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Wall Street expects a year-over-year increase in earnings on higher revenues when Altria
(MO) reports results for the quarter ended September 2021. While this widely-known consensus outlook is important in gauging the company's earnings picture, a powerful factor that could impact its near-term stock price is how the actual results compare to these estimates.The earnings report, which is expected to be released on October 28, 2021, might help the stock move higher if these key numbers are better than expectations. On the other hand, if they miss, the stock may move lower.While management's discussion of business conditions on the earnings call will mostly determine the sustainability of the immediate price change and future earnings expectations, it's worth having a handicapping insight into the odds of a positive EPS surprise.Zacks Consensus EstimateThis owner of Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest cigarette maker is expected to post quarterly earnings of $1.27 per share in its upcoming report, which represents a year-over-year change of +6.7%.Revenues are expected to be $5.77 billion, up 1.6% from the year-ago quarter.Estimate Revisions TrendThe consensus EPS estimate for the quarter has been revised 1.99% higher over the last 30 days to the current level. This is essentially a reflection of how the covering analysts have collectively reassessed their initial estimates over this period.Investors should keep in mind that an aggregate change may not always reflect the direction of estimate revisions by each of the covering analysts.Price, Consensus and EPS SurpriseEarnings WhisperEstimate revisions ahead of a company's earnings release offer clues to the business conditions for the period whose results are coming out. Our proprietary surprise prediction model -- the Zacks Earnings ESP (Expected Surprise Prediction) -- has this insight at its core.The Zacks Earnings ESP compares the Most Accurate Estimate to the Zacks Consensus Estimate for the quarter; the Most Accurate Estimate is a more recent version of the Zacks Consensus EPS estimate. The idea here is that analysts revising their estimates right before an earnings release have the latest information, which could potentially be more accurate than what they and others contributing to the consensus had predicted earlier.Thus, a positive or negative Earnings ESP reading theoretically indicates the likely deviation of the actual earnings from the consensus estimate. However, the model's predictive power is significant for positive ESP readings only.A positive Earnings ESP is a strong predictor of an earnings beat, particularly when combined with a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy), 2 (Buy) or 3 (Hold). Our research shows that stocks with this combination produce a positive surprise nearly 70% of the time, and a solid Zacks Rank actually increases the predictive power of Earnings ESP.Please note that a negative Earnings ESP reading is not indicative of an earnings miss. Our research shows that it is difficult to predict an earnings beat with any degree of confidence for stocks with negative Earnings ESP readings and/or Zacks Rank of 4 (Sell) or 5 (Strong Sell).How Have the Numbers Shaped Up for Altria?For Altria, the Most Accurate Estimate is lower than the Zacks Consensus Estimate, suggesting that analysts have recently become bearish on the company's earnings prospects. This has resulted in an Earnings ESP of -0.13%.On the other hand, the stock currently carries a Zacks Rank of #3.So, this combination makes it difficult to conclusively predict that Altria will beat the consensus EPS estimate.Does Earnings Surprise History Hold Any Clue?Analysts often consider to what extent a company has been able to match consensus estimates in the past while calculating their estimates for its future earnings. So, it's worth taking a look at the surprise history for gauging its influence on the upcoming number.For the last reported quarter, it was expected that Altria would post earnings of $1.17 per share when it actually produced earnings of $1.23, delivering a surprise of +5.13%.Over the last four quarters, the company has beaten consensus EPS estimates three times.Bottom LineAn earnings beat or miss may not be the sole basis for a stock moving higher or lower. Many stocks end up losing ground despite an earnings beat due to other factors that disappoint investors. Similarly, unforeseen catalysts help a number of stocks gain despite an earnings miss.That said, betting on stocks that are expected to beat earnings expectations does increase the odds of success. This is why it's worth checking a company's Earnings ESP and Zacks Rank ahead of its quarterly release. Make sure to utilize our Earnings ESP Filter to uncover the best stocks to buy or sell before they've reported.Altria doesn't appear a compelling earnings-beat candidate. However, investors should pay attention to other factors too for betting on this stock or staying away from it ahead of its earnings release.Infrastructure Stock Boom to Sweep America A massive push to rebuild the crumbling U.S. infrastructure will soon be underway. It’s bipartisan, urgent, and inevitable. Trillions will be spent. Fortunes will be made.The only question is “Will you get into the right stocks early when their growth potential is greatest?”Zacks has released a Special Report to help you do just that, and today it’s free. 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