What Is a Fiscal Quarter (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4)? (2024)

What Is a Fiscal Quarter (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4)?

A fiscal quarter is a three-month period on a company's financial calendar that acts as a basis for periodic financial reports and the paying of dividends. A quarter refers to one-fourth of a year and is typically expressed as Q1 for the first quarter, Q2 for the second quarter, and so forth.

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Key Takeaways

  • A quarter is a three-month period on a company's financial calendar that acts as a basis for periodic financial reports and the paying of dividends.
  • A quarter refers to one-fourth of a year and is typically expressed as Q1 for the first quarter, etc., and can be expressed with the year, such as Q1 2022 (or Q1'22).
  • Quarterly reports (known as 10-Q filings with the SEC) and earnings are crucial pieces of information for investors and analysts.
  • The IRS also imposes quarterly reporting requirements including quarterly estimated tax payments for certain taxpayers.
  • Though beneficial for organizing financial information and comparing it across prior quarterly periods, adversaries of quarters point to the extra reporting cost and burden.

What Is a Fiscal Quarter (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4)? (1)

Understanding Quarters

Most financial reporting and dividend payments are done quarterly. Not all companies will have fiscal quarters that correspond to calendar quarters and it is common for a company to close its fourth quarter after its busiest time of year. Dividends are also often paid quarterly although many companies outside the U.S. may not pay dividends evenly.

Companies have two mainaccounting periods—the fiscal quarter and the fiscal year (FY). The fiscal year for most companies runs from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 (although it doesn't have to). The standard calendar quarters that make up the year are as follows:

  • January, February, and March (Q1)
  • April, May, and June (Q2)
  • July, August, and September (Q3)
  • October, November, and December (Q4)

Some companies have fiscal years that follow different dates. Costco Wholesale Corporation's fiscal year begins in September and ends in the following August. Thus, its fiscal fourth-quarter includes June, July, and August.

Fiscal quarters for a company will coincide with their fiscal year (FY), and the fourth fiscal quarter will also conclude on the same date as the fiscal year.

The Seasonality Effect

Companies, investors, and analysts use data from different quarters to make comparisons and evaluate trends. For example, it is common for a company’s quarterly report to be compared to the same quarter of the previous year. Many companies are seasonal which would make a comparison over sequential quarters misleading.

A retail company could earn half its annual profits in the fourth quarter while a construction company does most of its business in the first three quarters. In this situation, comparing the first quarter results for a department store to its performance during the fourth quarter would indicate an alarming drop in sales.

Evaluating a seasonal company during its slow quarters can be enlightening. It is reasonable to assume that if sales and profits are growing in the off-quarters when compared to the same quarter in prior years, the intrinsic strength of the company is also improving.

For example, auto dealers typically have a slow first quarter and rarely conduct incentive sales programs in February and March. Thus, if an auto dealer saw significant improvement in sales in the first quarter, this year compared to last, it may indicate the potential for surprisingly strong sales in the second and third quarters as well.

Uses of Fiscal Quarters

There are several different ways in which companies interact with fiscal quarters. Public companies generally have more reporting requirements than private companies, and specific decisions public companies make (i.e. issuing dividends) revolve around quarters.

Companies aren't the only ones using quarters for financial reasons. The Internal Revenue Service requires certain taxpayers to make quarterly estimated tax payments using Form 941. This form is used to remit payroll taxes multiple times in a single year.

Quarterly Reports

Quarterly earnings reports are important for publicly traded companies and their investors. Each release has the potential to affect the value of a company’s stock. If a company has a good quarter, its stock value may increase. If the company has a poor quarter the value of its stock could drop dramatically.

All public companies in the U.S. must filequarterly reports, known asForm 10-Q, with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) at the end of their first three fiscal quarters. Each 10-Q includes unaudited financial statements and operations information for the previous three months (quarter).

