Some Earnings Stink but Not Enough to Stall Stocks

Wall Street (Joseph Lawler, left, works with fellow traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Friday, Oct. 18, 2013.
Richard Drew/AP
By Patti Domm

Corporate America's third quarter report card is not great, but it's good enough to keep stocks moving higher.

The quarterly earnings season was one event that traders thought would trip up the stock market, after stocks looked past the potential debt ceiling crisis and immediately zipped to new highs once it was over.

But the high profile blunders, like IBM (IBM) and McDonald's (MCD), have been overshadowed by the likes of Google (GOOG), which soared above $1000 on the power of its earnings report. Netflix (NFLX) was also soaring after hours Monday on its better-than-expected results and strong outlook.

"So far, so good," said Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Wealth Management. "You are seeing some accelerating earnings growth, although again, it's still low single digits year-over-year, but better than it's been."

Actual earnings for the 104 S&P 500 companies that reported by Monday morning have been up 4.4 percent so far, and 62 percent have come in above estimates, according to Reuters.

"You're seeing a little improvement in the global economy," said Stone. Europe has turned from being a drag into a positive, an important development, he said.

McDonald's on Monday did blame the global economy and warned weakness could continue into the fourth quarter. Revenues were $7.32 billion, up 2 percent, but below the $7.34 billion expected for the third quarter. Earnings per share were higher than expected, at $1.51 per share, up six percent from last year and a penny more than expected.

So far, the financial sector is showing the best growth when looking at a blend of actual reports and the estimates of companies yet to report. Excluding JPMorgan (JPM), the sector would be up 14.7 percent on an earnings basis over last year. But JPMorgan's loss turns the sector to a profit decline of 0.8 percent.

The next best performing sector is consumer discretionary, which is up 7.5 percent so far. The worst sector is energy, with earnings down 7.3 percent.

"So far, so good. I think the bar was probably lowered enough coming into the earnings season, where you're going to get that typical step-over rate. %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%We're exceeding 65 percent upside surprises," said Andrew Burkly, Oppenheimer Asset Management head of institutional portfolio strategy. Burkly said the expectations in early summer were for 6.5 percent growth for the third quarter but expectations fell to 3 percent earnings growth by the time companies started reporting.

"Now the expectations for the fourth quarter are still pretty elevated so that's where the bigger concern is. So you're going to have to get that markdown for the fourth quarter," Burkly said. "In general companies are saying things are getting better. Some have blamed the shutdown ... By and large, the tone is about economic momentum picking up. What the companies are saying is going to give you the best view of the economy."

He pointed to General Electric (GE), which rose to a five-year high after its earnings report last week. The company saw gains on cost-cutting but it also said it expects earnings growth to accelerate into the fourth quarter and that it has a large backlog and improving margins.

But Burkly cautions that stocks are at near the top end of the trend channel, with the S&P 500 (^GSPC) at 1,744. "We're finding ourselves at the upper end of the trend channel that runs from 1,650 to 1,750. You're probably going to see limited upside in the near term," he said.

"It's an uptrend that grinds higher," he said. "You're going to see money moving in. They're not rushing into stocks, but they're slowly moving in. From a client confidence perspective, the last thing they [fund managers] can have is losing money in money markets."

Stone said he expects the market to chug higher, and certainly earnings aren't the negative catalyst some had thought they might be.

"I think we can end the year higher, but you've got to believe we get some pull back along the way," he said. "I don't know what does it ... There isn't really any big alternative to stocks."

Stone said he was surprised about how well the stock market responded during the debt ceiling and budget debate in Washington, which resulted in the 16-day government shutdown. He had been looking for a bigger dip to buy. "I would have thought you would have gotten a better opportunity," he said.

Tuesday's earnings reports include DuPont (DD), Travelers (TRV), United Technologies (UTX), Coach (COH), Lockheed Martin (LMT), Delta Air Lines (DAL), EMC (EMC), Freeport-McMoRan (FCX), Illinois Tool Works (ITW), Whirlpool (WHR), Ryder System (R), Forest Labs (FRX), Kimberly-Clark (KMB), McGraw Hill (MHFI) and AK Steel (AKS).

After the bell, reports are expected from Amgen (AMGN), Panera Bread (PNRA), Broadcom (BRCM), Apollo Group (APOL), Altera (R), Juniper Networks (R), Cree (CREE), Nabors Industries (R), STMicroelectronics (STM) and Ace (ACE).

Traders are also focusing on data, now that the government is releasing economic reports that were held up during the shutdown. The September jobs report will be released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time Tuesday.

Besides the jobs report, traders will be watching Apple's product announcement at 1 p.m. The company is expected to unveil new tablets.

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