Two-thirds of S&P 500 companies have reported better earnings per share than expected so far this earnings season. An earlier version of this article had a different figure. The error has been corrected.
After one of the worst years in Wall Street’s history, investors have some serious questions for companies. As holiday returns roll in — and with them, forecasts for the months or year ahead — many have the chance to answer those questions, or avoid them.
In the busiest week of the holiday-earnings season so far, three big names will take the stage on back-to-back-to-back afternoons. Here is what to expect:
When the company announced layoffs, Chief Executive Satya Nadella admitted customers were cutting, saying “as we saw customers accelerate their digital spend during the pandemic, we’re now seeing them optimize their digital spend to do more with less.” Analysts believe Azure may be holding up better than rivals, however, and will expect to hear about it when Microsoft results hit Tuesday afternoon.
“Our Azure checks were mixed, but generally better than public cloud sentiment that has turned highly negative over the past few months,” Mizuho analysts wrote. “More specifically, we have heard of increasing levels of optimization, but it is being partially offset by many organizations prioritizing digital transformation.”
As cloud growth slows down, expect Microsoft to point to the next big buzzword in tech: Artificial intelligence, specifically ChatGPT, the chatbot product developed by OpenAI, which Microsoft has invested heavily in and expects to incorporate into its products. D.A. Davidson analyst Gil Luria this month wrote that Microsoft’s investments in OpenAI would help it build out more AI technology, including in its search engine Bing. Microsoft announced a new investment in OpenAI on Monday morning, along with intentions to deploy ChatGPT widely in services.
For Tesla, which reports fourth-quarter results Wednesday, the results will offer more context on production of the Cybertruck — currently set to start in the middle of the year — demand in China, competition and the impact of price cuts. Auto-information website Edmunds on Thursday said that Tesla’s decision to slash prices by as much as 20% in the U.S. and Europe led to a jump in interest in the vehicles.
While those cuts seem likely to hurt profit, Deutsche Bank analyst Emmanuel Rosner called it “a bold offensive move, which secures Tesla’s volume growth, puts its traditional and EV competitors in great difficulty, and showcases Tesla’s considerable pricing power and cost superiority.” And a survey from Wedbush analysts found that “76% of EV Chinese consumers are considering buying a Tesla in 2023.” But Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Bernstein, said Tesla needed more low-cost electric-vehicle offerings, which might not ship until 2025.
Tesla earnings preview: Price cuts in focus as stock hovers around 2-year low
With Tesla’s stock in the gutter, some analysts have raised the possibility of a share buyback to spur investor interest, and Chief Executive Elon Musk said such a plan was being discussed in the previous earnings call. Musk is not in great favor with many investors right now, however, following some heavy selling of Tesla shares in the wake of his purchase last year of Twitter, which some on Wall Street have said has distracted him from the needs of the auto maker. Musk’s tweets have landed him in trouble elsewhere: Opening arguments began last week for a trial centered on allegations that Musk put investors at risk when he tweeted in 2018 that he was “considering” taking Tesla private and had secured the money to do so.
‘He broke the stock’: Why a prominent Tesla investor wants Elon Musk to put him on the board
There’s little hope for a big rebound when Intel reports Thursday afternoon. Personal-computer sales have experienced their biggest year-over-year declines ever recorded, and Intel’s long-delayed new data-center offering that is meant to answer AMD’s challenge only began selling this year.
Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, though, has a chance to lay out his vision for a long-term Intel rebound, as he attempts to make Intel a chip-manufacturing powerhouse again after years of struggles. He was forced to trim his annual outlook multiple times last year, so it will be important for him to provide attainable numbers this time, but without reducing hopes in the path forward.
This week in earnings
Expectations remain low for fourth-quarter earnings season overall, with consumers squeezed by higher prices and interest rates, and hopes fading for any relief from the holiday shopping season. But even with a low bar, the fourth-quarter results from companies so far have been worse than the historical norm, with FactSet senior earnings analyst John Butters writing Friday that “the fourth-quarter earnings season for the S&P 500 is not off to a strong start.”
So far, 11% of S&P 500 companies have reported fourth-quarter results, with roughly two-thirds reporting earnings better than estimates, Butters reported. That’s lower than the 10-year average of 73%.
Still, Wall Street generally expects strong profit margins for companies in the S&P 500, as earlier price increases — which help businesses offset their own costs and test the limits of consumer demand — mix with more recent cost cuts.
Mark your calendars! Here is MarketWatch’s full earnings calendar for the week
Among the highlights: General Electric Co. GE,
And as demand for goods eases amid worries about a downturn, a number of railroad operators that ship those goods report during the week. Union Pacific Corp. UNP,
Telecom giants Verizon Communications Inc. VZ,
The call to put on your calendar
Southwest, post-meltdown: Southwest Airlines Co. LUV,
The implosion has raised questions about the air carrier’s investments in its own technology — after restarting dividend payments shortly before the disruptions — and airlines’ ability to handle the post-lockdown travel rebound. The breakdown has underscored the airline industry’s bigger issues with understaffing, after 2020’s wave of departures, as carriers try to reload flight schedules to meet pent-up travel demand.
Scott Kirby, chief executive at United Airlines Holdings Inc. UAL,
“All of us, airlines and the FAA, lost experienced employees and most didn’t invest in the future,” he said. “That means the system simply can’t handle the volume today, much less the anticipated growth.”
The numbers to watch
Visa, Mastercard and consumer spending: The return of travel and entertainment, along with rising prices, have helped prop up consumer spending. But as Visa Inc. V,
Credit-card issuer Capital One reports results on Tuesday, while card payments-network providers Visa and Mastercard report on Thursday, with Amex on Friday morning. They’ll report after shares of Discover Financial Services DFS,
Larger banks, like JPMorgan Chase & Co. JPM,