February 28 marked the end of Australia’s official company reporting season. The companies that comprise the main index – the Australia 200 – have revealed their results for the half year. On balance the 186 reports (there are always a few laggards) paint a positive picture of the corporate landscape, but there is significant variability across sectors and individual stocks.
According to Bloomberg a highlight is sales growth of 9.1%, averaged across the top companies. That’s around 3% higher than consensus forecasts, and every official sector reported sales gains. This clear indication of increased activity is pleasing news for the Australian economy. However the consumer goods and services sectors lagged the general increase, growing by 0.5% and 4.7% respectively. There is still plenty of caution among consumers, and the results support the idea that inflation remains subdued.
Earnings also grew, by around 8.1%. In contrast to sales this is approximately 2.5% below consensus. A miss of this size could see pressure on sectors and the market as a whole once the largest institutional investors have digested the results, and begin re-balancing their portfolios. Earnings slipped by 4.5% in the Telco sector, the only negative earnings reporter. Telstra shareholders should take particular note.
Bloomberg’s aggregation gives the top performing sectors for earnings growth; Consumer goods (+55.3%), Utilities (+48.3%), Technology (+31.2%), Oil and gas (+22.4%) and Materials (+19.5%). Investors looking to expand their portfolios must form their own view around earnings momentum, but these sectors may be a good place to start.
There were a number of disappointments. Stocks trading on higher earnings multiples that failed to meet forecasts were trounced. I took a hit on Dominos Pizza (DMP). Its same store sales increase for the half year was just 4%. Although DMP reiterated its guidance for full year profit growth of 20% the sceptics took control of the share price, and the drop below $40 meant stop loss selling. Brokers and analysts remain divided on DMP, and a number have target prices centred around $55 per share, but investment discipline means I’m out.
Blackmores’ shares also plummeted after their announcement. Although profit grew by 20%, and the story remains largely on track, the lower growth in sales saw brokers deflate share price valuations as they lowered their estimated price to earnings ratios. Tech companies Getswift (GSW) and Wisetech (WTC) tumbled after guiding lower, albeit for different reasons. Shares in Retail Food Group are suspended after the company failed to lodge its report.
Shareholders in a2 Milk (A2M) are clear winners this season. A 150% profit increase and new alliances with major industry players saw the stock price take off from what was already record highs. Shares in A2m have quadrupled in less than a year, and it is now New Zealand’s largest company by market value.
Stocks with lower PE’s that jumped on modest improvements were a feature. Qantas (QAN), Fairfax (FXJ) and Nine Entertainment (NEC) all recorded good gains after beating fairly low expectations. A number of travel stocks took the spotlight, and Corporate Travel (CTD) and Webjet (WEB) both saw strongly positive investor reactions. Good news from tech stock Altium (ALU) and share services group Computershare (CPU) were also well received.