Earnings Volatility

The degree of change in corporate earnings

What is Earnings Volatility?

Earnings volatility is a statistical concept that determines the associated risk and helps predict the market price of a particular stock. Volatility is the risk related to different degrees of change in a security’s value. Higher volatility implies higher risk. A market witnessing sustained rises and falls over a significant period of time is a volatile market.

 

Earnings Volatility

 

Quick Summary:

  • Earnings volatility is a statistical concept that determines the associated risk and predicts the market price of a particular stock. Volatility is the risk related to different degrees of change in a security’s value.
  • Earnings volatility is directly correlated with the cost of capital. As earnings feed capital surplus, high volatility implies high chances of insolvency.
  • Earnings volatility can be used to predict earnings using financial forecasting models.

 

Understanding Earnings Volatility

Volatility is determined by measuring the dispersion of returns for a given security or market index (which is a section of the stock market) and is calculated using variance and standard deviation. Earnings volatility, in particular, monitors the net earnings of companies on a quarterly or monthly basis to determine the stability or instability of the associated security.

As earnings are a driver of stock performance, inconsistent earnings imply higher risk. As volatility is a comparative metric, yearly data of a company’s performance is compared. Earnings as of January 2019 may be compared to real earnings as of January 2018, or to projected earnings (according to corporate management or financial analysis estimates) of January 2020. These figures are known as historical earnings and implied earnings, respectively.

 

Impact of Earnings Volatility

 

1. Cost of capital

Earnings volatility is directly correlated with the cost of capital. As earnings feed capital surplus, high volatility implies high chances of insolvency. It also brings into question the business practices of a company’s current management.

External sources of funding are always costlier compared to internal funding, which can be deducted from the net profit in the company’s balance sheet.

 

2. Earnings predictability

Earnings volatility can be used to predict earnings using financial forecasting models. They impact predictability, due to its relationship with the discount rate or estimated cash flows. Volatility can be due to either external economic shocks faced by the company or inaccuracies in the accounting process to determine income. Both factors contribute to reduced predictability of earnings.

Earnings with low volatility show high persistence and, consequently, higher predictability. Earnings with high volatility imply little reliable predictability.

Higher volatility may lead to a paucity in internal funding. This would force managers to look for external sources of funding and forego promising investment opportunities due to the higher cost of capital of external financing. Therefore, volatile earnings increase the probability of a lack of access to internal funds and external funds, as well as underinvestment. Such occurrences are called investment distortions, which are negatively related to future earnings.

 

3. Share prices

Traditionally, earnings volatility adversely affects share price performance. Generally, the more stable the earnings of a company, the more stable the price of its stock. However, biases may arise due to other market factors such as a sudden drop in oil prices that impact both credit earnings volatility and the value of equity.

Therefore, academic circles increasingly believe that the impact of volatility on equity is likely overestimated. For example, Amazon.com reported lower earnings in 2012 than that in the preceding financial year. Yet, the online retail giant’s stock price rose by 8% in 2012 as investors piled on.

 

Additional Resources

CFI is the official provider of the Financial Modeling and Valuation Analyst (FMVA)™ certification program, designed to transform anyone into a world-class financial analyst.

In order to help you become a world-class financial analyst and advance your career to your fullest potential, these additional CFI resources will be very helpful:

  • Chandelier Exit
  • Long and Short Positions
  • Market Risk Premium
  • VIX

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