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The 5 Dow Stocks Analysts Fear Most

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It's a scary time for the stock market right now. By all accounts, things seem to be getting better with the U.S. economy. Unemployment is finally starting to tick downward, and while the economy isn't growing at anything close to the pace that emerging nations like China have enjoyed, the U.S. seems to be on track not only to avoid a double-dip recession but also to see accelerating growth in the year ahead.

Still, there's plenty out there to fear. Europe's problems look like they'll be with us for a long time, and the potential fallout in the U.S. from the damage that European economies have already seen is hard to gauge. What's clear, though, is that the analysts who study individual companies are scared -- and they're marking down 2012 earnings estimates on a boatload of popular stocks.

Today, I want to look at the stocks from the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI  ) that analysts are most afraid of right now. I'm going to reveal the five Dow stocks that have seen the biggest reduction in analysts' earnings estimates over the past three months. But first, let's go over the history of how well analysts do at predicting stock moves.

Do the pros really know?
The problem with relying on Wall Street analysts to make investing decisions is that they're notoriously wrong. A few years ago, Penn State academics J. Randall Woolridge and Patrick Cusatis did a study of analysts' earnings estimates published over a 20-year period. The results were simple: Wall Street analysts are way too optimistic about stocks.

In particular, looking at earnings growth, analysts tended to guess high by 4 percentage points even when going only a single year into the future. Extend that period to five years, and the miss was even bigger -- almost 6 percentage points.

Put another way, what Woolridge and Cusatis found was that actual growth tended to come in a whopping 40% below what analysts had projected.

Why look, then?
So if analysts are so inaccurate, what's the point in looking to them? The answer is simple: Even if you don't care about analysts' numbers, the rest of the investing world does -- and their opinions have a direct impact on how your stocks perform. If analysts are downgrading their estimates on a stock, then you can expect trouble ahead -- and unless the company is able to surprise on the upside, you'll often see your stock suffer in the interim.

So with that in mind, here are the five Dow stocks for which analysts have ratcheted down their earnings estimates the most over the past three months.

Stock

Current EPS Estimate for 2012

Estimate 90 Days Ago

Change

Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) 0.87 1.20 (27.5%)
Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) 0.96 1.17 (18%)
Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) 4.47 4.89 (8.6%)
JPMorgan Chase 4.85 5.27 (8%)
United Technologies (NYSE: UTX  ) 5.60 6.02 (7%)

Source: S&P Capital IQ. As of Jan. 5.

In past weeks, we've already talked quite a bit about several of these stocks. On the financial side, a recent Bloomberg survey found that analysts expect profits for the nation's largest banks, which include both JPMorgan Chase and B of A, to jump 57% in 2012. Having been dreadfully wrong in 2011, it's likely that those analysts are simply backing off from already lofty numbers.

With Alcoa, concerns about a global downtown have toned down any analyst optimism about the stock. However, with positive news out of China and the U.S. on the manufacturing front, it'll be interesting to see whether analysts reverse this trend and start pushing their estimates on Alcoa back up. And as for HP, all bets are off in my view until new CEO Meg Whitman proves herself as a leader who can break the cycle of revolving-door governance at the company.

The most interesting play on this list in my opinion is United Technologies. The shares have bounced around over the past year, as optimism about the company's contribution to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner gave way to fears of government spending cuts and the bad news that Boeing had cut United Tech out of its 737 "MAX" design, choosing General Electric to make its engines instead. Yet as a cyclical stock, United Tech is in the best position to profit if a true turnaround has already taken root.

A grain of salt
Before you give up on all of these stocks, remember: Analysts are often wrong. If you can find the rare areas where they're being too pessimistic, you have a real opportunity to pick up shares on the cheap.

If you think United Technologies and the defense sector have more promise than analysts think, you'll want to read the Fool's latest special report on the sector. In the free report, we reveal two small-cap stocks that are too small to fail. Join the thousands who've already read about it: Grab your free copy today before it's gone.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger trusts facts and questions opinions. You can follow him on Twitter. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool's disclosure policy fears nothing.


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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 11, 2012, at 6:54 PM, MHedgeFundTrader wrote:

    There is no doubt that the recent jobs data has been absolutely blistering. On January 4, weekly jobless claims plunged by 15,000 to 372,000, well below the 400,000 that is required for a sustainable recovery. The next day, the ADP report delivered a gob smacking 325,000 in job gains for December. Then the big kahuna surprised to the upside, the December non-farm payroll, reporting 200,000 new jobs, taking the unemployment rate to a three year low at 8.5%.

    Are happy days here again? Is it off to the races? More importantly, should we be adding risk positions here in expectation of a continued economic miracle?

    I think not. You all know well that I am a history buff. But I know enough about history to understand that it can be a dangerous thing. Don’t let these numbers lull you into a false sense of security. Any slavish reliance on the past can cause you to become history, if you’re not careful.

    There is no doubt that a seasonal surge in hiring caused by the holidays has created this spike. Normally, governments and agencies smooth these figures through a seasonal adjustment process. The problem arises when the structure of the economy is changing faster than can be reflected in these seasonal adjustments, as it is now.

    A large part of our economy is moving online more rapidly than most people realize. According to comScore, a marketing data research firm, online sales leapt by 15% to $35.3 billion during the November-December holiday period, an all-time high. I speak from a position of authority here as I happen to run one of the most successful financial sites on the Internet, which I kicked off four years ago with a $500 investment.

    Much of this migration is being captured by Fedex and UPS, the nexus at which Internet commerce meets the real world. After all, virtual products require a real world delivery. This explains why the couriers are seeing a booming business in an otherwise flat economy. Fedex hired 10,000 temporary workers to deal with the Christmas surge in 2011, a gain of 18% over the same period last year. UPS added a stunning 55,000, a 10% increase.

    Watch for the other shoe to drop. That will become apparent when that the newly hired become the newly fired, leading to a sudden and rapid deterioration of the jobs data. This could be the information the stock market and other risk assets need to put in a top for the year. The scary part is that this may happen sooner than you think.

    The Mad Hedge Fund Trader

  • Report this Comment On January 11, 2012, at 11:39 PM, DonkeyJunk wrote:

    Holy freaking spam, guys. ^This same post is on 6 separate articles, verbatim, posted within a space of 2 minutes. The same thing occurred a month ago with the same account.

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Dan Caplinger
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Dan Caplinger has been a contract writer for the Motley Fool since 2006. As the Fool's Director of Investment Planning, Dan oversees much of the personal-finance and investment-planning content published daily on Fool.com. With a background as an estate-planning attorney and independent financial consultant, Dan's articles are based on more than 20 years of experience from all angles of the financial world.

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Related Tickers

9/19/2014 4:36 PM
^DJI $17279.74 Up +13.75 +0.08%
DOW JONES INDUSTRI… CAPS Rating: No stars
AA $16.21 Up +0.01 +0.06%
Alcoa, Inc. CAPS Rating: ****
BAC $16.95 Down -0.09 -0.53%
Bank of America CAPS Rating: ****
HPQ $36.79 Down -0.22 -0.59%
Hewlett-Packard Co… CAPS Rating: **
UTX $108.45 Down -0.07 -0.06%
United Technologie… CAPS Rating: ****

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