Key takeaways from the 1Q24 corporate reporting season

Practically in the home stretch, with just over 90% of the S&P 500 sample having reported their numbers, below, we share some relevant takeaways and perspectives from the first quarter earnings season of the year.

  • Reasonable earnings growth: Despite general economic concerns amid high interest rates and a pickup in inflation, S&P 500 earnings beat expectations after the index reported 6% annual growth in earnings per share (EPS), exceeding the anticipated growth of 3%.
  • Sector performance: The Communication Services (+38%), Utilities (+30%), Information Technology (+24%) and Consumer Discretionary (+24%) sectors posted the strongest annual earnings growth. While Brent crude oil prices in the 1Q24 prevailed unchanged versus the prior year, natural gas prices collapsed 24% and aligned more closely with the 26% and 21% annual decline in earnings in the Energy and Materials sectors, respectively. Finally, EPS in the Healthcare sector also declined 26%, albeit primarily due to Bristol-Myers Squibb’s (BMY) one-time expenses related to its acquisition of the Karuna company.
  • Mixed consumer signals: Companies in the Consumer Discretionary and Consumer Staples sectors provided mixed outlooks, with some noting a slowdown in consumer demand while others reported strength. For example, McDonald’s outlined a more selective spending, while American Express noted an 8% annual increase in customer spending.
  • Increased investment in Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues: Companies such as Amazon and Meta announced substantial investments (CAPEX) to improve their AI capabilities. In this context, this focus on AI is expected to drive future productivity gains and revenue expansion.
  • Performance and expectations of the “Magnificent 7”: This block of companies, comprising AAPL, AMZN, GOOGL, META, MSFT, NVDA and TSLA, reported combined earnings growth of 48% YoY. This robust growth was driven primarily by a substantial increase in their sales and a significant expansion of their profitability margins. For example, META and GOOGL led the group with a sales growth of 27% and 15%, respectively. In contrast, AAPL and TSLA experienced sales declines of 4% and 9%, respectively. The outlook for these companies remains strong, especially for those investing substantially in AI. Although their numbers were positive overall, there is significant dispersion among their financial results within the group.
  • Market forecasts: Based on the above, the consensus estimates that the EPS of the S&P 500 for the whole of 2024 would reach US$244, which would imply an annual growth of 9%. By 2025, the EPS would reach US$277, which would represent an annual increase of 13%.

S&P 500 sales, margins and earnings growth in the 1Q 2024:

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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