By now, investors should know the routine when it comes to earnings: Wall Street analysts start off expecting big things then gradually cut their views. Companies eclipse what can be a dramatically lowered bar, giving everyone encouragement that profits are still healthy.
The third quarter of 2015, though, is presenting a somewhat different scenario.
Expected to decline about 5 percent heading into the season, corporate earnings are struggling to get over even those low estimates. Sales are falling, dollar strength is weighing even more heavily than expected, and the look ahead to the fourth quarter is getting progressively worse.
Sure, some 68 percent of the 148 S&P 500 companies that have reported so far topped estimates.
But the beats have been small in many instances. With some of the biggest companies across the finish line, the quarter is still tracking at a 4.4 percent decline, according to S&P Capital IQ, dimming hopes that the index will beat estimates by the usual 3 or 4 percentage points. Quarterly revenue also has fallen, by 1.6 percent.
Companies representing 29 percent of the index's $17.8 trillion total market cap have reported through Thursday morning.