Bull and bear sculptures in front of the German Stock Exchange in Frankfurt am Main.
Kai Pfaffenbac | Reuters
Europe’s corporate earnings season started in earnest last week, with analyst consensus forecasting earnings per share up 140% year over year for the second quarter.
Earnings per share is a key metric used by traders to measure the value of a stock or a broader index, and it rose 87% across the pan-European Stoxx 600 index in the first quarter.
Over the past six months, sell-side analysts have raised their EPS growth forecasts for the second quarter by more than 50 basis points, according to Factset data aggregated by Bank of America’s European equity quant strategy team.
Meanwhile, consensus expectations for EPS growth overall for 2021 have risen from 35% in March to a new high of 48%.
With the second quarter being the climax, analysts expect earnings per share to decline for the remainder of 2021, with year-over-year growth of 32% in the third quarter and 21% in the fourth quarter.
Given the sharp decline in the second quarter of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, European blue chip index second quarter earnings are expected to remain 2% below their pre-pandemic high this year.
“Our macro projections imply a further upside potential of 9% for the 12-month EPS by the end of 2021 and 11% by mid-2022,” said analysts at Bank of America in a statement on Friday.
“This would bring the overall increase from last year’s low to 50%, largely in line with the EPS rebound after the global financial crisis.”
In terms of sectors, analyst consensus shows Cars, Retail and Commodities to be the strongest in earnings growth in the second quarter. Consumer staples, energy and financials together add 29 percentage points to forecast profit growth of 48% for the Stoxx 600 this year, analysts at BofA said.
“The 12 month EPS for commodities has been revised up nearly 60% over the past six months, the strongest earnings momentum on record, with Energy’s EPS earnings momentum near a 25-year high at 45% “, they said .
“Despite the strong profit increases, the price ratios of the raw material sectors have fallen, with the energy sector lagging behind the market by 15% since March and mining by 12% since May.”
The latter trend has driven the price / earnings ratio of the energy sector to an all-time low, emphasized the BofA, while mining is at its lowest level since 2008.
Provision of cash reserves
Based on a systematic analysis of corporate post-earnings communications in the last quarter, BNP Paribas expects further announcements of investments, share buybacks and mergers and acquisitions in the second quarter.
Buybacks occur when companies buy their own stocks that are traded on the stock exchange, reducing the proportion of stocks in the hands of investors. They provide a way to return cash to shareholders – along with dividends – and usually coincide with a surge in a company’s stock as stocks become scarcer.
Earlier in the reporting season, Viktor Hjort, global head of the credit strategy and analyst team at BNP Paribas, said that companies appear to serve both bond and stockholders.
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Leverage continues to decline and liquidity metrics – a company’s ability to pay off ongoing debts without raising additional capital – remain near record levels, Hjort pointed out in a Friday release.
Meanwhile, management teams across the board signaled increased risk appetite in their first quarter earnings releases in the form of capital expenditures, share buybacks and M&A plans.
“The last quarter was the second quarter in a row with declining cash reserves. Companies have shifted capital out of the defensive stance of the pandemic to the offensive, and this is ultimately leading to falling liquidity ratios, “Hjort said.
Investment banks: what to watch out for
During the pandemic, large lenders received significant increases in their investment banking income given the heightened volatility and sharp rise in trading volume. However, investment banking activities are expected to cool down in the coming reporting period.
In the US, Goldman Sachs was unique in propping up past earnings expectations based on strong investment banking contributions from a robust IPO market. While others like JPMorgan and Citigroup also exceeded expectations, their windfall came in the form of reduced provisions for bad loans.
UBS began reporting for European banks for the second quarter on Tuesday, beating expectations of net income attributable to shareholders of $ 2 billion, 63% more than the same period last year.
Barclays co-head of European Equity Research Amit Goel said ahead of the earnings report that the Swiss lender could benefit from domestic competitor Credit Suisse’s efforts to mitigate risk.
Goel said Credit Suisse will suffer a “double blow” if its bond, currency and commodity trading returns normalize, with pandemic volatility easing along with efforts to mitigate risk after a series of high-profile governance failures.
So far this year, the bank has faced the collapse of supply chain finance firm Greensill Capital and the collapse of U.S. family hedge fund Archegos Capital, which has led to an overhaul of its leadership position in wealth management.
“As such, earnings in Q221 are likely to shrink significantly from underlying Q121 levels and we are below recent consensus,” Goel said.
“Still, we think investors are devaluing these issues, and the real fundamental questions are how the group will be reorganized going forward; we check potential IB [investment bank] Deleveraging scenarios. “
The retail sector is also in focus for Deutsche Bank, and Goel expects the German lender to have “significantly better” retail sales than its competitors compared to the previous year.
“It will be important to see how the market share develops and whether the (year-round) guidance can be maintained,” he said.
“We will also look at the development of costs, where we see the risk of slipping against the group targets.”