The sweet spot of the earnings cycle is near

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
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Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

I've noted that earnings expectations for both Q4 2014 and Q1 2015 have been coming down for weeks, particularly in energy and to a lesser extent in financials, as some of the bigger companies came in light. While this is normal, the extent of the downward revisions has been much steeper than normal. That is the main reason stocks have been off to a rocky start.

This is now starting to change as we enter the heart of earnings season.

My bet is that Thursday was the low point, and it was pretty low. On Dec. 31, the earnings growth rate was 1.7 percent. On Thursday, it was expecting earnings growth of only 0.1 percent, according to Factset.

Yuck. If that holds, it would be the worst quarter for earnings growth since Q3 2012, when we had a year-over-year decline of 1 percent.

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But that is starting to turn around. As of this morning, the S&P 500 is expecting growth of 0.25 percent year over year.

Why? Because even though those that miss estimates get a lot of attention, on average 70 percent of companies beat estimates. And now that 88 companies have reported, we are starting to see that come out.

We are also getting a more diverse group of companies reporting, particularly consumer and industrial companies. Starbucks, for example, was terrific. General Electric beat modestly, as did Honeywell.

Still, the results have been choppy. McDonald's was a disappointment, as was the warning from UPS. The delivery and logistics comapny lowered fourth quarter results, but it was due to higher-than-expected expenses and currency headwinds. UPS gets about 25 percent of its revenues overseas.

My bet is that when the dust settles, the S&P 500 will see growth of roughly 3 to 3.5 percent in Q4.

Elsewhere, European bourses are up 1 to 2 percent this morning (Greece up 6 percent), and bond yields are again lower. Volumes are heavy. Germany is at an historic high, while France is at a six-year high. Here's where we stand in Europe.

Europe this month:

  • Germany: up 8.5 percent
  • France: up 8.5 percent
  • Spain: up 3.5 percent

Of course, this is priced in euros. If you priced in dollars, it would be a different story. That's why the hottest exchange traded funds are currency hedged ETFs, particularly the WisdomTree Europe Hedged Equity Fund. It took in $5 billion last year and is still taking on assets.

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The difference between hedged and unhedged Europe was 12 percent last year! This follows on the phenomenal success of the WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity ETF, which hedges out the yen and now has $12 billion in assets.

For everyone who keeps asking me why Europe is up, I have a simple question: Does anyone doubt that quantitative easing had a positive effect on U.S. stocks? Forget whether you think QE is right or wrong. We all know it had some kind of beneficial impact. Why should this not be the case with Europe? It's certainly true that the decline in the euro is a problem for U.S. exporters, but that's a different issue.


The first tech IPO of the year priced at a premium. Box sold 12.5 million shares at $14, above the price talk of $11 to $13.

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The good news is a rather torrid sales pace: 70 percent in the third quarter of 2014. But that torrid pace is likely to slow to 45 percent or so in 2015 and perhaps 35 percent in 2016. The bad news is the company doesn't make money and management has stated it does not plan to for some time.

Still, two factors should afford a price pop. First, enterprise software is a hot space. Second, it's a relatively small float. If you take out the 1.2 million shares (10 percent of the IPO) Coatue Management is buying, there are only a little more than 11 million shares available.

  • 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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