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Earnings season could bring an ‘outside surprise’

Trading a tough earnings season

Investors are bracing for a bitter earnings season.

In a Tuesday note, Wells Fargo equity strategist Gina Martin Adams said that it is "likely to be the most challenging earnings season for U.S. companies since the 'Great Recession.'" Adams pointed out that analysts are predicting the worst quarter-over-quarter earnings decline since the fourth quarter of 2008.

But amid all the concern, one trader spies opportunity.

"Obviously there's a ton of concern ... but my view is that expectations have come down rapidly, and there's a clear understanding that we're looking at a real weak environment right now from an earnings perspective," said David Seaburg, head of equity sales trading at Cowen & Co.

"I think there could be an outside surprise that could carry this market higher, especially given that you have every central bank working to inflate asset prices."

Read More This sector may be your best bet ahead of earnings

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

Seaburg said that traders "need to stay long into earnings season," but not because he expects earnings to surprise. Rather, he anticipates that the market's multiple, or the number of dollars that investors pay for each dollar of earnings, will continue to rise.

Currently near 17, the S&P 500's price-to-earnings ratio has already risen substantially over the last four years, as investors pay more and more for stocks.

But from Seaburg's perspective, investors will continue to do so, because they don't have much of a choice.

"If you're an active manger, you're not going to change direction. You're going to follow that Fed … and watch the market continue to grind higher until something drastically changes."

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