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Barron's Earnings Season Is Wrapping Up. Who Came Out Ahead, in 6 Charts.

Nearly all S&P 500 companies had reported their fourth-quarter results by the end of last week, and roughly three-quarters beat Wall Street’s expectations.

That might seem like a great result, but it is actually short of how much they have outperformed in recent years.

The aggregated earnings for S&P 500 companies increased 4% in the fourth quarter from a year earlier. It is on track to be the second-straight quarter that the index has posted earnings growth, according to FactSet. 

Communication services, consumer discretionary, utilities, and information technology sectors led the way, growing earnings by 45%, 34%, 34%, and 23% from a year ago, respectively. Meta Platforms contributed the most to the earnings growth of communication services stocks, while was the largest contributor to consumer discretionary.

Energy, materials, healthcare, and financials, on the other hand, saw their profits decline 25%, 20%, 16%, and 15% from the year-ago period, respectively. Pfizer’s and Merck’s travails were the biggest factors behind the healthcare sector’s earnings decline, while banks dragged down the financial sector.

Across the S&P 500, revenues grew by 4.2% from a year ago. Real estate companies reported the highest revenue growth of 8.3%, as high housing prices drove up the rent that landlords collect. Meanwhile, energy companies reported the largest revenue decline of 9.3% on the back of the industry’s blockbuster 2022 results. 

In the fourth quarter, 73% of S&P 500 companies posted earnings-per-share above Wall Street’s expectations, and 64% reported higher revenues than expected. That is below the five-year average of 77% and 68%, respectively.

Still, some companies made much more profits than analysts had expected. Generic sequencing firm Illumina, for example, posted 14 cents in earnings per share, beating analysts’ 2 cents prediction by 652%. Ride-hailing platform Uber Technologies earned 66 cents a share, 312% higher than the expected 16 cents.

Others had much worse results that expected. Citigroup lost $1.16 per share during the fourth quarter even as Wall Street was expecting an 11 cents profit for the leading bank in the U.S. that is a miss of $1.27, equivalent to one of 1,162% from the original consensus. Likewise, Truist Financial lost $3.85 per share despite expectations for 68 cents gains, a 664% miss.

To curb inflation, the Federal Reserve has hiked its target rates 11 times in the past two years, and many were worried about a recession amid the persistently high rates. Yet, unemployment remained low as inflation slowly came under control.