Some high-profile earnings misses soured sentiment ahead of Friday's reports from two big Dow Jones Industrial Average stocks — McDonald's and General Electric.
Both multinationals, expected to report before the bell, have exposure to the fallout from Europe's sluggish economies and China's slowdown.
Stocks were only slightly lower Thursday, even with the bizarre midday release of Google earnings, showing a big earnings miss. Google stock lost 8 percent, and its steep decline after the accidental release of its earnings by an R.R. Donnelly unit weighed on the Nasdaq and S&P 500. The Dow was down just eight at 13,548. Nasdaq lost a full percent, or 31 points to 3072, and the S&P 500 fell three points to 1457. Google intended to report earnings after the bell, ahead of its 4:30 p.m. ET conference call. R.R. Donelly blamed the early release on "human error."
"It seems as though Google had become the new flavor of the day, and as a result, if people were buying it as the flavor of the day, they're going to launch out of it just as quickly as they came to it," said Mark Luschini, Janney Montgomery chief investment strategist. He said investors were buying into it because of caution about Apple's latest iPhone release and fears the new iPad mini could cannibalize other Apple product sales. Facebook and other internet stocks fell in sympathy with Google.
But after the closing bell, more misses came, from Microsoft, and Advanced Micro Devices, which had previously warned it would do worse than expected. Chipotle, a darling of momentum traders, also missed, and its stock was crushed in the after-hours session. The stock, already well off its year high of $442, lost as much as 12.5 percent in the after-hours session, dipping below $250. Chipotle said same store sales growth was trending down in October. It also said food costs are rising, and it is considering raising prices next year.
"Google's down, Chipotle's down ... a lot of the sort of high flying stocks that people were hiding in, or owning, are not doing well," said Steve Massocca of Wedbush Securities. "It's not good for the market. There's been this fear for five earnings seasons that earnings would be poor. For the first time, as predicted, it's actually happening."
Stocks are still up on the week with the S&P up two percent, and just below its 2012 closing high of 1,464. "I think you have incredibly stimulative monetary policy. That's going to act as a floatation device. That's going to counteract some of this," said Massocca.
Besides GE and McDonald's, early morning earnings are expected from Schlumberger, Honeywell, Ingersoll Rand, Baker Hughes, Kansas City Southern, Air Products, and Parker-Hannifin.
Earnings to Watch
Friday's sole economic report is September existing home sales, at 10 a.m. ET. Housing data have been brighter lately, and is one part of the economy that has been consistently showing positive surprises. The existing home sales are expected to be down 1.5 percent at 4.75 million.
"I think it's going to be overshadowed by earnings news," said Massocca. "If it's hugely better then it will obviously have an impact, but I think people are going to be more concerned about some of these big bellwethers missing.
Goldman Sachs economists said in a note Thursday that housing has become a headwind for gross domestic product. But they also noted that it will remain less important from a macroeconomic perspective than it had been in prior cycles.
They said housing seems to be adding about a quarter of a percent to growth now and that could rise to a half percent in 2013. "These numbers are equivalent to a move from a depressed housing market to a "normal expansion" as we defined it late last year, although they still fall well short of a 'boom,'" they wrote.
—By CNBC's Patti Domm; Follow Her on Twitter @pattidomm
Questions? Comments? Email us at email@example.com