Will earnings season start with a whimper?

Alcoa Inc. (AA) must have drawn the short straw to be the economic canary in the coal mine decades ago, but for many investors the aluminum maker's earnings are seen as a harbinger of things to come. Judging from Wall Street estimates, expectations are so low, they are almost laughable.

Analysts expect the Dow component to lose 56 cents per share on revenue of $4.08 billion compared with $303 million, or 37 cents, a year earlier on revenue of $7.38 billion, according to estimates by Thomson Reuters. The Pittsburgh-based company reported its first loss in six years in January. Its shares are down about 30 percent this year, even with the recent surge in the stock market.