Tariffs are having a negative impact for only about 9 percent of companies, earnings calls show

Key Points
  • Tariffs are generating worries in the stock market, but not as much from company executives.
  • With earnings season nearly completed, only about one-third of the companies reporting so far have used the word "tariffs" during their conference calls.
  • Of that group, less than 10 percent have said tariffs are having a negative impact.
President Donald Trump speaks to the press before departing the White House for Paris on November 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. 
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

Tariff concerns remain a key talking point on Wall Street when dissecting the market volatility fit over the past month, but the issue seems to be carrying less heft among corporate executives.

Commentary that has accompanied third-quarter profit reports has taken less of a focus on the back-and-forth trade levies the U.S. and its trading partners, primarily China, have implemented in recent months.

President Donald Trump has railed against the burgeoning U.S. trade deficit, and Wall Street strategists have been expressing concern that the tariff battles could endanger economic growth and hit profit margins.

But with earnings season nearly completed, about one-third of the companies reporting so far have used the word "tariffs" during their conference calls in any context, with the number citing a negative impact only a fraction of that. Total tariff mentions came from 138 of the companies, down from the 157 that had used the term following second-quarter reports, according to FactSet data.

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Only about 9 percent of the companies in the index "noted a negative impact," said Savita Subramanian, equity and quant strategist at Bank of American Merrill Lynch.

At a sector level, industrials most frequently mentioned the issue, followed by tech, consumer discretionary and materials. Seven of the index's 11 sectors saw a quarterly decline in the number of companies that used the term, while only two showed an increase.

"The small decline in the number and percentage of companies discussing tariffs in the third quarter relative to the second quarter may be a sign that there is slightly less concern in corporate America about widespread impacts from the tariffs throughout the economy," wrote John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet.

Most companies citing tariff issues have been saying they are offsetting them with higher prices or by shifting suppliers.

The findings stand in contrast with a recent report from the Federal Reserve, which noted a high level of concern from its business contacts around the country.

In its so-called Beige Book report, which chronicles business conditions in the central bank's 12 districts, the Fed mentioned "tariffs" 45 times.

"Manufacturers reported raising prices of finished goods out of necessity as costs of raw materials such as metals rose, which they attributed to tariffs," the report said. "Construction contract prices increased to cover rising costs of labor and materials. Retailers and wholesalers in some Districts raised selling prices as they continued to see increased costs in transportation and also worried about impending cost increases resulting from tariffs."

Wall Street is wrapping another strong earnings season overall, with 78 percent of companies beating estimates as 90 percent of the S&P has reported. The expected earnings growth is 25.2 percent, best in eight years. Some 61 percent beat on revenue.

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