Take your pick. Third quarter earnings reporting season is either going to provide juice for stock market gains, or not.
There's a wider than usual divide on Wall Street over whether this quarter's earnings releases will be a boom or bust for stocks. The positive camp believes the earnings gains will be strong, and even better-than-expected, therefore outshining the rest of the news worrying the market. The negatives see gloom and expect weak forward guidance from companies, showing the sluggish economy is starting to hit profitability.
Alcoa's earnings release after the bell Tuesday marks the start of earnings season, as the first of the Dow 30 industrials to report and one of the 10 S&P 500 companies reporting this week.
Harris Private Bank CIO Jack Ablin said he expects the earnings news to help stocks, which he believes have seen their lows for the year. "I think they'll be better than what investors believe. Investors have written off analysts expectations and have written in a 20 percent decline in earnings for the next four quarters," Ablin said.
Earnings may also start to grab attention as investors await a European plan to recapitalize banks and provide remedies for the sovereign debt crisis. European officials are expected to develop a plan ahead of the G-20 meeting in early November, and news of agreement between France and Germany helped fuel Monday's strong stock market gains.
The Dow Monday rose 330 points, or nearly 3 percent to 11,433, for a gain of 7.3 percent since last Monday. The S&P 500 rose 3.4 percent to 1194, giving it an 8.7 percent gain in the last week. The euro jumped about 2 percent to 1.364, and the dollar wilted as investors loaded up on risk assets and dumped safety plays.
Besides Alcoa's report, Chevron gives an interim earnings report after the bell.
Analysts expect S&P operating earnings per share to rise about 13 percent from last year's third quarter. According to S&P Capital IQ, the energy and materials sectors are expected to show the best gains, while financials and utilities should show the smallest gains and even declines.
LPL Financial chief market strategist Jeffrey Kleintop sees the earnings season providing an outcome somewhere between the extreme opinions. "The truth is likely to be in the middle as earnings expectations are revised modestly lower and markets price in a less dire outlook for profits as results are reported and guidance on coming quarters is provided by corporate leaders," he wrote in a note. He points out that third quarter earnings estimates have been falling, and of the 127 S&P companies that preannounced, the ratio of negative to positives was 2.6, higher than the 9-year average of 2.3.
Kleintop says he watching sales growth this quarter as well as exposure to Europe and how companies are using, or not using, their cash.
Time will tell on the earnings season, and Kleintop warns it will take several weeks to see how the quarter is shaping up. "It is important to keep in mind that the companies that report early in the season are most often not the bellwethers they are commonly thought to be," he noted.
Some of the other big names reporting this week include Pepsico Wednesday and J.P. Morgan on Thursday.
What Else to Watch Tuesday
The Fed is NOT releasing the minutes of its last FOMC meeting At 2 p.m. ET Tuesday, as previously reported here. The Fed changed its last meeting to a two-day meeting, ending on Wednesday so the minutes release is now on Wednesday, not Tuesday.
The minutes could give some more clues as to its thinking on "operation twist." The Fed, after its September meeting, said it would swap the shorter duration Treasury securities in its portfolio for longer duration notes and bonds. It also may give more insight into what it would take for the Fed to pull the trigger on another quantitative easing program.
The NFIB small business survey is released at 7:30 a.m., and the Treasury auctions $32 billion in 3-year notes at 1 p.m.
The Senate may vote on a bill to impose sanctions on China for its currency practices, which are blamed for artificially depressing the yuan, making Chinese imports cheaper.
In Europe, Slovakia is the final country to vote on the European Financial Stability Facility, and Greece holds a 1 billion euro six-month bill auction. Italy also holds an auction and in France, trade unions have called a nationwide strike to protest austerity measures.
The Occupy Wall Street protesters may take their march Tuesday to the upper east side of Manhattan, home to some of the wealthiest New Yorkers, as their movement continues to gain momentum.
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