EARNINGS WATCH: 3 shares yet to report with potential for upside surprise

Credit: tenaciousme

Earnings season is in full swing as today marks the end of week two for results. The standout performers this week included Amcor Limited (ASX: AMC), Cochlear Limited (ASX: COH) and  Primary Health Care Ltd (ASX: PRY), all of which provided better-than-expected results sparking a more than 10% rally in their respective share prices.

Next week is set to be another big week of results, with market heavyweights BHP Billiton Ltd (ASX: BHP), Wesfarmers Ltd (ASX: WES) and Woolworths Limited (ASX: WOW) slated to report, prompting me to pick three beaten-down stocks which I believe investors should watch closely for a possible earnings surprise.

QBE Insurance Group Ltd (ASX: QBE)

QBE reports 2015 full-year results next Tuesday (23 February). Shares in the global insurer have plunged almost 20% in 2016, placing them near multi-year lows. With QBE perennially disappointing during earnings season, investors may be weary of its prospects heading into results, making it, in my opinion, a beaten-down stock with significant upside potential.

As evidenced by Insurance Australia Group Ltd (ASX: IAG) on Thursday, the insurance sector has held up pretty well in current trading conditions, and with QBE rebasing earnings over the last few years, it should manage to deliver on its conservative guidance issued in August last year. Importantly, I believe the stock has upside potential because of macroeconomic influences such as a U.S. rate rise and further depreciation of the Australian dollar (relative to USD), providing strong tailwinds to its second half of 2015.

Accordingly, if QBE can leverage these tailwinds to eke out higher insurance margins (like IAG did), it shares should surge on results.

Retail Food Group Limited (ASX: RFG)

Retail Food Group is an exciting growth stock, tapping into everyone’s love of food and coffee. The company is expected to release 2016 half-year results next Thursday 25 February, with previous guidance indicating net profit after tax (NPAT) growth of approximately 35% on the prior corresponding period (25% on a like-for-like basis).

The company already has a solid track record of beating expectations, reporting a massive 49.3% growth to underlying NPAT in 2015 (full-year). It has since been active with new initiatives, acquiring exclusive licences in Australia and New Zealand to supply and distribute the Caffitaly Professional Program capsule delivery system. The group has also confirmed plans to commission three international roasting facilities, in order to expand its international footprint and create a vertically integrated business model.

I believe this combination of a strong track record, a systematic growth plan and acquisitive business model should see Retail Food Group report solidly this earnings season.

Woolworths Limited

Woolworths reports earnings on February 26, with investors bracing for an earnings downgrade in the wake of weak first quarter retail food and liquor sales. In its October sales update, Woolworths announced that it anticipated 2016 half-year NPAT to come in between $900 million to $1 billion, representing a 28%-35% fall on 2015 first-half NPAT.

In my view, Woolworths’ shares may provide a positive surprise this earnings season, given current earnings expectations and its recent announcement to exit the troubled Masters joint venture with Lowe’s.

Woolworths’ shares trade at a price-earnings ratio (PE) of 13.5, against its long-term average of approximately 16, making the stock cheap by historical standards. Therefore, if Woolworths can demonstrate renewed momentum in its core supermarkets division, or provide a positive outlook for food and liquor sales, I believe the share market will see this as a turning point and re-rate the stock back to its long-term PE.

Foolish takeaway

Whether or not these stocks surprise with earnings is yet to be seen. However, with all three being beaten down to trade at or near 52 week lows, it shouldn’t take much positive news for these quality companies to gain support and surprise on the upside. Accordingly, I believe these three should be on your earnings watch list for next week.

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Motley Fool contributor Rachit Dudhwala owns shares of QBE Insurance Group Ltd. and Woolworths Limited. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia owns shares of Retail Food Group Limited. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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