Updated from 7:43 p.m. ET to include reference to after-hours action.
NEW YORK (
) -- Thursdays during peak earnings season are brutal, and tomorrow is no exception, so get ready for another deluge of headlines to parse.
have gotten most of the digital ink, the overall performance of Corporate America has been no great shakes so far. Tech has done well, and the banks held their own, but all in all, there's not much there to jump up and down about.
data, the blended actual and estimated earnings growth rate for the
now sits at 7.5% for the fourth quarter with 22% of the index's components having reported their results. That's down from 7.9% on Jan. 3 and 15% on Oct. 3. It's also less than half the 18% growth rate seen in the third quarter.
The expectations for the first quarter have come down as well. Growth is now projected at just 3.4% vs. 5.5% on Jan. 3 and 10.2% on Oct. 3. It's still early, of course, so the tide could turn, but the trend is worth watching, especially in the wake of the
on Tuesday, which made it clear that Ben Bernanke & Co. still think the economy needs some coddling.
About that Fed statement, which included a pledge to keep interest rates "exceptionally low" at least through late 2014, well, Wall Street seems a trifle conflicted about it. Tuesday's rally was pretty halfhearted, as if traders were bidding up stocks because they were felt they were supposed to, not because they were really all that enthused.
Dow Jones Industrial Average
once again wasn't able to put a triple-digit gain in the books, coming off its highs for the day at the finish. The S&P 500 did manage an advance of nearly 1% though so the bulls were doing some buying, but the action still seems kind of tepid when a 6%-plus gain in Apple is factored into the mix.
Count Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at
High Frequency Economics
, among the ranks of those unimpressed with the Fed's performance on Wednesday, calling the central bank's promise "a huge mistake." His main complaint is that the Fed is sending mixed messages.
"The danger to investors now is that the Fed either has to renege on its 'promise,' or that it keeps rates on hold but starts to tighten by reversing its asset purchases before the end of 2014," Shepherdson wrote late Wednesday, noting that he can "barely recognize" the U.S. economy in the Fed's statement as the central bank soft-pedaled the improvement in the data of late, not even mentioning how initial jobless claims have started to come down.
Earlier in the day, Shepherdson said: "We think the alleged rate 'promise' is worth very little, and so do at least a substantial minority of FOMC members, not all of whom vote this year but will have done so again by 2014. By then, Mr. Bernanke's term will have expired; will his successor be bound by his 'promise'? No. Watch the data; that's what really counts."
As for Thursday's reports,
was a high flyer in 2011 and shares of the athletic apparel company have continued to surge in 2012. The stock is up 41% in the past year, including a 6% bump higher since the calendar turned, but it's still 12.7% below its 52-week high of $87.40 set back on Oct. 31 based on Wednesday's close at $77.49.
The Baltimore-based company is slated to report its fiscal fourth-quarter results before the opening bell, and the average estimate of analysts polled by
is for earnings of 60 cents a share on revenue of $403.6 million.
Wall Street's enthusiasm for the stock has waned with 16 of the 26 analysts covering Under Armour at hold (14), underperform (1), and sell (1), and the median 12-month price target at $80. Valuation is the main reason as the shares currently trade at a forward price-to-earnings multiple of 33X. That compares to 17.7X for
and 12.4X for the
as a whole.
Auriga USA has a hold rating on the stock and cut its 12-month price target to $70 from $82 on Monday to reflect lower earnings expectations and a belief that the stock now merits a more conservative multiple. The firm said it thinks the fourth quarter could be disappointing.
"We believe UA's Q4 sell through was impacted by the unseasonably warm weather," Auriga said. "Coldgear accounts for a large part of the mix during Fall/Holiday and discounts on Coldgear product were noted late in Q4 and into the first part of Q1. Markdowns were noted at Dicks, Sports Authority and UA.com."
The firm reduced its earnings view to 58 cents a share from 61 cents a share for the fourth quarter, and to $2.28 a share from $2.34 a share for the whole of 2012 to reflect increased promotional activity in the first quarter to get rid of the excess cold weather inventory. The domino effect of all these changes led to the 15% drop in the price target.
"Given what we believe could be a disappointing 1H in 2012, we are lowering our price target multiple to 30x our 2012 EPS estimate from 35x," Auriga said.
