Nov 12, 2020 - Economy & Business

Coronavirus pandemic brings boom times for swaths of corporate America

Illustration of a hand holding a money gun that is shooting out cash.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Not only are corporate earnings coming in above Wall Street’s expectations, but a large swath of corporate America is making more money now than before the pandemic hit.

By the numbers: Earnings season is nearly over. Of the companies that have reported quarterly results, 52% saw bigger profits compared to this time last year, according to data provided to Axios by FactSet.

What’s going on: The pandemic has forced new habits that has allowed some companies to fare even better than in normal economic conditions — against the bleak backdrop of a virus that’s killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and left millions in financial ruin.

  • The profit improvements come as lockdowns eased. In the March to May quarter, roughly 38% of the S&P 500 saw year-on-year improvements in profits, per FactSet data.
  • And, it's not just Big Tech companies that have benefited from circumstances created by the pandemic. There are S&P companies across all sectors getting a boost from the "coronavirus new normal."
Data: FactSet, as of Nov. 10; Note: Net income on a GAAP basis; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: FactSet, as of Nov. 10; Note: Net income on a GAAP basis; Chart: Axios Visuals

The other side: Simon Property Group, the largest shopping mall landlord in the country, is the latest example of a company getting dragged down by the pandemic.

  • The company brought in $723 million — still plenty of money, but less than the $1 billion it brought in during the same time last year, the company said this week.

Between the lines: Wall Street wants to know whether some companies’ pandemic-driven demand is sustainable — or if this is as good as it gets. It's a question that's popping up often during analyst calls.

1. On the Equifax analyst call late last month, Evercore Group analyst David Mark Togut said, “The number one investor question I receive on Equifax is whether revenue and earnings growth is peaking given this extraordinary mortgage market expansion ... along with the increased appetite for employment and income data during the COVID pandemic.”

  • Equifax’s profits more than doubled to $224 million, compared to Q3 of last year. (Even if you don’t include the charge it took last year for that massive data breach, there’s still a year-on-year improvement.)

2. Newell Brands CFO Christopher Peterson told analysts last month that the factors driving consumers to stock their cabinets with their products “are likely to continue and sustain for some time because we don’t see a slowdown in at-home behavior or increased focus on sanitization and cleaning and those trends.“

3. When Akamai was asked by an analyst in August if it could sustain the level of demand as things start to become a "new normal," Adam Karon, an executive within its media and carrier division, said, “You’ll see normal growth rates kind of resume into the future.”

The bottom line: The pandemic that forced unprecedented lockdowns and millions of people out of work has created boom times for just over half of S&P 500 companies so far.

  • Yes, but: It’s still not enough to pull up overall year-over-year earnings, thanks to “the large magnitude of the earnings declines reported by some companies,” like airlines, says John Butters, a senior earnings analyst at FactSet.
  • Q3 profits are set to be decline 7.5% from the same period a year ago, per FactSet.
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