FedEx won't be the only earnings disaster this fall

Brian Sozzi

Business news junkie and FedEx (FDX) founder Fred Smith may not like to hear it, but the latest earnings report he delivered to investors Tuesday evening was another giant clunker.

If this is any saving grace for FedEx, it will likely be joined by a lot of other big names in Corporate America which will report messy third quarters this fall thanks in large part to weakening global economic conditions.

“When we look at the guidance we are getting such as with FedEx, we are starting to hear them cite not only the slowing economy but also uncertainty on the trade war. As we gear up for the September quarter earnings season, I think we will really hear a lot more about that,” Tematica Research Chief Investment Officer Chris Versace said on Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade.

So, another subpar performance from the logistics beast may not look that bad come this winter. Hardly reason for FedEx investors to be overjoyed. But hey, for those relative valuation fans out there it’s all we can offer at the moment.

A wake-up call

FedEx’s fiscal first quarter earnings should be a wake-up call to the bulls that have sent stocks higher this month in the face of souring global economic conditions. All in all, the results offer a great snapshot into what is happening when the U.S. and China are locked in a trade war.

FedEx sales of $17.05 billion missed forecasts for $17.06 billion. Adjusted earnings came in woefully short of estimates by 11 cents. The company forecast adjusted earnings of $11 to $13 a share compared to analyst estimates for about $14.70 a share.

FILE - This Aug. 22, 2017 file photo shows FedEx trucks parked in New York. Companies with ties to the National Rifle Association have been dealing with increasing public pressure since the Parkland, Florida massacre that killed 17 people earlier this month. FedEx is the latest company prompted to make a statement, saying it “opposes assault rifles being in the hands of civilians” but strongly supports the right to own a firearm. The delivery service, which offers discounts to NRA members, said it is sticking with the organization. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Smith struck a dour tone on the conference call with investors, sounding one part dismayed economist the other a logistics business founder trying to battle through operational issues.

“I mean, I watch the business press every day and I have to tell you, I think there's a lot of whistling past the graveyard about the U.S. consumer and the United States economy versus what's going on globally,” Smith said.

“So, the serious trade dispute began in the spring of 2018 and they escalated throughout the summer of 2018,” Smith added. “And most people don't think about the fact that when China slows down because of U.S. tariffs or uncertainty or for whatever reason, as big of a victim, if you want to call it that, of the China slowdown is Europe, because Germany's contraction is because they're not selling as much to China, which is a huge customer of Europe.”

Either way, not a good place to be sitting if you are Smith.

Indeed, Smith isn’t alone in sounding the alarm bell on the health of Corporate America entering year end.

Signs of concern

JetBlue (JBLU) — often viewed as a proxy on global consumer and business spending — said on September 4 that revenue per available seat mile (RASM) unchanged to declining 2% in the third quarter. Previously, the company modeled for growth of 0.5% to 3.5%. JetBlue pointed to softer bookings in Puerto Rico and “weaker demand trends” across its business led to the downward revision.

Meanwhile, total U.S. weekly air traffic for the week ending September 14 fell 4.8% from the previous week, according to the Association of American Railroads. Year-to-date U.S. railroad volume is tracking down 3.5%. This data likely means trade war exposed railroads such as CSX Corp. (CSX) and Union Pacific (UNP) are teed up to announce yet another disappointing quarter shortly.

And now the nation’s CFOs — who oversee the financials and plot guidance — are getting worried after digesting a summer of economic weakness.

About 53% of CFOs expect the U.S. to plunge into a recession before the 2020 presidential election, per a Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey shared on Wednesday.

It’s as if you can just see the earnings warnings coming. Brace yourself for a tumultuous third quarter earnings season at the hands of the trade war.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @BrianSozzi

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