Last quarter, as earnings reports drew to a close, I read a great article about how the “beat the Street” game is BS. I couldn’t agree more and want to revisit this idea now as we enter yet another quarterly earnings season.
It’s no secret how Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) “surprises” Wall Street every quarter with its earnings. In fact, if you followed InvestorPlace.com contributor Jaime Dlugosch last quarter into the idea that Apple stock is “free money” around earnings, you would have made a nice 5% profit in just a few trading days as the stock soared after it’s last report.
Click to EnlargeBut the phenomenon is not limited to Apple. Last quarter, Mish Shedlock at Minyanville noted that the majority of stocks have beaten the Street every year since the third quarter of 1998. Just check out the accompanying graphic (courtesy of Mish and Minyanville) to see for yourself.
I did a quick and dirty study of the phenomemon to verify this trend, taking the a look at how the 30 Dow Jones components performed against consensus earnings targets in each of their past four quarterly reports. That is a sample of 30 stocks across 120 quarters.
Here’s how things shook out:
- 3M (NYSE:MMM) — met earnings expectations once, exceeded three times
- AT&T (NYSE:T) — met twice, exceeded twice
- Alcoa (NYSE:AA) — met once, exceeded three times.
- American Express (NYSE:AXP) — missed once, exceeded three times
- Boeing (NYSE:BA) — exceeded all four times
- Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) — missed twice, met once, exceeded once
- Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) — missed once, exceeded three times
- Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) — exceeded all four times
- Chevron (NYSE:CVX) — missed once, exceeded three times
- Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) — missed once, met once, exceeded twice
- DuPont (NYSE:DD) — exceeded all four times
- Disney (NYSE:DIS) — missed twice, exceeded twice
- General Electric (NYSE:GE) — exceeded all four times
- Home Depot (NYSE:HD) — exceeded all four times
- Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) — exceeded all four times
- IBM (NYSE:IBM) — exceeded all four times
- Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) — exceeded all four times
- Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) — met once, exceeded three times
- JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) — exceeded all four times
- Kraft (NYSE:KFT) — met once, exceeded three times
- McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) — met once, exceeded three times
- Merck (NYSE:MRK) — met once, exceeded three times
- Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) — exceeded all four times
- Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) — exceeded all four times
- Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) — missed once, exceeded three times
- Travelers (NYSE:TRV) — missed once, exceeded three times
- United Technologies (NYSE:UTX) — exceeded all four times
- Verizon (NYSE:VZ) — missed once, exceeded three times
- Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) — met once, exceeded three times
- Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) — missed once, exceeded three times
- TOTALS – Out of 120 reports, 12 missed, 12 met, 96 exceeded
Wrap your head around that. There are dozens of Wall Street “experts” placing earnings targets on each of these stocks, and this group manages to collectively underestimate these companies a stunning 80% of the time!
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this is the way Wall Street works. God forbid you put a “sell” recommendation on a stock and piss off management. What if they need help on a bond offering or a merger deal from your company? Then you’d miss out on that seven- or eight-figure fee. And if you’re a small analyst firm, do you really want to make a name for yourself by crying “foul” on some of the big boys? It’s in everyone’s best interest to just smile and congratulate companies on having such a bang-up quarter.
That’s fine for Wall Street insiders, but it’s all the more reason why regular investors should completely ignore the whole idea of earnings “expectations” or the thrill of “beating the Street.”
You don’t need a crystal ball to pick stocks that are going to beat earnings forecasts. After all, this quick study indicates it happens 80% of the time.
And I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Apple beats expectations yet again in two weeks when it reports earnings Oct. 18.
Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the aforementioned stocks. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook.