As investors look ahead for earnings growth, a word of caution on the Standard & Poor’s 500 growth rate of 6.1% for the fourth quarter: take out Apple and insurer American International Group, and the growth rate drops to 1.2%
Apple (AAPL) reported solid growth for the fourth quarter, with earnings of $13.87, up 116% from the prior year’s quarter. Sales rose 73.3% to $46.3 billion. But AIG (AIG) also threw off averages, with earnings of 82 cents per share in the fourth quarter compared to a loss of $16.20 in the fourth quarter of 2010. Much of the loss in that prior quarter was due to a $4.2 billion net charge from boosting loss reserves at AIG’s Chartis unit.
So where will the earnings growth come from in the second half of the year? Many signs point to merging markets, reports John Butters, the senior earnings analyst at FactSet, based on comments he compiled from companies:
- 3M (MMM), January 26: “Our China team anticipates continued below-trend growth in the first half of 2012, with stronger growth returning in the second half.”
- Caterpillar (CAT) January 26: “We expect government policy easing in China, which has already started, to continue and lead to modest recovery in machine sales in 2012.”
- Dow Chemical (DOW) February 2: “Growth rates in emerging geographies, regions that represented 35% of Dow’s revenues in the fourth quarter, are expected to remain healthy, driven by needs for growing populations, needs such as agriculture, food packaging and water to name a few. Taken on the whole, we believe demand growth will begin to gain momentum as we move through the second quarter and the remainder of the year ….”
- Coca-Cola (KO) February 7: “Our Pacific group volume was up 5% on both the quarter and the full year. And these results were led by China, up double digits in the quarter and for the full year, making this nine out of the last 10 years that our business in China has delivered double-digit growth.”
Still, a sobering comment on January 26 from Eaton (ETN), a maker of industrial electrical equipment, may sum things best: “One of the hardest calls from an economic perspective right now is, how long does the European weakness go on?”