Check out TheStreet's quote page for Under Armour for year-to-date share performance, analyst ratings, earnings estimates and much more.
will be perking up Thursday's after-hours session when it reports its fiscal first-quarter results after market close. The consensus view is calling for a profit of 49 cents a share in the December-ended quarter on revenue of $3.29 billion.
Investors will be looking for updates on how the Seattle coffee giant's venture into K-cups is faring, as well as what it expects long-term from the introduction of beer and wine sales at certain locations, an effort it announced plans to expand earlier this week.
Buy-side sentiment on Starbucks is pretty good these days with 19 of 28 analysts covering the stock rating it at strong buy (8) or buy (11). The median 12-month price target is $51, implying potential upside of 6.8% from Wednesday's close at $47.77. The shares received an upgrade this week from Oppenheimer & Co., which went to outperform from perform on Starbucks while simultaneously downgrading
to perform and removing a $100 price target.
"We prefer SBUX with a 1.3x PEG
price/earnings multiple to growth that is a sizable discount to MCD's and a multi-channel earnings model that possesses greater operating leverage and more compelling avenues for outsized growth," the firm said. "In our view, SBUX has numerous layers that could drive F2013 EPS power above current expectations and support multiple expansion."
Basically, Oppenheimer thinks Starbucks is set to do well in 2012 despite some obstacles, so it's reasoning that the business may be in better shape than the numbers will initially show.
"The core strength of SBUX's model could be highlighted in F2012 by EPS growth of 20%+ despite an 11% ($0.21) headwind from higher coffee costs and constrained K-Cup accretion, implying even higher true earnings power," the firm said. "Traffic-driving initiatives could sustain robust store-level momentum (comps +10% in last Q), the high-margin CPG segment (12% of profits) has numerous expansion opportunities and International (only 10% of profits) has room to become a much greater contributor."
D.A. Davidson is another Starbucks bull with a buy rating and a 12-18 month price target of $55. The firm is looking for earnings of 50 cents a share on revenue of $3.3 billion from Starbucks tomorrow, slightly above consensus, with domestic same-store sales seen rising 8% and international projected to rise 5% in the quarter.
The firm also offered up some questions for the conference call, including "What is the initial read on the blonde-roast introduction? We expect the lighter roast to materially benefit earnings over the next few years as Starbuck's addressable market can expand with the broadening flavor profile ... Has the K-cup launch pressured the growth rate of in-store drip coffee sales? ... What is management's view on the strength of industry coffee sales? ... and Will management provide guidance on raising retail prices versus accruing pricing power?"
Starbucks has a streak of eight straight upside earnings surprises on the line, and the stock has advanced nearly 45% in the past year, hitting a 52-week high of $48.39 last week, so the backlash could be sharp if the results don't impress.
Check out TheStreet's quote page for Starbucks for year-to-date share performance, analyst ratings, earnings estimates and much more.
A trio of Dow components --
-- will report their quarterly results on Thursday as well.
The rest of the morning roster includes
Alaska Air Group
Briggs & Stratton
ITT Educational Services
McKormick & Co.
Potash of Saskatchewan
Valley National Bancorp
Crowding the wires after the bell will be
, among others.
Not be outdone, the economic calendar is stacked as well on Thursday. There's the usual weekly initial and continuing jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. ET; durable goods orders for December also at 8:30 a.m. ET; new home sales for December at 10 a.m. ET; and leading indicators for December at 10 a.m ET.
The consensus view on initial claims is 375,000, according to
, and Shepherdson of HFE is on board with that view, adding that he's still looking for the trend to come down below 350,000 by the end of the first quarter and then keep falling from there.
The market is looking for durable goods orders to rise 2% and for new home sales to come in at 321,000, with leading indicators are pegged to increase 0.7%.
And finally, the
was dominated by the surge in Netflix, which beat Wall Street's earnings expectations for the final quarter of 2011 by more than 30%.
The company's performance in 2012 is still going to suffer under the weight of its international expansion, but investors seem to be keying on the vitality in the streaming business which allowed Netflix to finish the quarter with 24.4 million subscribers, slightly ahead of its own prior projection.
The sour note of the extended session was sounded by
, as traders pushed shares of the flash memory maker down more than 9% in late trades, despite a slightly above-consensus profit. It looks like a sequential decline in margins may be the culprit.
Written by Michael Baron in New York.
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