The bad news is, Standard & Poor's (S&P) is starting to reel in earnings estimates - in earnest - for the next four quarters, and there are more downward revisions than upward ones. The good news is, that makes the few stocks with upward revisions really, really stand out in a bullish light. Here's a run-down of the noteworthy upwardly-revised estimates through the third quarter (Q3) of 2012.
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Tesoro Corp. (NYSE:TSO)
In spite of the recent plunge in crude oil prices, S&P still says independent refiner and marketer Tesoro deserves more respect, and it deserves it immediately. Its 2011 Q3 earnings estimate has been upped from $1.52 to $1.59, which was the biggest increase posted in the latest (October 4th) update. However, it doesn't stop there. S&P had previously expected the company to earn $4.13 per share between Q3 of this year and Q2 of next year. All told, the new figure is $4.31. We'll get the official Q3 numbers on November 2; estimates for which have not been updated with most sources at the time of its publication. (For related reading on S&P, see The Biggest S&P Missteps.)
Computer Sciences Corp. (NYSE:CSC)
If Tesoro "won" the upward revision award, then Computer Sciences Corp. is a close runner-up. Forecasters are now looking for earnings of 71 cents per share for its Q3 instead of the original 68 cents (All told, earnings for the next four reported quarters should total $4.52 rather than the initial expectation of $4.20.)
Considering this IT service provider (mostly for government agencies) has been a steady earnings machine in good times and bad, the upward revision against the backdrop of a forward P/E of 5.9 may end up being a catalyst for a heavily beaten-down stock.
Marathon Oil Corporation (NYSE:MRO)
Tesoro wasn't the only energy company name S&P warmed up to recently. There's something about Marathon Oil the ratings and research firm likes as well ... at least for a while.
S&P actually upped its earnings outlook for Marathon for Q3 and Q4 of 2011, from a total of $3.97 per share to $4.05. With sub-5 price-to-earnings ratios on a trailing and projected basis, though, even falling short of a lower target wouldn't make the stock not "worth it." (For related reading, see A Guide To Investing In Oil Markets.)
Hartford Financial Services (NYSE:HIG)
Finally, a picture of contradiction, S&P upped its earnings outlook for Hartford Financial Services for three of the next four quarters on the same day the stock hit new 52-week lows. Though the nature of its business (insurance), and ongoing claims from hurricane Irene, have kept the earnings outlook in constant motion of late, S&P's calls are usually definitive. So, while the numbers mean little, the improved outlook means a great deal.
The Bottom Line
Broadly speaking, about 75% of the revised estimates posted on Tuesday were downward revisions, making the few upward revisions precious ones to say the least. S&P may have just shortened the buy list by a great deal.
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