Premarket stocks: What you need to know about this earnings season

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New York
CNN
 — 

About 99% of all S&P 500 companies have reported their fourth quarter earnings and the results, particularly for tech companies, are underwhelming.

Companies listed in the S&P 500 index beat analysts’ earnings estimates by an average of just 1.3% last quarter. For context, that’s way down on the index’s 5-year average of 8.6%, according to FactSet data.

What’s happening: There have been some steep and disappointing profit misses as corporate America feels the sting of sticky inflation and the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes.

Tech companies fared poorly this season: Apple

(AAPL)
recorded a rare earnings miss while Intel

(INTC)
and Google-parent company Alphabet also fell short of expectations.

But it wasn’t all doom-and-gloom. Energy companies brought in yet another quarter of record profits, with Big Oil companies — such as Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon and Shell — notching their most profitable years in history. Elsewhere, Tesla

(TSLA)
reported record revenue gains and beat earnings expectations. Big box retailers Target

(TGT)
and Walmart

(WMT)
also surpassed estimates as US consumers kept on spending.

Here’s what else traders need to know about the final few months of last year and beyond.

Corporate profits could drop for the first time since 2020

S&P 500 companies are on track to report a 4.6% drop in earnings year-over-year, according to FactSet data. That would mark their first earnings decline since the third quarter of 2020, when Covid shut down large swaths of the economy.

Gloomy forecasts abound

About 81 S&P 500 companies have issued negative earnings-per-share guidance for the first quarter of 2023, according to FactSet. That’s a lot higher than the 23 companies reporting positive guidance.

There was no shortage of foreboding forecasts from top execs on earnings calls this season.

Walmart beat estimates last quarter, but they also lowered expectations for future earnings.

Home Depot

(HD)
CEO Ted Decker said he was concerned that consumers were becoming less resilient to the economy. “We noted some deceleration in certain products and categories, which was more pronounced in the fourth quarter,” he said on an analyst call.

Lowe’s executives, meanwhile, warned that they were preparing for a “more cautious consumer” this year.

Investors feel like celebrating

Wall Street traders appear to be taking this dour earnings season in their stride. The market is “rewarding positive earnings surprises more than average and punishing negative earnings surprises much less than average for the fourth quarter,” reports FactSet.

Inflation is (still) a big deal

More than 325 S&P 500 companies have cited the term “inflation” during their earnings calls for the fourth quarter. That’s well above the 10-year average of 157, according to FactSet document searches.

But the worries over price hikes appear to be waning, at least a little bit. This marks the lowest number of S&P 500 companies using the “I”-word on their calls since the third quarter of 2021. Since last quarter, the number of inflation mentions has fallen by about 20%.

▸ ISM Services PMI — a report that measures the strength of the US service sector — is due out at 10 a.m. ET. The data is expected to show a slight slowdown in growth between January and February (54.5 in February vs. 56.5 in January. For context, a reading above 50 means the services economy is expanding).

That deceleration would be a big deal. It would signal that the economy is beginning to cool and that the Fed’s efforts to fight inflation by raising interest rates are working. If services sector growth accelerates, however, it could signal that more aggressive rate hikes are ahead and send markets lower.

▸ Wall Street is anticipating (or dreading, depending on who you ask) next Friday’s unemployment report. The February data is expected to shed some light on a shockingly resilient labor market.

Another unexpected surge in non-farm payrolls, like the 517,000 new jobs added in January, could indicate more Fed rate hikes are ahead. That could roil markets in this “good news is bad news” environment.

Analysts expect that the economy added 200,000 new jobs last month, according to Refinitiv data.

▸ The Chinese economy surprised investors this week by quickly bouncing back from its zero-Covid shutdowns. China’s first consumer price index, producer price index and trade figures of 2023 are set to be released next week, which will show the full extent of the country’s rebound.

“These numbers will offer the first official indications of mainland China’s reopening effect following the rebound seen in PMI numbers,” wrote analysts at S&P Global.

Global manufacturing rose in February for the first time in seven months, according to the latest PMI surveys compiled by S&P Global. That growth was largely spurred on by China’s reopening.

Shares of Silvergate Capital, a large lender to cryptocurrency firms, plunged nearly 60% — a record drop — on Thursday after the company told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it won’t be able to file its annual report on time and cited concerns about its ability to remain in business.

The majority of Silvergate’s crypto clients, including Coinbase, Paxos, Galaxy Digital and Crypto.com, quickly cut ties with the bank amid the chaos.

So what does it all mean?

My colleague Allison Morrow explains: The California-based lender reported a $1 billion loss for the fourth quarter as investors panicked over the collapse of FTX, the exchange founded by Sam Bankman-Fried that is now at the center of a massive federal fraud investigation.

FTX’s collapse in November rippled through the digital asset sector, forcing several firms to halt operations and even declare bankruptcy as liquidity dried up and investors fled.

But unlike FTX, BlockFi, Celsius, Voyager and other crypto companies that folded last year, Silvergate is a traditional, federally insured lender that has positioned itself as a gateway to the crypto sector.

It’s among the first major instances of crypto’s volatility spilling into the mainstream banking system — a scenario regulators and crypto skeptics have long feared.

Simonne Stigall

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