Earnings season may fall short of 'rock-star' economy

Forsyth Barr private wealth research Rob Mercer

New Zealand's upcoming profit reporting season, which kicks off next week, is likely to contain a wide range of results, with the potential to disappoint investors who may have bet on the nation's "rockstar" economy to provide an underlying boost to earnings.

Of the 48 companies scheduled to report earnings over the coming weeks, brokerage Forsyth Barr estimates average sales growth of about 5 percent and earnings growth of about 3 percent, while earnings per share will probably decline about 0.4 percent on average.

The brokerage is expecting 13 of the companies it follows to post a decline in their latest six-month earnings of more than 20 percent, while 12 will likely report earnings growth of more than 20 percent.

"There's quite a dispersion of performance," said Rob Mercer, head of private wealth research at Forsyth Barr. "There's a lot of disappointing results coming through and there's a lot of positive results."

Retailers have been among the worst performers, pulled down by under-performances from Warehouse Group [NZX: WHS], Hallenstein Glasson Holdings [NZX: HLG] and Pumpkin Patch [NZX: PPL], while Michael Hill International [NZX: MHI] and Kathmandu Holdings [NZX: KMD] are weighed down by short-term issues. By contrast, Briscoe Group [NZX: BGR] and Restaurant Brands New Zealand [NZX: RBD] are expected to post solid performances.

"The markets have gone up 25 percent over the last 18 months so equity markets have been pretty strong, pointing to a recovery in economic conditions, but it's not easy work out there for sales growth," Mercer said. "You do get periods of intense competition and cycles for retailers. They do have to roll with the ebb and flow of the economy and the seasons."

Cyclical stocks such as Cavalier Corp. [NZX: CAV] and Nuplex Industries [NZX: NPX] have also struggled to grow earnings while New Zealand Refining is expected to post the biggest decline.

"We are continuing to see a better earnings pathway over the next few years but the current reporting season is going to remind people that there's going to be quite a big dispersion of performances between those that are actually doing OK and delivering double-digit earnings growth and those that are actually still finding life fairly difficult.," Mercer said. "Most of these adjustments have already been worked through, we have already seen the downgrades and the upgrades come through and so share prices should already reflect that information."

"Generally speaking the market has shown some comfort around pushing aside the short term negative contributions and focusing on the medium to long term," he said.

Stocks expected to outperform include OceanaGold Corp [NZX: OGC], as it starts to deliver on new assets, and Ebos Group [NZX: EBO] which is set to benefit from acquisitions. Air New Zealand [NZX: AIR] is expected to show good growth while Metlifecare [NZX: MET] recovers and electricity companies post solid performances.

Investors will be most focused on the outlook for earnings in the current 2015 financial year, Mercer said.

"It's not a market that's cheap," he said. At current prices, shares aren't showing any discount to valuations, compared with an historical trend for a 10 percent discount, he said. "It's hard to find good value for risk ideas at the moment," Mercer said.

(BusinessDesk)

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