Uneven earnings season providing little fuel for volatile U.S. stock market

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By Lewis Krauskopf

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Mixed financial results from U.S. megacap companies are dampening an otherwise better-than-expected first-quarter earnings season and so far failing to fuel stock performance in the face of U.S. Federal Reserve monetary tightening.

A busy week of earnings that saw big swings in the equity market was capped off on Friday by a disappointing report from Amazon, whose shares tumbled 14% and dragged the S&P 500 down 3.6% on the day. The e-commerce giant delivered a disappointing quarter and outlook, swamped by higher costs to run its warehouses and deliver packages to customers.

“The reports from Q1 have for the most part come in better than expected although some megacaps have disappointed, and I think those disappointments have acted as an overhang to the market,” said Robert Pavlik, senior portfolio manager at Dakota Wealth in Fairfield, Connecticut.

The S&P 500 ended with its fourth straight weekly decline that has pulled the benchmark index down 13.3% in the first four months of the year.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq fell 13.3% in April alone, its biggest monthly drop since October 2008 in the midst of the financial crisis.

Concerns over surging inflation and how aggressively the Fed plans to act to rein it in along with geopolitical worries such as the war in Ukraine and lockdowns in China continue to hang over the market, investors said.

“Those are the predominant themes, and earnings are not strong enough to overcome those other themes,” Pavlik said.

With 275 companies reported, S&P 500 earnings were on track to have climbed 10.1% in the first quarter from the year-earlier period, up from an expectation of a 6.4% increase at the start of April, according to Refinitiv data as of Friday.

So far, 80.4% of companies have reported earnings above analysts estimates. That beat rate is above 66% for a typical quarter since 1994, but just below the 83% rate of the past four quarters, according to Refinitiv.

“I would not call it a great earnings season or a horrible one,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas. “It’s pretty mediocre.”

Among the standouts so far this period, Meta Platforms shares soared 17.6% on Thursday after the social media company surprised Wall Street with a better-than-expected rise in users joining the platform.

Other major stocks have not fared as well. Aside from Amazon, shares of Google parent Alphabet slid on Wednesday after its report, while Netlfix shares tumbled earlier in the month after its results.

Overall, top megacap growth companies – Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon and Meta – combined reported an earnings per share decline of 1.2%, according to Credit Suisse equity strategists Jonathan Golub and Manish Bangard.

That compares to a gain of 12.4% for all other S&P 500 companies, including a combination of already reported results and estimates for yet-to-be released first-quarter results, the Credit Suisse strategists said in a note.

Those big five companies also posted a lower aggregate earnings beat, of 2.3% versus 8.6% for all other companies that reported results so far as of Thursday, according to Credit Suisse.

Those five stocks “delivered disappointing results this week,” the bank’s strategists wrote.

While many of the largest companies already have reported, nearly half the members of the S&P 500 still are on tap. Pfizer, Starbucks and ConocoPhillips are among the reports due this week.

(Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; editing by Bernard Orr)