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Earnings season: What we’ve learned

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As second-quarter earnings season draws to a close, a string of better-than–expected results in both the U.S. and Europe have bolstered hopes that the regions' economies are slowly, but surely, improving.

Some 97 percent of U.S. companies due to report this quarter have already done so, along with 92 percent of European companies.

The quarter has been an important one for both economies, with the U.S. economy growing more than expected over the three months – after a disappointing first quarter – in contrast to the euro zone's economic stagnation over the period.

So what can we learn from this reporting flurry? Societe Generale has put together a list of conclusions to be drawn from this earnings season – although there remain some key differences which span the Atlantic.

Majority meet or beat expectations

The vast majority of companies in both Europe and the U.S. posted results that beat or met expectations, according to Societe Generale.

In Europe, 59 percent of corporate earnings per share came in above or on consensus, which the bank noted was in line with the trend of the last decade.

It was a different story in the U.S., where a whopping 84 percent of companies reported earnings per share that beat or met consensus. Although significantly higher than in Europe, SocGen stressed it too was in line with the historical trend.

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"Overall, U.S. companies tend to beat consensus more frequently than their European counterparts," the bank's analysts, led by Roland Kaloyan, said in the note published Tuesday. "This could be the consequence of better quality guidance and higher GDP growth."

Notable U.S. beats this earnings season include Chevron, Sprint and Pfizer, while in Europe, Peugeot, Airbus and Merck were among the companies that surprised to the upside.

Litigation weighs on banking sector

SocGen said that although the banking sector had reported good underlying results in the second quarter, litigation issues meant that earnings estimates for 2014 had been revised lower.

In both the U.S. and Europe, more than 50 percent of banks reported earnings above expectations.

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Banks that posted second-quarter results that beat consensus include Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and JPMorgan in the U.S., while in Europe, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Commerzbank reported improved results.

But financial institutions on both sides of the Atlantic are battling litigation risks, with results at a number of banks hit after they set aside billions more in provisions. As a result, forecasts for 2014 earnings per share had been cut 5 percent, SocGen said.

Utilities strong; health care disappoints

Utilities companies generally reported good second-quarter results, after strong outperformance year-to-date, SocGen said. The bank also noted that the consumer staples sectors (with the exception of tobacco) had beaten expectations, although remained "too expensive in our view."

Results from the global and cyclical sectors – such as basic industries and auto – disappointed in Europe, but fared better in the U.S.

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On the other side of the scale, health care companies reported mixed earnings, although a string of mergers and acquisitions in the sector boosted their market performance over the quarter, according to SocGen. It's been a record year for health care mergers and acquisitions, with deals including Roche's $8.3 billion acquisition of InterMune, announced Monday, and AbbVie's $54 billion bid for Shire.

U.S. and Europe to diverge

Since the euro zone debt crisis of 2010, which hit companies both within the currency bloc and outside it (such as the U.K.), there has been a strong divergence between U.S. and Europe's earnings, SocGen said in a note published in June.

As the second-quarter earnings season draws to an end, the bank noted that earnings growth expectations in Europe had dropped from 13 percent at the start of the year, to 6 percent. It's a different story in the States, where half of sectors have been upgraded since the start of the reporting season.

As such, the gap between earnings in the U.S. and Europe looked set to continue to widen, the bank said, with European earnings growth expected at 6 percent for 2014, below the U.S.' 8 percent.

—By CNBC's Katrina Bishop

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