Europe Ruins Earnings Season Party
Earnings season is well and truly underway, but weakness from Europe has spoiled the party on both sides of the Atlantic by hurting revenues for many of the world's major companies.
In Europe, the earnings season is off to a weaker start than in the U.S. Of the companies in the STOXX Europe 600 that have reported first-quarter results so far, only 51 percent have met or beaten analysts' forecasts, according to Thomson Reuters, compared with 74 percent of S&P 500 companies.
"I think the weakness in Europe is something we have seen across the board in earnings season, with General Electric and Coca-Cola being a case in point," Chris Beauchamp, a market analyst at IG Markets told CNBC.com.
Bellwether General Electric (GE) said the sluggish economic climate in Europe had limited sales of power and water equipment. "We planned for a continued challenging environment in Europe, but conditions weakened further," GE CEO Jeff Immelt said in a presentation.
On Friday, Dow component McDonald's posted first quarter profit that was up on the previous year, but fell short of market expectations. "Europe's results were dampened by ongoing economic uncertainty," the fast food chain said. For Apple, slower growth in Europe in recent years and red-hot growth in China has resulted in its revenues from Greater China matching those from Europe, in the last quarter.
"The story of the first quarter was a sustained improvement in the U.S. economy that was not matched by a similar performance in Europe... Europe continues to be the main worry for companies and consumers," Beauchamp said.
(Read More: General Electric Earnings, Revenue Top Estimates)
Wednesday was another bumper day for earnings in Europe, but weakness in demand on the continent was still very much the theme. Both Daimler and Peugeot Citroen highlighted ongoing weakness in automobile sales in Europe and suggested it would continue into next year. In a trading update on Wednesday Dutch brewer Heineken announced a decline of 8.7 percent in volume for Europe in the last quarter, compounded by the "difficult economic conditions and government-imposed austerity measures" which it said had continued to impede consumer spending.
(Read More: Germany Drags Down Growth in Euro Zone)
In a research note published on Tuesday, UBS said the appreciation in the euro could also hurt European earnings in the current quarter. The euro fell to a low of 1.20 against the dollar in July last year, but reached a high of 1.35 against the dollar in February.
"For the first time in 18 months the euro is no longer a tailwind," UBS said.
UBS analysts added that the first quarter would likely prove a "relatively weak" period for European companies too. The continent posted its worst results in six-quarters in the fourth quarter of 2012. UBS said Aberdeen, Ericsson, and DS Smith had the potential to beat earnings forecasts, but said France Telecom, Telecom Italia, and Electrolux B will likely disappoint.
—By CNBC.com's Matt Clinch; Follow him on Twitter @mattclinch81