U.S. Economic Growth Risks Weigh as Q1 Earnings Season Begins
Discover Financial Services and Tesla feature bullish early earnings date confirmations in advance of what could be a challenging first-quarter reporting period
With S&P 500 earnings estimates continuing to retreat, firm-specific clues can offer insights into economy-wide trends
Broadly, keeping tabs on unusual earnings events can help money managers manage risk during this profit recession.
A Fed pause is on the table. That was the dream scenario for so many market bulls, but with recent disappointing manufacturing data and rising consumer credit costs, it's clear that an imminent slowdown in real GDP at home is in store.
Overseas, the growth outlook is arguably on better footing, hence the downtick in the U.S. dollar lately. Rallying oil prices following a surprise production cut by OPEC+ only further harms large manufacturers and American consumers.
A Recession Reality?
There’s no doubt that Q1 profit reports from major S&P 500 companies will be scrutinized, but outlooks provided by executives as to the state of the consumer heading into a rocky period of economic activity and what will likely be a rising unemployment rate is also key. Consider that the Fed’s outlook calls for a prolonged period of economic contraction while the consensus Wall Street forecast suggests that a technical recession may be sidestepped, with just Q3 real GDP turning lower.
But how will those making hiring and capex decisions view the landscape? With a mini banking crisis freshly in the rearview mirror, aggressive actions anticipating robust manufacturing and services sector activity might be hard to come by as the first-quarter reporting gets underway this week. Monitoring all the crucial corporate events is imperative for risk managers and traders alike.
Can the Consumer Hang in There?
First up in our review of what lights up our risk radars is Discover Financial Services (DFS). We all know this credit card issuer which also has its toes in other areas of the banking industry. Like so many stocks in the Financials sector, it endured steep selling pressure last month following the fallout from Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse.
DFS hasn’t snapped back ahead of its April 19 reporting date, though. What makes DFS stand out to us is that it confirmed its earnings date early – that is a bullish signal according to our research on earnings date confirmation timing.¹ The confirmation date Z-score is –2.28. That’s among the earliest we are tracking for the upcoming reporting period. But while this is slightly earlier than their recent confirmation trend, it’s still within their normal range.
Discover caters to mid-range credit score cardholders, above that of Capital One (COF) but below the high credit quality of American Express (AXP) customers. Perhaps charge-offs and reserve build-ups will not be quite as drastic as some fear. Also keep Thursday, May 11 on your calendar as that’s when the Illinois-based firm holds its annual shareholder meeting.
Discover: 4-Year Stock Price History: Steep March Decline
Elon Musk: Always in the Spotlight
Discover’s Q1 results and outlook will no doubt be overshadowed by Tesla (TSLA) on the 19th. The automaker/tech stock accelerated from the 2023 starting line with a rally off a low near $100 to more than $210 earlier this year, but its engines have sputtered lately. TSLA is down more than 10% from its February peak ahead of quarterly results next Wednesday night.
We’ll see if Elon Musk hops on the 5:30 p.m. ET conference call. The TSLA dashboard shows mixed readings right now – a 4% Q1 sales rise was softer than what was seen last year, but there’s ample growth in China and, even in parts of Europe, which are global growth catalysts looking ahead.
What do we see in its reporting trends? Like DFS, Tesla is a bullish early earnings date confirmer with a –1.68 Z-score, indicating a significantly early timing. However, it’s important to note the company has been moving towards earlier confirmation dates in the last few years as they have moved towards earlier earnings dates.
A solid report could help rev up the long-duration growth even more. And Musk’s darling has been a stalwart when it comes to bottom-line beats – the firm has topped analysts’ EPS expectations in each of the last eight quarters. As it stands, data from Option Research & Technology Services (ORATS) show the at-the-money straddle prices in an 8% share price swing post-earnings.
Tesla: 4-Year Stock Price History: Shares Rise to Begin 2023, Consolidating Ahead of Earnings
The Bottom Line
A second consecutive year-on-year earnings decline is expected, according to S&P 500 bottom-up EPS actuals and estimates from FactSet.² If we are indeed in an earnings recession, negative EPS surprises may be more common, and there are clues to spot them when analyzing trends in reporting date confirmation events. But firms that can buck the bearish trend offer hope to the bulls. Either way, volatility likely comes back into the picture as the Q1 earnings season kicks off.