Top Sector ETFs Ahead Of Earnings Season

April 05, 2017

It's that time of year again. Over the next two months, firms will begin announcing their quarterly earnings, providing the first glimpse of how corporations are doing in the President Trump era.

This is a chance for companies to give investors what they expect―strong profits that justify the stock market's 5.7% gain so far this year.

Failure to deliver could jeopardize the Trump rally. But if corporations do deliver, it could give the market much-needed support while investors wait for the president's business-friendly policies to be implemented later this year.

Strongest Profit Growth In Five Years

A deluge of earnings reports will be released starting the middle of this month. Ahead of that, analysts are optimistic that S&P 500 companies will see their strongest profit growth since 2011. According to FactSet, first-quarter earnings are projected to increase by 9.1% year-over-year, the largest gain since the 11.6% jump in Q4 2011.

The first quarter's growth rate is similar to what analysts expect for 2017 as a whole―an earnings increase of 9.8%. Presumably, analysts haven't accounted for any bump in earnings from Trump's policies, such as tax cuts and deregulation. The final shape those policies take is very much unknown; thus, there's no way to accurately model how big their impact on profits will be, and when that impact will take place.

As those policies get closer to fruition, it's likely analysts will start ratcheting up earnings for subsequent quarters to account for them. In the meantime, companies have a chance to unveil the fastest earnings growth in almost five years, even without the benefit of helpful fiscal policies.

Energy Earnings Surge 300%

A big reason for this year's earnings acceleration is the rebound in oil prices. During the first quarter of last year, crude oil dipped as low as $26/barrel. Today it's trading closer to $50. In turn, energy sector earnings are anticipated to rebound from a loss of $1.5 billion in last year's first quarter to a profit of $9.2 billion in this year's first quarter.

How significant is that? Strip out energy, and the Q1 growth rate for the S&P 500 would drop from 9.1% to 5.2%.

For 2017 as a whole, energy sector earnings are anticipated to surge 301.1%, by far the most of any sector. However, ironically, the energy sector, as measured by the Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLE), is the worst-performing stock market sector this year, with a 6.8% loss in the year-to-date period through April 3. It's one of only two sectors that are down this year.

A lot of that has to do with the fact that energy stocks already spiked last year in anticipation of the earnings rebound (energy was the top-performing sector in 2016 even as earnings for the group plummeted).  

Sector Q1 Growth FY 2017 Growth
Energy N/A 301.1%
Financials 14.8% 11.9%
Tech 13.4% 9.6%
Materials 10.7% 13.3%
S&P 500 9.1% 9.8%
Real Estate 6.7% 4.1%
Utilities 2.8% -0.7%
Consumer Staples 1.6% 4.2%
Health Care 0.5% 4.2%
Consumer Disc. -1.8% 5.6%
Telecom -2.7% 0.5%
Industrials -7.0% 3.3%


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