Earnings for what’s expected to be one of the most dismal quarters in a while are underway, and so far, it’s not necessarily all doom and gloom: investors “breathed a sigh of relief during the first week” of earnings as the S&P 500 “recorded a price gain of 1.2%” through last week, CFRA’s Sam Stovall wrote in a note Monday.
But a big lineup this week could further give investors a peek into the progress of the recovery and strength of big trends emerging from the shutdowns.
“In some ways, it will be good to know how debilitating a lot of the shutdowns were on the off chance there are further shutdowns or closures. We’ll at least know, alright, who are the winners and losers?” Wells Fargo Investment Institute’s senior global market strategist Sameer Samana tells Fortune.
As investors try to separate the haves and have-nots for Q2, here are a few key companies reporting this week that analysts are closely watching as bellwethers for bigger underlying economic trends.
Consumer spending (Chipotle, American Express)
Spending patterns have been in flux during the coronavirus crisis, and some strategists are watching credit card providers and restaurant chains for cues as to how spending is changing.
American Express reports earnings on Friday, and analysts expect a roughly $0.2 hit to earnings per share on revenues of over $8.2 billion, according to S&P Global data.
Those like Samana are looking for “insight into spending patterns and how good the credit is: are people continuing to pay their bills?”
When looking at card issuers’ earnings, those like Samana are watching total levels of spending. But where that spending is, is important too. Amid the shutdowns, has it skewed away “from travel [and] restaurants?” That’s especially key for American Express, as a “material portion of Amex’s billings (roughly 30%) are related to the travel and entertainment industry, further exposing the company to some of the most affected industries,” Morningstar’s Eric Compton wrote in a June note.
Plus, looking at the creditworthiness of cardholders and how much the company sets aside for defaults is also a key metric. In the 1st quarter, American Express set aside $2.6 billion for losses.
Meanwhile, how consumers are spending in restaurants has undergone a complete transformation during the pandemic, too.
Chipotle, for one, has been able to weather the pandemic with its investments in its app and website, and now plans to further ramp up drive-thru for pickup orders. The food chain reports on Wednesday, and consensus sees Chipotle earning roughly $0.36 a share on over $1.3 billion in revenue, according to S&P Global data.
And with cases on the rise once more in many states, Wells Fargo’s Samana is “willing to bet that for the foreseeable future, consumers will continue to favor … ordering things that are delivered [and] pickup as opposed to sit down when it comes to restaurants,” he notes.
Strength of work-from-home spending (Microsoft)
Where might companies be spending during the pandemic? On the cloud.
Microsoft, which reports 2nd quarter earnings on Wednesday, has thus far been “a rock of Gibraltar in this market and it speaks to the cloud spending trend,” notes Wedbush’s Dan Ives. And while Ives concedes that enterprise spending overall “has ticked down given tighter budgets,” the proportion dedicated to cloud as companies scramble to go digital “has steadily climbed higher, and that’s ultimately good news for Microsoft,” he tells Fortune.
“I think investors are watching Microsoft’s result and guidance carefully because of its overall barometer for enterprise cloud spend,” Ives says. He believes this quarter will be key in showing that the shift in moving workforces to the cloud (a.k.a. work from home) isn’t “just a one quarter blip.” In fact, Ives, like many analysts, sees work from home as being the new normal, and projects that of the roughly 33% of workloads currently on the cloud, “we believe that’s going to 55% in the next two years.”
Consensus estimates have Microsoft reporting roughly $1.38 earnings per share, and $36.5 billion in revenue, according to S&P Global data. Microsoft’s cloud computing service, Azure, is expected to grow roughly 55% year over year, notes Ives. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s own capex is expected to increase this quarter as well (Ives estimates by 3% to 5%).
But a key point for analysts like Wedbush’s Ives is that “tech continues to be getting a bigger proportion of a lot of enterprise dollars, especially on some of these digital transformations that happen globally,” he notes.
Confidence in travel (American Airlines, United Airlines)
For those like Wells Fargo’s Samana, “Probably the best indication of consumer confidence and how well the reopening is going has to be travel. That’s a place where I think confidence has been most shaken—when are people willing and able to get on a plane?” he notes.
Airlines have obviously been hard hit by the pandemic, and many of the big players face an uphill battle even as travel rebounds.
“The question in my mind [is], how bad is the topline?” asks aerospace analyst Burkett Huey of Morningstar. Legacy U.S. airlines United Airlines and American Airlines report on Tuesday and Thursday respectively, and analysts are estimating some grisly numbers: earnings are expected to be down roughly $7.76 EPS on over $1.4 billion revenues for American, while United is expected to take a $9.25 hit to EPS, with revenues of nearly $1.4 billion, according to S&P Global data.
But “Seeing how quickly an airline can right-size to a new level of demand is going to be pretty critical,” as business travel likely faces longer-term headwinds than leisure travel, Huey suggests to Fortune.
Apart from finally seeing those rough numbers in earnings, analysts like Huey are going to be keyed into what management for the airlines say about bookings. But he notes that “With things changing so rapidly, the most recent news on what the demand environment looks like is going to be 10 times more important than the demand environment over the last quarter,” says Huey.
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