S&P 500 Earnings Beat at 75% Pace as Ford Offsets Apple

Pfizer Inc. and Ford Motor Co. led U.S. companies that topped analysts’ earnings estimates today, amid rising consumer confidence and buoyant demand for new products -- from pickups to cable-TV packages.

The drug manufacturer and carmaker are among the 75 percent of Standard & Poor’s 500 Index companies that have exceeded analysts’ projections this season so far, with more than 350 that have yet to report. Profit at S&P 500 companies probably rose 6.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, and sales increased 2.3 percent, estimates compiled by Bloomberg show.

Ford benefited from sales of F-Series pickups in the U.S. and the Focus compact car in China. Pfizer, the world’s biggest drugmaker, cut costs to boost earnings. While Apple Inc.'s profit also beat estimates, the Cupertino, California-based company posted iPhone sales for the holiday season that missed analysts' projections yesterday, a sign it needs new products to fuel growth.

Confidence among U.S. consumers unexpectedly climbed to a five-month high in January, according to data released by the the Conference Board today, as optimism about the economy and labor market improved.

“The labor market has been the key variable for the consumer for a very long time and people have generally been feeling a little bit better over the last three to six months because the unemployment rate has been falling,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut, said before the report.

Health-Care Companies

All but one of the 14 health-care companies in the S&P that have reported exceeded earnings’ projections, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Almost 56 percent of consumer-discretionary companies and 87 percent of information-technology businesses posted higher-than-estimated earnings.

Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. cable company, also reported results today. Although earnings missed estimates, sales were higher than projected as the Philadelphia-based company added TV subscribers for the first time in more than six years.

Among the companies that topped estimates in the past week were Microsoft Corp., helped by sales of game consoles and cloud software, and Netflix Inc., which surged to a stock-price record after projecting higher-than-estimated customer growth.

Companies that fell short in terms of sales included International Business Machines Corp., while Johnson & Johnson, the world’s biggest maker of health-care products, forecast 2014 earnings that was lower than analysts anticipated.

A majority of S&P 500 companies -- 71 percent -- have yet to report earnings, including Yahoo! Inc. today, followed by Boeing Co., Dow Chemical Co. and Facebook Inc. tomorrow.

Last season, 74 percent of S&P 500 companies beat earnings estimates and 53 percent exceeded sales projections.