A short-covering rally, but earnings a big worry

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Very strange day, since the futures were no indicator at all of the way we opened. We had one of the biggest opening rallies I have seen all year...S&P futures were at 2,044 at 8 a.m. ET, by noon we were over 2,070, with 3:1 advancing to declining stocks at the NYSE. Huh?

1) The big move up at the open suggests short covering, the "bad news is good news" crowd, as expectations for a rate hike get pushed further into 2015. The weaker dollar has been a big help for commodities and commodity stocks; we are back to $50 in West Texas Intermediate, which is that magic number that seems to make a lot of people more comfortable owning energy assets.

2) There was also fairly dovish comments from the New York Fed's William Dudley this morning.

3) Stocks moved up again at 10 a.m. ET on a stronger than expected ISM Services report, suggesting the March jobs print may be an anomaly. Remember the economy is 80 percent services, and the employment component also strong.

I know, stocks move up on "bad" jobs report news, than keep moving up on "good" ISM services news. Bottom line...don't give too much weight to pre-market trading!

Still, this does not address what I call the "growth-earnings problem," the fact that we are two percent from historic highs with earnings that look like this for the next two quarters:

S&P 500 Earnings:

Q115: -4.7%

Q215: -2.1%

Q315: +1.6%

Source: Factset

Yikes! Two quarters of negative growth, and third quarter looks like it's going negative as well.

Here's the problem: we need growth to support earnings. We can't get the kind of crummy economic data we got in February, because weak economic data means lower topline growth.

And that's what the Street is starting to expect! You think earnings growth is weak, take a look at revenue growth:

S&P 500 Revenue Growth:

Q115: -2.7%

Q215: -3.3%

Q315: -1.5%

Source: Factset

Yikes again! THREE quarters of negative revenue growth! And valuations are not cheap! One thing's for sure: it's going to be tougher to argue that the market deserves a higher multiple, say, 17 or 18 times forward earnings.

By definition, a higher multiple implies expectations of higher earnings growth. Not happening!

No, if the market is going to advance it has to find a way to improve topline.

That's why these numbers are so worrisome. Even with a dovish Fed, it suggests choppy, sideways action for 2015.

Which is exactly what we are seeing.

  • Bob Pisani

    A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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