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Stock market looks to earnings as possible lifeline

With the U.S. stock market in an extended funk, earnings offer at least a temporary escape route.

"The earnings season represents the first potential stop in this downward trend," said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Boston Private Wealth.

Recent sessions are "indicative of the market going forward this year, it's a volatile, extremely nervous market. What's going to turn it around? Earnings have the potential, but that's somewhat questionable at this point," Pavlik said.

Wall Street is now looking for S&P 500 earnings to grow about 1 percent in the fourth quarter, on a year-over-year basis.

Take energy out of the equation, and that expected growth comes to about 4 percent.

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"Earnings will give us some good bumps, so to speak, but the No.1 thing we need to see for any prolonged stability in the market is for crude oil to trade in a range for two to three weeks," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade.

In tallying up the results of the 26 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported fourth-quarter 2014 results so far, Nick Raich, CEO of the Earnings Scout, finds it to be the best start to any earnings season in over three years.

Of those 26 companies, just two—FedEx and Family Dollar Stores—came up short of earnings-per-share expectations, Raich calculates.

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That said, not a single energy company has reported thus far, and the sector "could easily see double-digit declines in 4Q 2014 earnings. So, overall numbers will be coming down in the weeks ahead. However, results ex-energy should remain very good this quarter," Raich said.