Companies that hit or, better yet, exceed their number may see their stock rise. The market may hammer companies that fail to meet their number.
Industry LeadersFor industry leaders, the numbers come out in the form of estimates ahead of the actual report. If an industry leader stumbles on their numbers, you might see the whole sector suffer.
The earnings season occurs when a large number of companies report their quarterly profits or losses to the public. Market analysts follow major companies and estimate what the earnings number, reported as earnings per share or EPS, will be.
Some of the analysts have financial relationships with the companies they follow. There have been charges that earnings estimates where manipulated in the companys favor.
Many companies also provide earnings guidance, which is managements estimate of what the company will do in the future. There are rules and regulations about what they can say, but plenty of wiggle room that some in the industry say is too much and boarders on manipulation.
ControversyThere is some controversy over earnings guidance. Some in the industry believe the practice of management offering a picture of how a company may perform in the future helpful.
Other industry professionals believe the practice allows management to use misleading information about future events to prop up stock prices. For example, a company president might indicate earning would be lower than they actually are, so when the numbers come in over the estimate, the stock price may rise.
Whisper estimates are another source of earnings estimates, although very unofficial. Some come from company insiders, while others come from a consensus of sophisticated investors. They claim to be unbiased; however, there is no way to know the source of many of the whisper numbers reported on the Internet, so use caution.
What Does Earnings Season Mean to YouEarnings season focuses attention on very short-term goals, which is usually not of concern to a buy and hold investor.
However, if you are a more active trader, earnings season can be a time of some volatility, either up or down for particular stocks and/or sectors.
If you are interested in which companies are reporting earnings in the near future, you can find a calendar on CNN Money that gives you the reporting date, a mean estimate from analysts and what the companys EPS was one year ago.