What Does Q1 Mean?

July 27, 2023
A quarter means three months on an enterprise's financial calendar, the foundation for quarterly financial reporting and dividend payments. Earnings and quarterly reports (known as 10-Q filings with the SEC) are critical pieces of data for shareholders and analysts. The international revenue service (IRS) also enforces quarterly reporting requirements for some taxpayers, including quarterly anticipated tax payments. Though useful for organizing financial data and comparing it to previous quarterly periods, opponents of quarters point to the additional reporting cost and burden.

What is Q1?

The abbreviation Q1 refers to the first quarter of the fiscal calendar or calendar year. For instance, if the company's fiscal year runs from January 1 to March 31, Q1 would represent the financial performance from January 1 to March 31.

Other fiscal quarters explained (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4)

Most financial statements are prepared quarterly. This is because it is a medium in which information is less sensitive to the ups and downs of shorter periods. Hence, stockholders receive frequent updates on the company's development.

The concept of fiscal quarters

Not many businesses have fiscal quarters that match calendar quarters, and it is normal for a company to complete its fourth quarter after the busiest time of year. Dividends are also frequently given quarterly, albeit many corporations outside the United States may not distribute dividends equitably.

The fiscal quarter and the fiscal year (FY) are the primary business accounting periods. Most businesses' fiscal years span from January 1 to December 31 (but this is not required). The following are the traditional calendar quarters that comprise the year:

·       Q1 months are January, February, and March

·       Q2 months are April, May, and June.

·       Q3 months are July, August, and September

·       Q4 months include October, November, and December

Some businesses have fiscal years that begin and end on different dates. Tor instance, the fiscal year of Costco Wholesale Corporation starts in September and finishes in August of the following year. As a result, its fiscal fourth quarter comprises the months of June, July, and August.

A company's fiscal quarters will correspond with its fiscal year, and the fourth fiscal quarter will likewise end on the same day as the fiscal year.

The relevance of fiscal quarters

A quarterly report is a document businesses use to offer frequent updates on their financial performance over three months. They appear in regulatory filings and news releases.

Quarterly reports are distributed to analysts, shareholders, and regulatory authorities and feature important financial data such as sales, earnings, and costs. A quarterly report's contents assist stakeholders in assessing the financial state of a business and its prospects, as well as providing transparency into its operations and economic choices.

Corporations in most countries are generally legally compelled to file reports with regulatory authorities giving freely accessible documentation of their financial health.

Professional investors frequently review every management statement while studying key financial numbers in quarterly reports.

Seasonality influence

Corporations, traders, and analysts compare and assess trends using data from multiple quarters. For instance, an organization's quarterly report is frequently compared to the same quarter the prior year. Many businesses are seasonal, making a comparison of sequential quarters misleading.

A retailer may make half its yearly earnings in the fourth quarter, but a construction firm does most of its operations in the first three quarters. In this case, comparing a department store's first-quarter statistics to its fourth-quarter performance would reveal an alarming fall in sales.

Evaluating a seasonal firm during its least busy periods might be interesting. It is logical to conclude that the firm's underlying strength grows if revenues and earnings increase in the off-quarters compared to the same quarter in previous years.

Automobile dealers, for instance, often have a poor first quarter and rarely run incentive sales campaigns in February and March. As a result, if an auto dealer had a substantial increase in sales, it may imply the possibility of shockingly good sales in the second and third quarters.

Various applications of fiscal quarters

There are various manners in which businesses engage with fiscal quarters. Public firms have additional reporting obligations than private corporations, and certain choices made by public companies (such as dividend payments) revolve around quarterly.

Firms are not the only ones who use quarters for accounting purposes. Certain taxpayers are required by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to make quarterly estimated tax payments on Form 941. This form is used to process payroll taxes more than once in a calendar year.

     i. Quarterly dividends

Most corporations that pay dividends will distribute them across four quarters almost continuously. The yearly dividend is distributed once every three months, with one payment much bigger than the others.

Regarding quarterly dividends, the expiration date can generate significant stock price volatility. Some professionals have discovered that when the dividend growth percentage appears to be declining or other market shifts make the lower dividend appealing, shareholders may rebalance or sell their stock on or shortly after the ex-date.

     ii. Quarterly reports

Quarterly earnings reports are crucial for publicly listed firms and their investors. Each release has the potential to alter the stock price of any firm. If a firm has a profitable quarter, its stock value can rise. If the firm has a terrible quarter, the value of its shares might plummet.

An annual report known as Form 10-K is required for publicly traded corporations. Annual reports, which contain more information than quarterly reports, entail an audited statement, presentations, and additional disclosures. Forward-looking "guidelines" on what management anticipates over the next several quarters or through the end of the year are typically included in quarterly earnings statements. Investors and analysts utilized these estimates to assess performance in the next quarters.

