Why so serious, Corporate America?
The fourth quarter earnings cavalcade has arrived, with major companies like Google, IBM and Texas Instruments exceeding Wall Street's expectations. Still, many corporations are tempering their earnings beats with more than a dollop of caution about the outlook for 2013, which is barely 3 weeks old.
The pessimism underscores how, after four years of dark clouds stemming from the global financial pandemic, many executives are having a hard time buying into the idea of bluer skies. On Tuesday, the CEO of chemical company DuPont, Ellen Kullman, said the company was factoring in a "lower growth environment" despite the economic upturn.
(Read More: Economy Strong; 'Question Marks' Persist: DuPont CEO )
Yet investors certainly seem to be in a bullish mood, even if U.S. corporate chiefs are not. Major stock benchmarks are hovering near five year highs. Bespoke Investment Group pointed out in a research note that 398 of the stocks in the S&P 500 were trading at overbought levels. "This is an extreme reading, to say the least," the firm said.
(Read more: S&P 1,500: The Last Barrier Before a New Record ?)
In spite of the ebullient stock market, top U.S. executives are demonstrating little, if any, of the confidence that usually accompanies strong earnings reports and rallying share prices.