The 5 Biggest Earnings Disappointments for the Dow

Most of the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) have reported their first-quarter earnings results. Overall, the positive surprises have outnumbered the negative ones, with the general assessment of the season having been favorable.

But a few stocks haven't been able to match the expectations that investors put on them. Let's take a closer look at five companies that missed their earnings expectations.

Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  )
Any time a company's profit quadruples from year-ago levels, you'd think it'd be cause for celebration. But for Bank of America, it wasn't quite enough, as the bank missed estimates by $0.02 per share.

Yet on the whole, there was a lot of good news for B of A. First-lien mortgage activity was up sharply, its global investment banking division performed well, and it has managed to put some big litigation risks as well as nonperforming assets behind it. With the foresight to give up on boosting its dividend in favor of getting itself even stronger from a capital standpoint, B of A's disappointment seems like a short-term issue.

Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  )
Caterpillar served up a double-whammy for investors, missing earnings estimates by $0.07 per share and cutting its full-year 2013 guidance by a full $1 per share. The big problem for the company was its mining equipment business, which has struggled in light of slowing conditions in China and elsewhere around the world.

If anything, Caterpilllar's problems in mining are likely to get worse before they get better, as the big plunge in gold prices came in April after the first quarter had ended. Unless gold rebounds very quickly, expect further trouble from Caterpillar in the second quarter and beyond.

IBM (NYSE: IBM  )
IBM sent the Dow plunging on the day after it reported earnings, missing expectations by a nickel per share despite posting a 3% increase in net income for the quarter. Sales fell 5% from the year-ago quarter, as orders from the U.S. and Chinese governments were particularly weak.

The question looking forward is whether IBM's claim that some large orders that didn't close in time to get included in the first-quarter results end up coming in during the second quarter. With the company still projecting solid earnings for the year, IBM's disappointment seems overblown at this point, although it's critical for the company to execute better on its strategy in the highly competitive space.

McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  )
The fast-food giant missed expectations both for revenue and for earnings, producing less than 1% greater sales and a 2.4% gain in net income. Comparable-store sales fell in the U.S., Europe, and the Asia-Pacific/Middle East/Africa region, and McDonald's said it expected weakness to persist in April as well.

With the ongoing avian flu scare in China, the second quarter could have more of the same for McDonald's. Eventually, the company will have to find new ways to bolster its international growth, where its best overall prospects are. Faster expansion will likely prove important as McDonald's fills out its global footprint and stands up to fast-growing peers.

Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  )
Pfizer failed to impress investors, posting a 7% drop in earnings-per-share and a 12% decline in sales for the quarter. The company continues to struggle in the aftermath of major patent expirations like Lipitor, with the need to come up with new blockbusters to replace lost revenue.

What scared investors was that Pfizer cut its guidance for the rest of the year by $0.06 per share. Unfortunately, the reality check for investors is that it'll take time for the pharma giant to get its promising drug candidates through its pipeline, and so patience will be necessary in this and in future quarters.

Keep your eyes open
Just because a stock falls short in a single quarter doesn't mean it's doomed to future failure. But it does mean you should pay closer attention to the stock going forward in order to avoid getting surprised a second time.

Bank of America's stock doubled in 2012. But in light of its disappointing earnings report, is the future for B of A looking darker? With significant challenges still ahead, it's critical to have a solid understanding of this megabank before adding it to your portfolio. In The Motley Fool's premium research report on B of A, analysts Anand Chokkavelu, CFA, and Matt Koppenheffer, financials bureau chief, lift the veil on the bank's operations, including detailing three reasons to buy and three reasons to sell. Click here now to claim your copy.


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