When investors are looking to buy, sell, or hold stocks, they frequently turn to stock market consensus for guidance. Market consensus occurs when dozens of stock analysts offer their expert opinions for sales and earnings estimates for the future of a stock. They use financial models, consumer confidence, and research to develop a reasonable projection of company earnings for a particular time period (either a quarter or a year). Then, all of the analysts’ projections are averaged in order to determine an aggregate view of the stock in the marketplace.

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Nearly every stock has a market consensus from analysts, which serves as a benchmark for actual results when they are released every quarter. When reporters and financial analysts say a company has “fallen short of estimates,” they are referring to market consensus. A company with earnings greater than the stock market consensus generally goes up because it “beat estimates.” On the other hand, a company that does not perform as well as analysts expected is said to “miss estimates,” and the company normally sees its stock decline in value.

On average, analysts’ forecast provides good direction on the overall market, which is why a lot of investors use it to make stock buying or selling decisions. However, market consensus can influence the trading of individual stocks before actual earnings are released by the company. If analysts estimate a 10% decrease in net income for a business, this can cause a quick selloff, even if the company turns itself around and earns a great profit.

The size of a company and how many analysts are covering it also influence the stock market consensus. If only a handful of analysts are assigned to the stock, the market consensus estimates are more likely to vary from actual results.

Of course, investors should do their own research instead of relying solely on market consensus. Buyers and sellers are often surprised when companies outperform estimates or fall short of their financial goals. Individuals should look at past performance, upcoming projects, competitors, and recent news in the industry in order to gain a view of the company as a whole.