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Aug. 8, 2022, 7:54 a.m. EDT

5 things we’ve learned from earnings season so far: How big an impact is inflation having?

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By Tomi Kilgore, Emily Bary and Ciara Linnane

More than 80% of the S&P 500 index’s companies have reported second-quarter results so far, and at least five key takeaways have emerged — including that Wall Street was far more worried about the coming earnings season than it needed to be.

That doesn’t mean investors were wrong; the numbers and management commentary have confirmed that inflation, the supply chain and weakening demand have continued to act as headwinds, and may continue to do so for the foreseeable future. So while investors may have been too pessimistic heading into earnings, it’s still too soon to suggest they could start being optimistic.

When J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. /zigman2/quotes/205971034/composite JPM -0.74% kicked off earnings reporting season on July 14, the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -1.37% had tumbled more than 10% amid a five-day losing streak to a 17-month low, as part of a bear-market selloff of more than 20% from the Jan. 3 record close.

The worry was that not only would continued high inflation, supply chain disruptions and the strong U.S. dollar crimp second-quarter results, but that growing fears of a recession would trigger sharp cuts to forward guidance.

Since the July 14 close, however, the S&P 500 has bounced back by more than 10%, as year-over-year earnings growth has exceeded expectations, with a beat rate that is above historical averages. And perhaps more importantly, the earnings growth estimate for the third quarter has nearly doubled in recent months.

By the numbers

Some 435 members of the S&P 500 have reported second-quarter results as of Friday morning, and year-over-year growth in the blended estimate for earnings per share, which includes reported results and estimates of still-to-be-reported results, stands 6.8%, according to FactSet. That’s up from an estimate of 5.6% as of March 31.

About 78% of the reported companies beat consensus EPS estimates while 18% have missed, according to Refinitiv. A typical quarter since 1994 had 66% of companies beating expectations and 20% missing.

In aggregate, companies are beating estimates by 5.8%, according to Refinitiv, compared with a long-term average of 4.1%, and an average beat of 9.5% for the previous four quarters.

Revenue growth for the second quarter has been even stronger, with a blended growth estimate of 13.6%, compared with expectations as of March 31 of a 9.7% rise, according to FactSet data.

About 70% of the reported companies beat revenue expectations, according to Refinitiv, compared with the long-term beat-rate average of 62%. In aggregate, revenue has come in 2.8% above expectations, more than double the long-term average of 1.2%.

Looking ahead, the blended EPS growth estimate for the third quarter has declined to 5.2%, from 9.7% as of March 31, and has slipped to 8.6% from 9.2% for the year, according to FactSet.

Some 31 companies have provided third-quarter EPS guidance that was below expectations while 28 are above, according to Refinitiv. That leads to a negative-positive ratio of 1.1, which is much better than the longer-term average of 2.5.

Meanwhile, the blended revenue growth estimate for the third quarter has increased to 9.0% from 8.5%, and risen to 10.7% from 8.9% for the year.

Not all is rosy, however. These are some of the issues that have emerged:

Supply chain

The supply chain has remained one of the more prominent themes of this earnings season, with virtually every company that has reported mentioning it, mostly as a drag on earnings.

At Caterpillar Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203434128/composite CAT -1.01% , for example, management said supply chain with words like “challenges,” “constraints,” “disruptions” or “pressures” 19 times during the prepared-remarks part of the post-earnings conference call with analysts, according to a FactSet transcript.

“Overall demand remains healthy across our segments,” said Chief Executive Jim Umpleby on the call. “However, the environment remains challenging primarily due to continuing supply chain disruptions.”

At tool maker Stanley Black & Decker Inc. /zigman2/quotes/206369278/composite SWK -2.86% , the supply chain is causing so much trouble that the company has opted to completely overhaul it over a three-year period. In a ‘Make Where We Sell’ strategy, the company plans to move it closer to customers to reduce its innovation cycle time and get updated products onto store shelves.

“One of many lessons from the pandemic is that complex and long supply chains are prone to disruption and in our specific case, are not matched well with the short-cycled nature of our businesses,” Chief Executive Donald Allan Jr. told analysts on the company’s earnings call, according to a FactSet transcript.

“So you have a choice: maintain very high levels of inventory due to the long supply chain or have your supply chain closer to your customers, elevate your agility and resiliency to better serve those customers. We believe being closer to the customer is the right answer.”

The company was hit hard by a slump in demand that came suddenly as its retail customers, hit with higher bills for food and gas, put off buying household and outdoor tools. Inventory stood at $6.6 billion at quarter-end, up about $400 million from the first quarter.

The company will use strategic sourcing, deepening relationships with suppliers and helping them optimize supply and efficiency, said Allan. It will leverage contract manufacturing in parts of its supply chain to improve cost and speed to market.

The current supply chain came about as a result of organic growth and acquisitions and can be bolstered by reducing complexity, eliminating logistical inefficiencies and increasing scale for manufacturing.

The company has about 120 manufacturing facilities in its network, said Allan

 “As we think about our supply chain in the future … we need to simplify and consolidate our regional footprints around high-performing Industry 4.0 technology-enabled sites. Our target is to reduce our operating footprint by at least 30% and optimize our distribution network, which can generate approximately $300 million in savings,” he said.

The pandemic boom didn’t last

Some of the biggest early COVID beneficiaries believed that the pandemic would drive a dramatic, lasting acceleration in their business trends, so much so that they built ambitious growth plans around those predictions.

This earnings season, however, investors saw notable pandemic darlings walk back those claims.

Shopify Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209033712/composite SHOP -4.85% Chief Executive Tobi Lütke, for example, acknowledged in a blog post last week that while he once thought that the pandemic would make the mix of e-commerce purchases “permanently leap ahead by five or even 10 years” as a share of overall purchases, he now sees the mix “reverting to roughly where pre-Covid data would have suggested it should be at this point.”

See: Shopify stock sinks amid layoff plan as CEO admits, ‘I got this wrong’

The miscalculation matters because Shopify executives had sought to “expand the company to match” aggressive predictions for e-commerce growth, and now they have to cut back expenses significantly to align with the new reality.

Lütke announced just prior to Shopify’s earnings report that the company would be cutting 10% of jobs. The subsequent earnings report was noticeably devoid of a previously mentioned objective to reinvest all gross-profit dollars back into the business.

$ 142.71
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