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"As we approach third quarter earnings season, the ratio of negative-to-positive guidance remains elevated, despite being lower than last quarter, as companies continue to reduce analyst expectations," Adam Parker, managing director at Morgan Stanley, said in a note to clients. "We would be surprised to see a rash of negative pre-releases next week. Nonetheless, estimates have further to fall."
The revisions scorecard so far looks pretty ominous.
Some 104 companies in the S&P 500 have reported guidance, with 65 negative, 23 positive and 16 in line with analyst expectations, according to S&P Capital IQ. That 2.9-to-1 ratio of negative surprises is above the 10-year average. The first third-quarter results to trickle in show 59 percent of the 17 companies beating estimates.
As for revenue, the picture is slightly better.
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Top-line growth for the stock market index is expected to be 4.8 percent after barely rising in the second quarter.
In sectors, S&P Capital IQ projects telecom to be the biggest gainer in EPS at 26.2 percent, while financials should lag with a drop of 2.7 percent. Consumer discretionary is expected to post a 20.6 percent revenue gain, while telecom, despite its big profit boost, is projected to show a revenue decline of 10.4 percent.
This will mark the first quarter that Alcoa will not constitute the traditional kickoff of earnings season. No longer a Dow component, Alcoa will make way for JPMorgan Chase to get things started Oct. 11.
"Common headwinds include a pickup in interest rates during the second half of the quarter, a resulting strengthening in the value of the U.S. dollar, an increase in oil prices following the flare up of tensions with Syria, as well as a weaker-than-expected increase in (second-quarter gross domestic product) as a result of the unresolved sequestration," Sam Stovall, S&P Capital IQ's chief equity strategist, said in a report.
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At the beginning of the year, analysts expected third-quarter earnings to grow 9.84 percent. The story was similar for the second quarter, when 8.9 percent EPS growth projections on Jan. 2 far outstripped the 4.87 percent reality.
Of course, the market has paid the lackluster earnings little attention.
At a time when full-year earnings growth is projected to be 6 percent, the S&P 500 has soared more than 18 percent. Investors have focused far more on whether the Federal Reserve is keeping the cheap-money spigot open than whether profits are keeping pace.
—By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him @JeffCoxCNBCcom on Twitter.