The language being used in earnings calls reveals changing attitudes toward Trump

  • CNBC tracked and analyzed references to Trump and his administration.
  • Big changes in second quarter so far, but not all of them negative on economy.

Three months into the Trump administration, executives at public companies are wondering if the change in leadership will make much of a difference at all.

In first-quarter earnings calls, S&P 500 executives expressed both enthusiasm for the pro-business attitude of the Trump administration and concern about the sweeping changes he might make to public policy. But in the second quarter so far, the mood has grown more muted, according to a CNBC analysis.

The number of mentions of the president has decreased, and sentiment toward the new administration has shifted from optimism to doubt that promised changes will happen.

"There's still uncertainty," BlackRock CEO Larry Fink told analysts and investors on Wednesday." There are significant issues related to tax reform, infrastructure spending, and so we need to see how this all evolves."

Less than half the S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings so far in April mentioned the new president in their earnings calls with investors, according to a CNBC analysis. That's down from nearly 80 percent during the same period in January.

"The Trump factor has diminished somewhat." -Robert Sands, president and CEO, Constellation Brands

Many of the lofty goals Trump campaigned on have crashed to earth as they meet resistance in Congress and in the courts. After the well-publicized failure of the House GOP to coalesce around a repeal and replace plan for the Affordable Care Act, speculation has risen that Trump's tax plan may be in jeopardy as well. Some analysts already think the market is pricing in the death of tax reform, MarketWatch said Wednesday.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin promised Thursday that a tax reform plan was "very well finalized" the day after press secretary Sean Spicer said it would be released "in the next couple weeks."

CNBC looked at transcripts of earnings calls for all S&P 500 companies that reported earnings as of Thursday morning, pulling out references to "Trump," "new administration," "executive branch" and "presidential election." Of the 35 companies that have spoken with analysts so far, 17 mention the new government. That's compared with 26 out of 33 companies during the same period in January.

Major changes appear less likely 

The Trump administration has eased away from some policies that could have had a dramatic effect on some companies.

For example, about 40 percent of Constellation Brands' sales come from Hispanic consumers, the company said, and consumer confidence in the group was hit hard by Trump's election. Since assuming office, though, some of the more controversial policies among Hispanics — like building a wall along the nation's southern border — have been revised, sparking renewed confidence.

"I would say that the Trump factor has diminished somewhat, and therefore consumer confidence among Hispanics has probably increased a bit with all of the latest rhetoric," said Constellation's president and CEO, Robert Sands. "That's brought a lot of uncertainty around what they are going to be able to do relative to tax reform."

Most major financial firms have reported for the quarter already, and executives seem unconcerned about the administration's potential to shake up their businesses. During the election, candidate Trump voiced support for a "21st-Century" Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era legislation separating commercial and investment banking. Various suggestions have been made to make the industry safer, but the likelihood of fresh banking legislation is far from clear.

"I think there is and should be zero appetite for reinstituting Glass-Steagall itself," said Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman. "I'm pretty sure we can deal with that here at Morgan Stanley, but I don't want to predict whether we get there or not."

Other executives said that new Glass-Steagall legislation seems at odds with the administration's broader objectives, or that they didn't know what a modern revival of the law would involve.

"Anytime I hear this term '21st-Century Glass-Steagall,' I ask what it is," Citigroup CEO Mike Corbat told analysts during a call last week. "And I have yet to have anybody really tell me what's there."

Still optimistic about long-term growth policies 

While the GOP's proposed health-care changes have been blocked and tax reform remains to be seen, companies are still paying attention to how any changes may affect their bottom lines. Those two areas came up more in earnings call than any other Trump-related topic, according to a similar analysis performed by FactSet last week.

Americans' confidence in the economy leaped after the election in November, but has faltered somewhat in the months since. But executives still appeared widely optimistic about the administration's apparent interest in pro-growth policies. Responding to a Jefferies analyst's question about a lag in loan growth and future confidence, JPMorgan Chase executives said the second half of the year could be a lot better.

"I wouldn't overreact to the short-term thing about loan growth, because there's so many things that affect it," CEO Jamie Dimon said, "When you have a new president and they get going, the nine months after the 100 days is going to be a sausage-making period ... to expect it to be smooth sailing, that would just be silly."

"We've seen very clearly that the president and the administration is very pro-growth, pro-jobs." -Mike Corbat, CEO, Citigroup

Corbat said that he and others in the financial industry have been engaged with the administration and regulators, and that conversations have been "constructive."

"Just the tone from the top is an important message and signal," said Corbat. "And I think we've seen very clearly that the president and the administration is very pro-growth, pro-jobs."

Darren King, CFO of M&T Bank, said it's still unclear at this point what direction the administration will go in key policy areas and whether Trump will be able to follow through on specific promises. Uncertainty in fiscal and tax policies is weighing on customers' minds, he said.

"It's all the things that tend to be in the news, and the issue isn't that optimism has waned," he said. "Maybe a little bit, but it's more wait-and-see is the feel that we get from our customers."