This isn’t the pattern I want to see–although it is the one I’m worried about.
Caterpillar (CAT) beat Wall Street earnings estimates for the third quarter by 9 cents; 3M (MMM), for its part, beat by a penny.
But both companies also lowered guidance for the fourth quarter to a level below Wall Street projections.
My read of the quarter’s earnings so far is that, yes indeed, we’re going to see slightly positive earnings growth this quarter and thus break the string of negative year over year quarters that has seen earnings for the Standard & Poor’s 500 companies decline since mid-2015.
But it also looks like fourth quarter earnings won’t be quite as positive as Wall Street now expects. Projections for that quarter as we headed into earnings season were for 6% growth in the quarter.
To the specifics.
Besides beating on earnings, Caterpillar missed on revenue with revenue falling 16.4% year over year to $9.16 billion versus the $9.88 Wall Street estimate. The drop in revenue came mostly from lower sales of new equipment as weak global demand for commodities continued to depress orders for equipment. Operating profit in the third quarter was $481 million, a drop from $925 million in the third quarter of 2015. That lower figure for 2016 was still enough to put earnings for the quarter above projections. Sequentially, however, Caterpillar’s earnings per share of 85 cents were down from $1.09 in the second quarter. Revenue in the second quarter declined by 16% so the 16.4% drop in third quarter revenue is really just more of the same.
For the full 2016 year, Caterpillar lowered guidance to $3.25 a share in earnings versus prior guidance for $3.55. (Wall Street was projecting $3.53 a share.) Guidance for revenue was reset to $39 billion for the year from earlier guidance of $40 to $40.5 billion. For 2017 the company is looking for revenue roughly similar to that in 2016.
At 3M, earnings of $2.15 a share for the third quarter beat Wall Street estimates of $2.14 a share. Revenues were flat with the third quarter of 2015 at $7.71 billion. For the full 206 year 3M lowered earnings guidance to $8.15 to $8.20 from a prior $8.15 to $8.30 a share. The Wall Street analyst consensus was looking for $8.21 for the full year.