A timely repost

I was just reading through Neil’s wonderful FAQ/Knowledgebase (post #4020) and came across this piece on analyst estimates which I thought would be timely as we are in the middle of the earnings season. The original posts were back in the 1300’s and some of you might not have seen them.


I have some thoughts on the Estimates Game. I exaggerate a little for the clarity of the message, but what I am saying is essentially all true. I hope you find these ideas useful:

The whole earnings and revenues estimate game that the analysts play has put the company CFO’s, who give the outlooks, in a no-win situation. Here’s how it has come to work over time:

It doesn’t seem to make any difference how good or bad the actual results are, whether they are up 3%, or 30%, or 70%, or more. The only thing that the headlines pick up is whether the earnings beat the analysts’ estimates or missed the estimates. (Who cares???)

For example, a company whose earnings are up just 3%, but beats estimates by a nickel, will get screaming headlines. The headlines won’t say “ABC earnings only up 3%!” Oh no! The screaming headlines will say “ABC beats estimates by five cents!” The price will undoubtedly rise.

On the other hand, a company whose earnings are up 70%, but misses estimates by two cents, will get equally screaming headlines, not saying “DEF earnings up an amazing 70%”, but saying “DEF misses estimates!!!” The price will undoubtedly fall.

The whole estimates game is only about whether the earnings and revenue beat or miss a number that some analysts have picked. It totally ignores the question of how well the company is actually doing, and how good (or bad) the revenues and earnings really are.

However, the companies aren’t stupid. They have figured this out. And they have started to give lower and lower estimates for their next quarter, picking numbers that they are almost certain to beat (by a lot). They don’t want the bad publicity of missing analyst estimates. (Again, who cares!!!)

So what happens? The companies give low estimates and the analysts say “Good earnings, but disappointing estimates for the next quarter. We’re downgrading them from a buy to a hold.”

Thus the companies are screwed whatever they do. If they estimate high, where they think they will be, and miss, they get the “missed estimates” headlines, and if they estimate low, to let themselves beat estimates handily, they get the “disappointing estimates” headline. They lose either way.

How do we as investors deal with this puzzle. Think “How is the company doing? How much are earnings and revenues actually up?” Ignore the “missed by 2 cents” headlines if earnings are up by 40% or whatever. What the analysts had estimated doesn’t matter a hoot in the long picture, and if a stock sells down in spite of great results because of “missed by 2 cents” headlines, treat it as an opportunity.[Post 1315]

* If a company makes 70 cents, up 75% from 40 cents, I don’t care a hoot if the analysts expected 72 cents or 68 cents, and if the company thus missed or beat predictions by 2 cents!!! What matters to me is that the company is growing earnings at 75%, and if the company sells off because of an “earnings miss” (which is a ridiculous term for a company increasing earnings by 75%), I might take advantage of it by adding to my position. [Post 1368]


“And I have some thoughts on the Estimates Game…”

Again, thank you, Saul, for wading into the messy pool of earnings season and showing us how to discern the relevant (and usually unreported) golden nuggets of truth. Noisy headlines are always trumped by quiet thoughtful analysis long term.

And most importantly, giving us all a powerful proven method of interpreting earnings that will both guard and enhance our portfolios.


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This can produce perverse and peculiar results. Consider this hypothetical: A small stock with three analysts following it, has an average estimate of 50 cents for the next quarter. Another “analyst” representing a firm which is secretly short the stock, puts in an estimate of 82 cents. This raises the “average estimate” to 58 cents. (50+50+50+82=232. 232/4 = 58 cents). By raising the estimate he sets the company up to “miss” estimates. After all, it doesn’t matter what the actual results are, just whether they met expectations. Right???

Sure enough, if the company makes 53 cents, what would have been a nice beat becomes a 5 cent miss. The stock sells off for a few days, until people figure out that 53 cents was a very good result, and meanwhile, the firm closes out its short at a profit.

Pretty ridiculous, isn’t it. But this hypothetical scenario could, and probably does, play out in the current market.