Careful: Earnings are turning negative

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

I know I sound like a broken record on this, but the deteriorating earnings picture is really worth a look. On Thursday, I noted that there is a good chance that overall earnings growth for the S&P 500 will go negative for the first time since 2009.3

But the numbers for the first part of the year are already flashing warning signals. First-quarter earnings for 2015 are now below 2014's and second-quarter 2015 earnings are also negative compared to 2014.

S&P 500 earnings (estimates):
First quarter 2015: $27.21
First Quarter 2014: $27.99
Second quarter 2015: $29.57
Second quarter 2014: $29.77
Source: FactSet

Elsewhere, Gap reported earnings and revenues roughly in-line with expectations, but in introducing 2015 guidance of $2.75-$2.80, while analysts estimate $2.92, provided unusually explicit information about the effect of foreign currency and the West Coast port disruption.

Gap's 2015 guidance has taken a 16-cent impact on foreign currency fluctuations and a 13-cent impact on delayed merchandise receipts at West Coast ports.

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Fourth-quarter earnings have been great, as two-thirds have beat expectations, and overall earnings have risen 12 percent year-over-year, according to RetailMetrics.

Nevertheless, the guidance has been very conservative—below analyst expectations in almost every case. This is not unusual when companies first introduce guidance for the year—analysts are usually too optimistic. However, companies were fairly optimistic in their fourth-quarter commentary, and now suddenly they've turned more cautious.

That's why the Gap giving a shout out to foreign currency and the West Coast port strike is significant.

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