US Markets

How to play weak Q2 earnings season: Analysts

Buy pullbacks but hedge: Pro

Negative revenue growth among companies will dog investors in the second and third quarters, but a few sectors could help stock pickers soar above otherwise mediocre results, S&P Capital IQ's global market intelligence chief said Monday.

Overall, S&P's Mike Thompson believes the second quarter will be flat at best and possibly negative for earnings growth.

"The troubling part is now we're starting up looking at the next quarter and you're looking at negative 4 percent growth," Thompson said on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "And what's really troubling I think is the revenue picture."

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S&P 500 earnings are set to post 3 percent growth, compared with expectations for a 3 percent decline, according to S&P Capital IQ. Of the 454 companies that reported earnings through last week, 68 percent had beaten profit estimates.

However, just 43 percent of those companies had exceeded revenue expectations.

"Already we're looking at negative 2 percent on the revenue side, and then in the third quarter it doesn't look much better," Thompson said.

Among the companies that Thompson expects to buck that trend are those that will benefit from lower oil prices. Five of the 10 stocks with the highest earnings-per-share growth rates are in the airline or auto space: Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, General Motors and Ford.

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On the revenue side, 70 percent of the companies that will turn in the best top line growth are in health care, Thompson said. S&P Capital IQ expects the top performers to be Vertex, Regeneron, Celgene, Gilead, Actavis, Perrigo and Mylan.

The firm expects the health care sector to return 11.5 percent overall.

Steven Rees, global head of equity strategy at JPMorgan Private Bank, also sees health care outperforming this year. "We love health care—a lot of M&A happening, great demographic trends, a lot of drugs coming to the pipelines—I think it's still very exciting to be there," he said on "Squawk Box."

While investors traditionally sell in May, they should take the opportunity this year to optimize their portfolios, he said.

"Make sure you've got the right exposure in the U.S. So think about owning health care. Think about owning technology. Think about owning financials for the expectation that rates will continue moving higher," he said. "I think there's a lot of great sectors to own in the U.S., but you have to be more selective here."

Rees also advised investors to buy the pullback in European stocks, saying he thinks equity markets across the Atlantic can grow 8 to 12 percent this year, compared with low single digits in for U.S. stocks.

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