Experts' and management's predictions and direction may significantly influence a company every three months. The stock price will fall if the administration offers worse-than-expected recommendations for the next quarter. Furthermore, the stock price might spike if the corporate offers guidance or an analyst raises their independent predictions.

     iii. Quarters critique

Many people have questioned the necessity of the quarterly report system. The system's major criticism is that it places undue pressure on corporations and authorities to deliver relatively short-term results to satisfy shareholders and analysts rather than focusing on the business's long-term goals.

Another issue is that businesses only disclose their summary account report once a year. Thus, the data might become obsolete and out of the current. A four-quarter or trailing twelve months (TTM) study is one method for addressing this issue.

By merging the preceding four quarters with the center of the fourth quarter of 2021, the yearly time series data for 2021 may be derived. Assume that the company's third-quarter 2021 profits are available in this circumstance. A researcher would meticulously combine quarterly time series data to forecast the firm's earnings and revenue trends.

     iv. Non-standard quarter

For several reasons, most publicly listed corporations will use a non-standard or quarterly accounting system on a non-calendar basis. Additionally, different governments use various quarter structures. In the United States, the first three months of the fiscal year are October, November, and December. Governments may also have their financial calendars.

A corporation can adopt a non-traditional fiscal year to help with corporate or tax planning in specific instances. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) implemented that corporations can adhere to a "fiscal year" that lasts 52-53 weeks but does not finish in December.

When the change was released, it was stated that it permits better synchronization of entire tax periods in coinciding accounting years and other relevant advantages. Following the busiest period of a company's year, releasing an annual report, which stockholder meetings and a communication process may follow, assists management and shareholders in making better decisions for the coming year.

Organizations that rely on US government contracts may pick September as the end of their fiscal year and the fourth quarter since it allows upcoming endeavors to be finished and the administration's budgeting procedure to be accessible. On the other hand, other enterprises have highly erratic quarterly time frames.

The advantages of quarterly reports

In the United States, providing quarterly financial statements dates back to the 1930s. Quarterly reports have various advantages:

·       Accountability

Businesses are held accountable for their productivity and performance since their financial statements are made public and filed with the SEC. These figures can serve as a stimulus for firms to enhance efficiency to meet their objectives.

·       Comparison

Quarterly reports allow corporations to compare their financial statements to previous periods or other companies in their sector.

·       Transparent

Quarterly reports provide the public at large with information on the financial statements of a business and its worth, as well as critical data about its financial stability.

·       Dividends

Organizations offer quarterly bonuses because the fiscal year is divided into quarters. This can provide owners with a continuous flow of money.

·       Consistency

Because businesses use various schedules, quarters, and financial results provide consistency when comparing or measuring performance.

·       Valuation

Quarterly reports contribute to the development of company stock prices, which may help attract capital.

·       Assessment

Quarterly data allows firms to analyze performance, identify trends, and plan crucial future activities.

Drawbacks of quarterly reports

·       Although the quarterly report provides more data and insight to the public, it only provides a snapshot for a very short time. Investors may be discouraged from participating if they see bad outcomes or less profitable quarters without more information.

·       Financial reports are expensive and time-consuming to create, especially when required four times a year. This limitation may also deter private companies from going public.

·       Because investors and economists rely on quarterly results, companies may feel compelled to manipulate their figures to meet their forecasts.

·       Companies commonly use forward-looking statements that predict future performance. Investors that act on this information may be disappointed in the next quarter. This may prompt investors to sell their stocks, enhancing volatility.

The fiscal calendar

A fiscal calendar is a set of dates that determines an organization's yearly reporting cycle. Rather than adopting a traditional calendar year from January to December, a firm might utilize an alternative calendar cycle for reporting that better corresponds with its operations, cyclicality, or seasonality.

A firm, for example, may choose to have its fiscal year conclude in June. Even though the calendar year runs from January to December, the year-end income statement for the firm will be from July 1 to June 30.

The distinction between a standard calendar and a fiscal quarter

The regular calendar year begins on January 1, and the fourth quarter ends on December 31. Fiscal quarters relate to a firm's fiscal year, which may or may not match a calendar year. If a company decides to start its fiscal year in February rather than January, the first quarter would be February, March, and April. Corporations sometimes do this if they want their fiscal year to end during peak season. In contrast, because the end of the year might need a large amount of extra accounting practice, some organizations opt to complete their fiscal year in a relatively slow month.

Why choose a fiscal fear over a calendar year?

Using a fiscal year may be advantageous for businesses that operate on a seasonal basis. This is because it may give a more accurate depiction of the company's activities, allowing for better alignment of revenues and costs. For example, it is usual for retail organizations to complete their fiscal year on January 31, following the completion of the Christmas season.

What is a quarter according to an individual shareholder?

Rather than quarterly projections, investors focus their investment decisions on how well a firm performs in a specific quarter.


Organizations and those who evaluate and manage them may measure progress, establish standards, and generate relevant comparisons by organizing economic scheduling and reporting into three-month quarterly units. Some opponents argue that an overemphasis on quarters encourages short-term thinking and planning and can render some information out of date. However, organizing information this way improves the ability to manage data and identify potential problems early (quarters do not have to conform to the traditional calendar).