As earnings season begins, Nomura economist Sheard is 'optimistic'

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Aluminum maker Alcoa reported a first-quarter net loss, kicking off six weeks of earnings results that will signal the direction of the U.S. economy.

The question investors want answered: What's next? Nomura chief global economist Paul Sheard told DailyFinance he's "optimistic" about economic growth later this year. "The worst is behind us," he said. Contraction in the U.S. economy was minus 6.1 percent in last year's fourth quarter and the first quarter of 2009 was a "bad quarter."

"When we get the data, it's just going to be telling us, 'yes that's a lousy quarter,'" Sheard said in a telephone interview.

There have been some "positive signs" that made investors more comfortable over the past few weeks, he said. After speaking with other economists while in Basel, Switzerland last week, Sheard feels he's more optimistic than most of his peers.

"We're not bullish, but we're a bit more positive than others," he said Tuesday about his firm's forecast, which sees the U.S. "recession coming to an end" and the economy "starting to expand a bit."

It's "difficult" to see a turning point coming out of recession and the second-half could be weaker than anticipated, Sheard told DailyFinance. That said, he is looking for growth in the last six months of 2009.

In order for the financial crisis, seen late last year, to re-ignite, he said, "there would have to be a new shock or a new loss of confidence."

Minus that shock, investors will focus on earnings and company forecasts.

In coming weeks companies will tell shareholders how much was sold and whether profits or losses accumulated. They'll also give detailed outlooks for the current and coming quarter.

By the end of next month, U.S. investors may know if the worst is in their rear-view mirrors.
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