Bank of America Corp. (ticker: BAC) is one of the most high-profile earnings reports out this week, and the big question heading into Tuesday morning's report is, did its banking brethren already deliver a sour taste of what's to come?
The performance of BAC stock in 2017 is one of the most confusing brands of disappointment investors can have. At returns of more than 9 percent so far in 2017, Bank of America is pacing well ahead of the market's average annual returns. But BAC is slightly behind the Standard & Poor's 500 index so far this year, and is doing so amid a political backdrop that was supposed to send it to the moon.
Specifically, President Donald Trump's election victory was supposed to herald in a new era of bank deregulation that would allow big banks to take greater, more lucrative trading gambles and generally make it easier for financial stocks to churn out greater profits. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve's rush of activity -- three rate hikes in 12 months -- was supposed to usher in higher interest rates that would push BAC's net interest income higher.
The headline numbers. Wall Street's analysts see second-quarter improvements on the horizon for Bank of America. The consensus estimate for revenues is $21.8 billion, or 4.9 percent higher than last year. That should result in a similar hike in profits to 43 cents per share.
On the whole, those projections are better than what Wall Street was hoping for out of JPMorgan Chase & Co. ( JPM), Wells Fargo & Co. ( WFC) and Citigroup ( C) last week. But that's little comfort given that despite earnings beats from all three, other factors -- such as high expenses for WFC and a discouraging outlook from JPM -- stopped all Big Four stocks in their tracks last Friday.
Unfortunately for anyone long BAC stock, these reports give some vital clues as to what we should expect to hear Tuesday.
Heed Wall Street's omens. A couple weeks ago, Keefe, Bruyette and Woods' Brian Kleinhanzl knocked down earnings estimates for a few Wall Street banks, including BAC, where he lowered his profit target from 48 cents per share to 44 cents. And his reasoning seemed prescient given what we found out from other large banks last week.
For instance, Kleinhanzl expressed concerns about "subdued" market volatility and thus lowered trading revenue forecasts. Fast-forward to last Friday's JPMorgan earnings report, which did include a record quarterly profit, but also a 14 percent drop in overall market trading revenues. In its report, JPM said fixed-income trading dropped 19 percent "due to reduced flows driven by sustained low volatility and tighter credit spreads." Citigroup also reported slow trading revenues.
And those interest rates? They're still not helping anyone.
The rate on the 10-year Treasury has actually declined more than 5 percent so far in 2017 despite a hike in late December, and another two so far this year. JPMorgan in its report was forced to admit that its projections for net interest income were too optimistic, in part because interest rates hadn't yet cooperated. That downgrade in outlook sent JPM stock down by a little less than 1 percent, but perhaps most telling is that BAC shares dropped 1.7 percent on the very same news.
That's in large part because the Bank of America story has been predicated on the same optimism. CEO Brian Moynihan has said that every 25-basis-point hike in interest rates could generate $600 million in additional net income every quarter. But it looks like Wall Street thinks BAC might suffer a readjustment similar to JPMorgan's as hype hasn't yet become reality.
In a nutshell, the bad news is that Bank of America is probably about to dole out some bad news.
Those looking for consolation should take heart in the fact that Wall Street has been pricing in its pessimism over the past couple weeks, including Friday's small selloff, and that a disappointing result Tuesday shouldn't trigger a stronger reaction. Also, longer-term, BAC stock should be supported by another $12 billion in stock repurchases over the next year, and investors eventually will collect an even healthier 11-cent-per-share dividend as the bank continues to push its payout in line with the rest of Wall Street's mega-banks.
More Earnings in Focus
General Electric Co. (GE). General Electric will have an opportunity on Friday morning to turn around what has been a dreadful 2017; GE shares are off more than 15 percent this year. The bar certainly is set low enough, with earnings expected to shrink by more than half to 25 cents per share, and revenues projected to slide 13.4 percent to $29.02 billion.
But perhaps the most-watched metric will be operating cash flow, which turned negative last quarter. GE's cash guidance for the next couple years has sparked worries about dividend coverage by free cash flow, and while a cut might not be in the cards, General Electric needs to improve on the cash front to convince investors that the company can produce meaningful payout growth. Also look for details about the company's merger with oil services company Baker Hughes ( BHI).
T-Mobile US (TMUS). Analysts' consensus expectations for T-Mobile's second quarter are optimistic as is, with the pros estimating 6.4 percent top-line growth to $9.81 billion and a 56 percent pop to 39 cents per share in profits. Wells Fargo's Jennifer Fritzsche is particularly optimistic about T-Mobile's most recent quarter, saying, "We believe T-Mobile will again lead the industry in postpaid phone and total net add growth despite a competitive quarter." She's now looking for total second quarter postpaid net additions of 726,000 and net postpaid phone additions of 602,000.
This Week's Earnings Calendar
Tuesday. CSX Corp. ( CSX), Goldman Sachs Group ( GS), Harley-Davidson ( HOG), Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ), Lockheed Martin Corp. ( LMT), Novartis AG ( NVS), TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. ( AMTD), United Continental Holdings ( UAL)
Thursday. Abbott Laboratories ( ABT), Blackstone Group L.P. ( BX), eBay ( EBAY), Intuitive Surgical ( ISRG), Microsoft Corp. ( MSFT), Philip Morris International ( PM), Sherwin-Williams Co. ( SHW), Travelers Cos. ( TRV), Unilever NV ( UN), Union Pacific Corp. ( UNP), Visa ( V)
[See: 11 Ways to Buy Bank Stocks.]
Kyle Woodley is managing editor of InvestorPlace.com. He specializes in (and prefers investing in) exchange-traded funds. In addition to InvestorPlace and U.S. News & World Report, his work has appeared on MSN, Nasdaq and Yahoo Finance. Investing is his second love, with Ohio sports teams as his first. Naturally, this has warped his general perception of love, sparking (among other things) an unnatural affection for the Haddaway hit, "What Is Love?" Follow him on Twitter.