A publicly-traded company must also file an annual report, known as Form 10-K. The annual report will often include more detailed information than the quarterly reports including an audit statement, presentations, and additional disclosures.

The quarterly earnings report often includes forward-looking “guidance” for what management expects from the next few quarters or through the end of the year. These estimates are used by analysts and investors to develop their expectations for performance over the next few quarters.

The estimates and guidance provided by analysts and management can have a big impact on a stock every three months. If management issues guidance for the next quarter that is worse than expected, the stock’s price will drop. Similarly, if management issues guidance—or an analyst upgrades their independent estimates—the stock can rise significantly.

Quarterly Dividends

In the U.S., most companies that pay a dividend will distribute it more or less evenly over four quarters. In many economies outside the U.S., it is common to split the annual dividend into quarterly payments with one of the payments being much larger than the others. It is also not unusual to find companies outside the U.S. that only pay one dividend per year.

The payment of quarterly dividends can create some volatility in a stock's price when the ex-date arrives. Some analysts have noticed that investors may rebalance or sell their stock on the ex-date or soon after when the dividend growth rate appears to be slowing or other changes in the market make the dividend less attractive.

Some companies may report using "halves", or H1 and H2 to divide their year into two parts instead of four. The first half of the year, or H1, always includes the first and second quarter. The second half of the year, or H2, always includes the third and fourth quarter.

Non-Standard Quarters

For a variety of reasons, some public companies will use a non-standard or non-calendar quarterly reporting system. In addition, certain governments use different quarter systems. The first quarter of the U.S. federal government’s fiscal year is October, November, and December. State governments may also have their own fiscal calendars.

Sometimes a company may have a non-standard fiscal year to help with business or tax planning. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows companies to choose a “tax year” that is still 52-53 weeks long but does not end in December.

In 2021, H&R Block (HRB) changed its fiscal year to end on June 30th, from the previous April 30th. Upon announcing this, it stated that the change “allows for better alignment of complete tax seasons in comparable fiscal periods and other related benefits."

Releasing an annual report, which may be accompanied by shareholder meetings and additional disclosures, after the busiest part of a company's year helps managers and shareholders make better decisions about the year ahead.

Companies that rely on U.S. government contracts may use September as the end of their fiscal year, and the fourth quarter because that is when they expect new projects to be closed and budget planning from the government to be available. Meanwhile, some companies have very unusual quarterly systems.

Popular Companies' Fiscal Years

While many companies follow the standard calendar year for their fiscal reporting, several major corporations choose different fiscal calendars to align better with their business cycles.

Apple Inc. has a fiscal year that ends on the last Saturday of September. By avoiding a calendar-year fiscal cycle, Apple can better align its financial reporting with its product launch schedule, which typically sees new iPhone releases in September. This timing allows Apple to capture the early sales surge from its flagship products in the first quarter of the fiscal year, providing a more accurate reflection of its financial performance following major product launches.

NVIDIA Corporation, a leader in graphics processing units (GPUs) and AI technology, ends its fiscal year on the last Sunday of January. This schedule helps NVIDIA to account for the increased demand during the holiday season, which is a critical period for sales in the gaming and technology markets. By concluding its fiscal year after this peak period, NVIDIA can provide a comprehensive overview of its financial health following its busiest sales quarter.

Walmart Inc., one of the largest retail corporations globally, concludes its fiscal year on January 31. This timing allows Walmart to include the entirety of the holiday shopping season in its fourth-quarter results. The extended holiday period significantly impacts Walmart's revenue, and ending the fiscal year in January ensures that the company's annual report reflects this crucial season's sales performance.

Criticism of Quarters

Some have questioned the importance of the quarterly reporting system. The big argument against the setup is that it puts too much pressure on companies and executives to deliver short-term results to please analysts and investors as opposed to focusing on the long-term interests of the business.

