With the latest attempt by the Fed to yet again stimulate the economy now past us and the odds of a viable and immediate long-term solution for Europe taking root at next week's summit low, investors will shortly have to face up to a stark reality: the upcoming earnings season will be littered with a series of disappointments. Perhaps more worrisome will be the reactions to those companies that disappoint. Whether it is Body Central (BODY) or Bed, Bath, & Beyond (BBBY) missing on either the current quarter or on forward guidance, the market's message seems clear -- watch out below if one of your holdings misses numbers or cuts guidance this earnings season.
The severe reaction to Body Central's recent pre-announcement was particularly eye-opening. Less than two months ago, BODY was trading at 52-week highs. After disappointing last quarter and announcing another shortfall for the current quarter, the stock now sits more than 71% off of those highs. Wow. If that is not an indictment of how dangerous this tape has become ahead of earnings season, we are not sure what is.
After flubbing its guidance last night, BBBY is down 15% in Thursday's trading. This is another stock that was recently trading near 52-week highs. To be down this much on such a slight miss speaks of a stock in weak hands and one that is headed quickly to the mid-$50s.
As we survey the current landscape, we have identified four companies that are in danger of missing current estimates or future guidance. With the market rallying 6% off of its recent lows, any miss by these companies in either regard could be the catalyst for another leg lower for those that in fact miss. We have no bone to pick with any of these companies, as we have no short position in any of them. Having said that, we would also be nervous to be long them. Here then are the four names:
Deckers Outdoors (DECK): While Deckers seems cheap, after its rather large miss last quarter, we would be very nervous being long the stock into its next earnings release. The fact that former stalwarts such as Bed, Bath and Body Central have just disappointed would seem to increase the odds that DECK is going to once again also disappoint. As a testament to this, short interest continues to increase with the stock printing fresh 52-week lows. That is not a good combination. Initial downside could be the low $30s.
F5 Networks (FFIV): As the market rallied strongly for most of June, F5's stock could not muster any sort of rally. Considering the drop-off in tech spending in Europe, in the financial sector, and the steep year-over-year increase in the dollar, we feel that the company is in danger of missing on both the current quarter and on next quarter's guidance. If the company were to miss, downside levels to watch are $85 and then the low-to-mid $70's.
Fossil (FOSL): Not sure about you, but has anyone else questioned who has been buying all the watches that Fossil has sold over the past few years? As consumers in Europe continue to tighten spending patterns, we think forward guidance could be at risk for Fossil. Yes, Fossil is a great company and insiders stepped up with insider buying after the company disappointed last quarter. Until the market becomes less forgiving of any sort of miss, however, cheap stocks will continue to get cheaper. This includes Fossil.
Ralph Lauren (RL): Ralph Lauren is one of the best brands in the world. Nonetheless, the company's stock is priced to perfection, trading for 18X 2012 estimates. We see the potential for a P/E contraction toward 14-15X as highly probable should there be any misstep this quarter. With estimates already moving lower and with a tenuous backdrop for companies that miss numbers or guidance, RL is not a stock we would want to be long into its next earnings report.
In summary, the recent negative and dramatic reactions to earnings disappointments all speak of a tape that is tired and in danger of beginning another down-leg. Ultimately, profits and sales drive stock prices. If we are in for a couple quarters of earnings disappointments due to the weakening global economy, the backdrop for continued big moves to the downside remain favorable for those looking to make money on the short side.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.