Earnings: They keep getting better. Of 15 major companies reporting this morning, 13 beat earnings expectations, one (Delta Air Lines) matched, and only one (General Dynamics) missed.
More importantly, nine of the 15 raised 2012 estimates. But be careful here: Caterpillar, for example, raised its 2012 guidance to $9.50 from $9.25, but it beat first-quarter earnings estimates by $0.24. The company also noted business in China and Brazil was slowing.
You can thank Applefor helping today. Current expectations for first-quarter growth in the S&P 500 index is 6.3 percent, up from 4.9 percent yesterday and 0.95 percent a couple weeks ago.
Of the 188 companies that have reported so far in the S&P 500, 77 percent have beat. That is very high; the 10-year average is 62 percent.
What about second-quarter guidance? A tad on the negative side: 2.5 negative to positive; about 2:1 is average. But guidance is light (only 36 companies are forecasting), and it's clear that caution is the order of the day.
1) Dividend mania! Notice how many companies have been raising dividends recently: Dupont today, Parker Hannifin and Coach yesterday.
Of the 500 companies in the S&P 500, 150 (30 percent) have increased their dividends this year, the best since 2005, when 152 raised their dividends in the first four months.
Here's a weird stat: Technology is now the second-biggest dividend payer, paying 13.7 percent of all dividends. It's simply a myth that tech stocks don't pay dividends: 56 percent of tech stocks pay a dividend. The biggest dividend paying sector is consumer staples, which pays 14.7 percent of all dividends.
If Google decides to pay a dividend one day, the tech sector would be the biggest dividend payer. Strange, eh?
2) Ugh! Futures dropped a couple points as March durable goods were the latest disappointing numbers, well below expectations (down 4.2 percent). Even the numbers excluding transportation was weak at down 1.1 percent. Primary metals down 1.8 percent, machinery down 2.6 percent, computers down 1.8 percent, motor vehicles and parts up 0.1 percent.
3) Don't look at me: Can you imagine the pressure on European Central Bank President Mario Draghi now that Europe has rejected austerity? Now that Spain is on the radar for a rescue that no one can afford? "Now, the ball is entirely, squarely in the court of governments and banks," Draghi said.
But Draghi injected himself into the political sphere by saying Europe needed a "growth compact" in addition to a fiscal compact.
What I liked about Draghi's comments to the European Parliament's economic committee is his defense of "kick the can": "I think buying time is not a minor achievement."
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