WSJ: ‘Better Than Expected’ Earnings Are Anything But

Tuesday, 05 Jul 2011 12:35 AM

By Dan Weil

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Better-than-expected corporate earnings constitute one of the major explanations for the stock market’s 100 percent jump from its March 2009 lows. But the earnings numbers actually are perfectly well expected.

“The percentage of companies that have beaten expectations often is cited as a barometer of corporate profitability, an indicator of how well the economy as a whole is doing or a predictor of where the stock market is going,” Jason Zweig writes in The Wall Street Journal.

“What goes unsaid, however, is that these positive surprises are becoming so common they are nearly universal. They are pre-determined in a cynical tango-clinch between companies and the analysts who cover them.”

In the first quarter, 68 percent of the companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index beat analysts’ expectations, according to Bianco Research. And that was the 50th straight quarter in which at least 50 percent of the S&P 500 companies did so.

"All the numbers are gamed at this point," says James A. Bianco, president of Bianco Research.

Still, investors grew very excited about stocks after last week’s strongest rally for the market in two years.

That gain showed an “unwinding of the tremendous negativity that built up over the past few weeks,” Todd Salamone, an investment strategist at Schaeffer’s Investment Research, told The Associated Press.

Given the games companies apparently are playing with their earnings data, perhaps the negativity was warranted.

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