong operational results and stock performance, due, of course, to political noise, as investors are quicker to flee on potential bad news than reward positive results."
UnitedHealth earnings: Will this strong stock run continue? ()
J&J must contend with ongoing legal issues surrounding its talcum powder (). The company posts results on Tuesday morning, while UnitedHealth is on the calendar for Thursday morning.
More Max fallout
United Airlines Holdings Inc. (UAL) doesn't have much exposure to Boeing Co.'s (BA) 737 Max planes, but the carrier will still face questions about the impact of prolonged groundings on its capacity and revenue potential. United's report will follow that of peer Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL), which delivered a strong forecast ( ) and demonstrated that it was benefiting from its rivals' stronger exposure to the Max.
For more: How this one stock could ultimately be responsible for killing the bull market ()
Outside of the Max, United looks to be one of the "best positioned" airline names heading into Wednesday's earnings, according to Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth, who points to favorable trends in the company's domestic business. United is also experiencing strength in Japan and Mexico, though demand in China has been hurt by geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China. Expect management to discuss the impact of capacity reductions on its financial performance in China.
-Emily Bary; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
July 17, 2019 18:10 ET (22:10 GMT)
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