The other issue is that companies report their summary annual statements once per year, so the information can become stale and out of date in between the annual reporting cycle. One approach to solve this problem is to use a trailing four quarters or trailing 12 months (TTM) analysis.

By the middle of the fourth quarter of 2021, the annual data for 2021 can be estimated by summarizing the last four quarters. In this case, assume that the company’s third-quarter 2021 results are available. An analyst would manually combine the quarterly data from the first three quarters of 2021 with the last quarter of 2020 to estimate the company’s earnings and revenue trends.

This analysis will overlap some of the data used in the last annual report, but it will still give some insight into how 2021 is likely to look by the end of the year. If the first three quarters of 2021 had been poor compared to the first three-quarters of 2020, the trailing-four-quarter analysis will show that.

Given that there are so many variables that have to be accounted for with each new quarter, using the best accounting software is a great way to help accountants save time and ensure all reporting is accurate.

What Are the 4 Fiscal Quarters?

A fiscal quarter is a three-month period in which a company reports its financial results. As its name suggests, there are four quarterly periods in a year, meaning a publicly-traded company would issue four quarterly reports per year. Companies and investors alike use fiscal quarters to keep track of their financial results and business developments over time. These quarters are often referred to as Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4.

A company can choose how to divide a calendar year into these four quarters. Companies will often end a quarter at the end of March, June, September, and December. A company can elect to have its fiscal year-end anytime, thereby impacting how its quarters are divided.

What Is the Difference Between a Fiscal Quarter and a Calendar Quarter?

Fiscal quarters do not have to line up with the calendar year. For instance, if a company chooses to have its fiscal year starting in February rather than January, then its first quarter would consist of February, March, and April. Companies sometimes choose to do this if they want their fiscal year to end in their own peak season.Alternatively, since finishing the year often involves a lot of additional accounting work, some companies choose to end their fiscal year on a relatively calm month.

What Does Q4 2022 Mean?

There are two components to Q4 2022. The first part ("Q4") represents the quarter, while the second part ("2022") represents the year. In this example, the phrase Q4 2022 means the fourth quarter in 2022.

Because this phrase includes both the quarter and the year, this phrase assumes that whatever is being analyzed has a fiscal year that is the same as a calendar year.

What Is the Fiscal Calendar?

A fiscal calendar is an arbitrary range of dates that defines a company's annual reporting cycle. Instead of simply using a standard calendar year that runs from January to December, a company can decide to use a different calendar cycle for reporting that better aligns with its operations, cyclicality, or seasonality.

For example, a company may elect to have a fiscal year ending in June. Although the calendar year runs from January to December, the company's year-end income statement will run from July 1 to June 30.

What Is the Difference Between Fiscal and Calendar Quarters?

If a company decides to have a fiscal year different than a calendar year, the dates for each quarter may be different. However, if a company decides to report financial information on the same dates as a standard calendar cycle, the dates are:

Quarter 1: Jan. 1 through March 30

Quarter 2: April 1 through June 30

Quarter 3: July 1 through Sept. 30

Quarter 4: Oct. 1 through Dec. 31

The Bottom Line

Organizing financial planning and reporting into three-month quarterly units enables companies and those that analyze and govern them to track progress, set requirements, and make useful comparisons. Some critics feel undue focus on quarters promotes short-term thinking and planning and can make some information out of date. But generally, organizing information this way—and quarters don't have to follow the traditional calendar—increases the ability to organize information and recognize potential problems early.

What Is a Fiscal Quarter (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4)? (2024)


What Is a Fiscal Quarter (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4)? ›

A fiscal quarter is a three-month period on a company's financial calendar that acts as a basis for periodic financial reports and the paying of dividends. A quarter refers to one-fourth of a year and is typically expressed as Q1 for the first quarter, Q2 for the second quarter, and so forth.

