U.S. investors look for quick rebound from winter doldrums

Sun Apr 6, 2014 4:09am EDT
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By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Companies across America are blaming the brutal winter for weak first-quarter results, but investors are expecting a quick rebound in the second quarter and will likely judge harshly companies that are less optimistic about a recovery.

The ice, snow and freezing temperatures kept consumers out of stores, grounded planes and snarled transportation, and raised heating costs for businesses and homes alike in the first three months of the year. Weather was mentioned in 219 S&P 500 earnings conference calls between January 1 and April 1, compared with just 125 in the first three months of 2013.

Investors in the past have generally cast a jaundiced eye at companies that blame the weather for poor results, but this winter was different.

"The truth is the weather did really hurt things," said Randy Warren, chief investment officer of Warren Financial Service in Exton, Pennsylvania.

So "people will be really looking for the guidance this time to see whether the CEOs are going to tell us that they've already seen a pickup, a spring thaw."

Recent data on U.S. auto sales and housing activity have suggest a snapback from the weak weather. Economists at Bank of America/Merrill Lynch forecast the U.S. economy will grow between 3 and 3.5 percent in the next three quarters, noting increased small business hiring intentions and a stronger outlook for capital expenditures.

That would be an improvement from median forecasts for 1.9 percent growth in the first quarter.

Profit projections had dropped sharply during the first quarter. Expectations are now for earnings growth of 1.2 percent from a year ago, compared with an estimate of 6.5 percent on January 1, according to Thomson Reuters data. Every sector but utilities saw reduced estimates through the quarter.   Continued...

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in New York April 4, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson