stocks

Wells Fargo Stock: Earnings Season Kicks Off With WFC in Focus

Our preview of the upcoming week's earnings reports includes Wells Fargo (WFC), BlackRock (BLK) and Delta Air Lines (DAL).

Here we go again. The earnings calendar is set to start filling up, with travel name Delta Air Lines (DAL, $41.76) and big banks BlackRock (BLK, $890.90) and Wells Fargo (WFC, $55.01) among the first companies slated to report fourth-quarter results.

"Earnings are expected to grow 20% in the fourth quarter – which, while down from prior quarters, is still quite strong – and end the year with nearly 40% growth," says Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial Network.

And if this metric exceeds that 20% estimate in Q4, it will mark the fourth straight quarter of earnings growth above 20%, according to John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet Research Systems.

Still, "Analysts and companies have been less optimistic compared to recent quarters in their earnings estimate revisions and earnings outlooks for the fourth quarter to date," Butters adds. As of mid-December, 56 S&P 500 companies had issued negative earnings per share (EPS) guidance, compared to 37 that had issued positive guidance, on average, for the quarter.

Analyst Sees Solid Q4 Earnings for Wells Fargo

Big banks will dominate the earnings calendar early on, and these lower earnings estimates are found throughout the industry. 

"All the large banks show the upcoming fourth quarter as the lowest estimated revenue and EPS to date in 2021," says CFRA Research analyst Kenneth Leon. "We are likely to see continued low-to-moderate credit risk to credit cards, commercial and industrial loans, commercial real estate and trading and counterparty losses."

However, for Wells Fargo, which is slated to unveil its fourth-quarter results ahead of Friday's open, Leon is confident the big bank will deliver a turnaround that will result in higher capital returns. 

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"We think WFC should benefit from favorable industry trends, and management's focus on execution has improved. While the pandemic remains uncertain, we expect Q4 2021 and 2022 to show improved loan activity and higher net interest income than the first half 2021."

Leon also expects "a rebound in consumer loan demand, card activity, and higher loan balances, as well as personal and small business loans," and points to Wells Fargo's technological innovations, including its mobile, cloud-based consumer banking platform, as reasons to be upbeat toward the big bank. 

He has a Buy rating on the financial stock and he's certainly not alone. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, 11 analysts say Wells Fargo is a Strong Buy and five call it a Buy. This compares to 11 Holds and not a single Sell or Strong Sell.

As for WFC's fourth-quarter results, the Wall Street pros, on average, are targeting a 4.3% year-over-year (YoY) improvement in revenues to $18.7 billion. Earnings are expected to arrive at $1.09 per share, up 70.3% from the year prior.

BlackRock Stock Choppy Ahead of Earnings

BlackRock is another large financial institution set to report ahead of the Jan. 14 open. Shares of the world's largest exchange-traded fund (ETF) operator have been choppy over the past six weeks or so, but still remain up roughly 22% on a 12-month basis.

Can a strong earnings report be the catalyst for BLK stock's next leg higher?

Analysts are a little scattered on the subject. On average, the pros expect BLK to report fourth-quarter revenues of $5.1 billion, a 14.5% YoY improvement. Earnings, on the other hand, are expected to decline 1.4% from the year-ago period to $10.04 per share – though analysts' Q4 EPS estimates range from a low of $9.50 to a high of $10.45.

Still, there are several analysts who see reason for optimism. "BLK remains well-positioned for growth across a broad array of products (ETFs, Aladdin and Private Markets) and themes (sustainability, China, retirement gap and democratization of alternatives)," says BMO Research's James Fotheringham. He has a Market Perform rating on the financial stock, which is the equivalent of a Hold. 

"We expect BLK to continue to steal share from its traditional asset management peers," he adds.

And CFRA Research's Catherine Seifert (Strong Buy) thinks favorable fund flow trends, like the nearly $328 billion of net inflows BLK recorded in the first nine months of 2021, will lead to a 15% rise in revenues for fiscal 2021. 

"BLK shares trade at a premium to peers and we expect the firm's dominance in the asset management industry, coupled with its solid execution, and growing technology services division, to enable the shares to retain this premium," she adds.

Analyst Estimates Vary for Delta Air Lines Earnings

It's not only about big banks this week. Airline giant Delta Air Lines will unveil its fourth-quarter results ahead of the Jan. 13 open.

DAL stock sold off sharply in late 2021, falling from its mid-November peak around $45.50 to an early December low near $33.50, though it has since recovered back up to the $42 per-share price point.

This selloff was in part related to uncertainty surrounding the omicron variant of COVID-19. However, Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth believes "the indiscriminate selling" created buying opportunities for investors looking to "gain exposure to high-quality airline stocks," such as Strong Buy-rated DAL.

For DAL's fourth quarter, Syth is expecting the airline to record a per-share loss of 40 cents – a vast improvement over the $2.53 per-share loss it suffered in Q4 2020. 

The consensus estimate among Wall Street pros, though, is for DAL to swing to a fourth-quarter profit of 12 cents per share. Revenue, meanwhile, is expected to land at $9.1 billion (+130% YoY).

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