What does Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 mean? ›

The following are the traditional calendar quarters that comprise the year: The months of January, February, & March (Q1) The months of April, May, & June (Q2) The months of August, July, & September (Q3) The months of October, November, and December (Q4)

Is quarterly every 3 or 4 months? ›

On the financial calendar of a company, a quarter is a three-month interval that serves as the foundation for regular financial statements and dividend payouts. The quarters of a year are usually denoted by the letters;Q1 stands for the first quarter, Q2 refers to the second. and so on.

What are the four quarters of the year? ›

Quarter year
  • First quarter, Q1: January – March (90 days or 91 days in leap years)
  • Second quarter, Q2: April – June (91 days)
  • Third quarter, Q3: July – September (92 days)
  • Fourth quarter, Q4: October – December (92 days)

What is quarter 4 in a financial year? ›

Q4 is the last quarter of the fiscal year for companies. Most follow the calendar year, which means the fourth quarter starts Oct. 1 and ends Dec. 31.

What is Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 quartile? ›

There are four quartiles: Q1, Q2, Q3 and Q4. Q1 is occupied by the top 25% of journals in the list; Q2 is occupied by journals in the 25 to 50% group; Q3 is occupied by journals in the 50 to 75% group and Q4 is occupied by journals in the 75 to 100% group.

What is a fiscal quarter? ›

A fiscal quarter can be defined as a three-month period within a company's fiscal year that serves as a basis for financial reporting and dividend payment.

What quarter are we in 2024? ›

1st quarter: 1 October 2023 – 31 December 2023. 2nd quarter: 1 January 2024 – 31 March 2024. 3rd quarter: 1 April 2024 – 30 June 2024. 4th quarter: 1 July 2024 – 30 September 2024.

What is 4 months called? ›

Wikitionary says it's a quadrimestre. It's origin is in Latin apparently,quadrimestris. Literally, it means four months.

What months are Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4? ›

What are the dates of Fiscal Quarters in the United States? Q1 is January, February, and March, Q2 is April, May, and June, Q3 is July, August, and September, and Q4 is October, November, and December.

What does Q3 mean? ›

Q3 is acronym that stands for the third quarter of the fiscal calendar or calendar year.

What does Q2 mean? ›

Q2: The second quarter, refers to the accounting period of April, May and June. Any financial statements you receive from April 1 to June 30 are for Q2 of the fiscal quarter system. Q3: The third quarter is during the months of July, August and September.

What is Q3 of the year? ›

Quarters will be defined as Q1 = February - April, Q2 = May - July, Q3 = August - October, and Q4 = November - January.

What does Q1 mean? ›

What is Q1. Q1 is acronym that stands for the first quarter of the fiscal calendar or calendar year. For example, if the company has a calendar year that ends December 31st, then Q1 would be the financial results for January 1st to March 31st.

Why is Q4 important? ›

Consumers tend to increase their spending during this time, leading to a surge in sales for retail, e-commerce, and various consumer goods sectors. This surge means many businesses rely on Q4 sales to generate a significant portion of their annual revenue.

What is the meaning of Q1 in a year? ›

Q1 is acronym that stands for the first quarter of the fiscal calendar or calendar year. For example, if the company has a calendar year that ends December 31st, then Q1 would be the financial results for January 1st to March 31st.

What is the meaning of Q2 Q3 Q4? ›

Q1: January, February and March. Q2: April, May and June. Q3: July, August and September. Q4: October, November and December.

What is the difference between a fiscal quarter and a calendar quarter? ›

Calendar quarters refer to the standard quarters of any year, starting with January to March as quarter 1, while fiscal quarters are different and not necessarily be the same as the first quarter of the calendar. For example, the first quarter or Q1 may be October-December instead of January-March.

What do Q1 Q2 and Q3 represent? ›

Q1 is the first quartile, Q2 is the 50th percentile, Q3 is. 75th percentile, and Q4 is the 100th percentile which the maximum observation in the dataset. These corresponds to following quantiles: 0.25, 0.50, 0.75, and 1.00.

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