Today's late day rally doesn't make me feel better

Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

After three days off, the S&P 500 opened up 11 points this morning and promptly went...straight down. I mean straight down, down 18 points in less than 20 minutes.

That's a lot for 20 minutes; the S&P will normally swing in a 12 to 15 point range over the course of a whole trading session.

True, we did drift back up late in the day, but the lack of buying interest is troubling.

There are several macro issues that are weighing on the markets:

1) Uncertainty on what the European Central Bank will be doing this week with its quantitative easing program;

2) Continuing blowback from the Swiss National Bank decision;

3) The Greek elections this Sunday;

4) The turmoil in Russia/Ukraine starting to percolate again;

5) A possible coup in Yemen;

6) General worries on deflation.

But the biggest problem for the markets is that earnings are coming down unusually fast, for both Q4 and, more importantly, for Q1.

For Q4, earnings are expected to be up only 4.2 percent for the S&P 500, well below the 6.6 percent gain expected on December 1, according to S&P Capital IQ.

For the first quarter, the decline is even more precipitous: up only 3 percent, a big decline from the 8.6 percent expected on December 1.

As I always point out, it is typical for earnings to come down somewhat going into earnings season, but these are unusually sharp declines.

Most of the decline is in energy and materials. The decline in energy is truly precipitous; Q1 earnings estimates are 48 percent below that of Q1 2014.

That's not a typo: 48 percent lower. You can see this with Halliburton and Baker Hughes, both of which reported decent earnings but gave bleak guidance.

What will help equities? There are still plenty who believe in TINA: There Is No Alternative (to stocks). Global slowdown or not, plenty still believe there is no future in bonds. That's a likely reason stocks (and bond yields) have drifted higher late in the day.

A few sturdy headlines on U.S. economic news will likely be a help. And getting out of January! Hey, January was down last year, and we were still up.

  • Bob Pisani

    A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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