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.

Earlier this year, Alcoa announced major cost-cutting, including plans to shed 13 percent of its work force, sell four business units and cut production. The company, which is getting killed by declining prices, also slashed its dividend and has announced plans for deeper cuts. The Wall Street Journalnotes that prices have stabilized giving some optimism for bulls.

To be sure, expectations for the first quarter are not high, as Bloomberg estimates that profits at S&P companies probably fell 37 percent in the first quarter.

"This is a throwaway quarter -- everyone expects it to be bad," Richard Vanden Boogard, who helps oversee $60 billion at Victory Capital Management in Cleveland, told Bloomberg News. "People will be looking forward to the commentary for guidance. It's all about the outlook."

Speaking of outlook, billionaire George Soros has a gloomy one. Markets are falling in pre-market trading following comments he made that the four-week rally is not the start of a bull market. Markets in Europe and Asia also declined. Oil prices also fell.
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