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Remember the earnings season?

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for
James Brey | E+ | Getty Images

With markets transfixed by the U.S. government shutdown, the start of earnings season has gone largely unnoticed.

"I don't think people are going to watch earnings season for the next couple days," Jim Iuorio, managing director of futures brokerage TJM Institutional Services, told CNBC.

"What's in the future is much more scary - or promising if they can figure something out in Washington - than what's happening in earnings. I think people are going to figure it as old news," he added.

(Read more: Earnings Central)

"[Earnings are] important. I just think there are things that overshadow it. "

But earnings may become the elephant in the room for stocks.

"One of the reasons earnings could take on more significance this time than in the past is that not that many are focused on it," said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management, which has $334 billion under management.

"We're going to have better than expected earnings results for the quarter. Now, not dramatically so, but maybe enough to really give a lift to the markets," Paulsen told CNBC.

What matters more: D.C. or earnings

(Read more: Wall Street analysts more upbeat on overseas earnings: BofA)

"This is the first quarter in a while where we had so many parts of the globe in net growth," he said. "None of them are growing fast, but a lot of them are at least growing at the same time. In the U.S., we had both housing and manufacturing growing at the same time. We might see a little better top line results relative to expectations."

But while earnings might beat analysts' expectations, not everyone thinks that'll mean much.

"Consensus has a way of reverse engineering a positive surprise by cutting forecasts," said Daniel Needham, chief investment officer at Morningstar in Australia. "Companies will beat the revised down 'gamed numbers.'"

(Read more: Corporate profit outlook is weak and getting weaker)

He expects the market will focus on the "beat," rather than the quality of the earnings.

Alcoa, which kicked off the U.S. earnings season Tuesday, may be a case in point. The aluminum maker, which was removed from the Dow Jones Industrial Average last month, reported earnings and revenue that beat analysts' estimates.

It swung to a net profit of $24 million from a year-earlier loss of $143 million, but its revenue slipped by 1.0 percent from a year earlier.

Earnings performance is likely to vary by region, Needham said. He expects Japan will have another strong quarter with expanding margins, but he anticipates disappointment from the U.S., with modest revenue growth. After its growth pick up, Europe is likely to be "interesting," he said.

(Read more: Biggest gap in 25 years between US and Europe earnings)

Barclays believes this quarter's results will benefit from an easy comparison with the year-earlier period.

"Given decidedly weak third quarter 2012 results, which we believe will prove to be the low point for mid-cycle post crisis earnings growth at roughly zero percent, year-on-year comparisons should be the easiest since 2010," said Barry Knapp, managing director at Barclays Capital, said in a note.

"With global growth indicators improving through the quarter, analyst estimates lagging the uptick, and the technical uplift during the first few weeks of earnings season, we believe that third quarter earnings should be a modest positive for stocks, "he said, but added "we continue to think that analysts' forward expectations remain too optimistic and we expect the 'beat and lower' trend to continue."

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter

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