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These 4 S&P 500 stocks are the only ones to pay attention to this earnings season, strategist says


Earnings season is now in full swing, and this week will see more than 150 S & P 500 companies report their second-quarter results. But John Blank, chief equity strategist at Zacks Investment Research, believes there are just four stocks that investors “really need to pay attention to.” Blank was referring to four of Big Tech stocks due to report in the coming days: Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet and Amazon. These tech giants are not only dominant in their respective industries, but also have an outsized influence on the broader S & P 500. Collectively, they represent over 20% of the S & P 500’s market capitalization, Blank told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Tuesday, citing data as of Apr. 20. Apple has a 7.1% weighting on the S & P 500, while Microsoft has a weighting of 6%. Alphabet and Amazon have weightings of 4.2% and 3.7%, respectively, according to the data. “There’s no way for these stocks to go up or down and not take the market with it. Their market betas are actually not that high, but they have just such a huge weighting. There’s just no way that you can get away from it,” Blank added. “When you make up a quarter of the S & P 500 market weight, these stocks are all you really need to pay attention to in terms of how the entire index is going to do.” Alphabet and Microsoft are set to report earnings today, while Apple and Amazon will follow suit on Thursday. Earnings forecasts Here’s what Blank is expecting from the four tech titans this earnings season. He thinks Google parent Alphabet will disappoint with its second-quarter earnings. “The market just doesn’t think Google is going to be able to escape from the advertising headwinds, which is probably accurate,” he said. Blank has ascribed an Earnings Expected Surprise Prediction (ESP) score of 0.03% on the stock, which implies that he is expecting an earnings surprise to the downside. On the other hand, he expects Apple and Microsoft — two companies which he says have never missed on quarterly earnings — to again surprise to the upside. “These two companies are probably the best positioned [among] the hardware companies — the true tech companies. So, they will probably do just fine. They manage their earnings pretty well. They will probably give us a beat,” Blank said. “It won’t be very great and probably won’t move the stocks. But at least we’re going to get some stability out of them.” He expects Apple and Microsoft to have larger earnings beats in comparison — giving them earnings ESP scores of 1% and 0.5%, respectively. Blank also expects Amazon to deliver a big earnings surprise this quarter. “Amazon had a huge miss in earnings last quarter where it showed us the lowest revenue growth rate in its history. But on our system, we’ve got a huge earnings surprise in place for Amazon,” he added. Blank believes Amazon will beat consensus estimates by a whopping 34%. Outlook Despite the short-term headwinds, Blank remains bullish on the companies’ longer-term prospects. He believes high barriers to entry will ensure that the tech giants remain dominant in their respective businesses. “After 20 to 25 years, these companies have converged to, frankly, very similar business models and they have captured so much in the underlying space out there that there’s just no way for somebody to find the big niche in the U.S market and come to play here,” Blank said. He has predicted annual earnings per share growth of 26.1% for Amazon, 17.9% for Alphabet and more than 12% for Microsoft and Apple over the next three to five years. In the meantime, he is advising investors to stay on the sidelines, given the stocks’ current valuations and the possibility of further interest rate hikes. “These are still pricey stocks. And I don’t think this is the bottom for the stocks. I do not think I would be looking for an entry on these, particularly when the [U.S. Federal Reserve] has to get out of the way,” Blank said.

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