1Q Earnings Not Giving the Market the Boost It Needs

More Record Earnings from Growing CompaniesThe numbers are flowing and growth is hanging in there.

Citing a “re-engagement” by retail investors, TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation (AMTD) reported a record activity rate in the first quarter of approximately 492,000 trades per day for a comparative quarterly gain of 8.1%.

The company generated record first-quarter revenues of $812 million (52% asset-based), way up from the $679 million in the same quarter last year.

Total client assets also grew to a record $617 billion for a comparative gain of 19%. The company’s earnings shot up 35% to $194 million, or $0.35 per diluted share, and management expects a strong year.


From stocks to trucks, Ryder System, Inc. (R) generated record operating revenues of $1.61 billion, growing four percent over the first quarter of 2013.

Management’s commentary at public companies is almost always overly optimistic, but the company said it is experiencing stronger commercial rentals, new lease sales, and used vehicle sales.

Net earnings in the first quarter were $48.2 million, up from $39.9 million comparatively, and the company increased its targeted earnings-per-share range for the year.

Northrop Grumman Corporation (NOC) saw its earnings leap to $579 million, or $2.63 per share, way up from $489 million, or $2.03 per share, significantly beating Wall Street consensus. The company boosted its bottom-line expectations for the year; its order backlog remained the same as the previous quarter.

As is always the case, there are plenty of disappointments around. Intuitive Surgical, Inc. (ISRG) said its first-quarter sales dropped a significant 24% to $465 million on weaker sales of its surgical robots. Bottom-line earnings dropped significantly, and Wall Street slashed the company’s one-year price target.

And biotechnology bellwether Amgen Inc. (AMGN) missed consensus earnings by a wide margin due to higher costs. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this particular case, though, because the company is spending a lot on new research and development. First-quarter sales actually grew seven percent to $4.52 billion and management reiterated its 2014 full-year guidance (weakness in this stock is probably a buying opportunity).

So the numbers are mostly holding up and that’s what matters. Notable in the data so far is the affect of the weather on first-quarter results. For a lot of businesses, the colder weather did not impact their financials nearly as much as was expected. (See “Why Economic Growth Doesn’t Guarantee Rising Share Prices.”)

Delta Air Lines, Inc. (DAL) beat Wall Street consensus, reporting first-quarter earnings of $213 million, or $0.25 per diluted share, compared to only $7.0 million, or $0.01 per diluted share, for the first quarter last year. The company’s sales grew five percent to $8.92 billion, and the stock surged on the news.

On balance, corporate earnings seem to support current valuations. While this market could certainly use a material correction for the health of the longer-term trend, it’s not looking like the near-term catalyst for such an event will be this quarter’s financial results.