Q3 earnings look the most dismal since financial crisis

With third-quarter earnings season winding down, the majority of reports have come in above estimates. However, in comparison to previous years, the results are looking pretty dismal.

Gina Martin Adams of Wells Fargo Securities wrote Thursday that with 90 percent of companies in the S&P 500 having reported, third-quarter earnings are projected to fall 1.5 percent compared to one year ago. This would mark the first quarterly year-over-year decline since 2009.

The biggest drags on earnings have been energy and materials. Indeed, if we exclude the energy sector, which saw a 58 percent year-over-year drop, earnings per share rose by 3.9 percent. However, that doesn't necessarily mean an earnings turnaround is ahead, as Martin Adams believes those sectors' problems are unlikely to abate anytime soon.

"Looking ahead, Q4 estimates now suggest another quarter of YOY EPS declines is likely, extending the so-called earnings recession to the end of the year," she said.

Read More Nasdaq 100 rally can be credited to just two stocks

For Larry McDonald, head of U.S. macro strategy at Societe Generale, the issue comes from financial engineering of results reports through tax inversions, buybacks and other methods meant to boost earnings. Now, McDonald said those strategies have been exhausted, which has taken a toll on quarterly earnings.

"It's generated a ton of earnings momentum, those earnings margins have been at record highs, but now ... we're at the bone," McDonald said Thursday on CNBC's "Trading Nation." "We're at the point where we're rolling over in terms of earnings, and the quality of earnings is getting worse because there's really not much left there."

And slowed earnings could be a big problem for stocks as the S&P 500 has stalled, technician Rich Ross of Evercore ISI said Thursday, also on "Trading Nation." That index is up about 1.5 percent this year, despite some volatile months that saw big swings for stocks.

Read MoreThe chart that says crude oil is going to $26

Looking at the charts, Ross said stocks may see a retest of the 150-week moving average in the next three to six months. A break below that would signal the end of the long-term bull market in stocks, he said.

"Keep in mind, very strong seasonality right now in November and December causes investors to look past the myriad of more telling macro concerns that are out there," Ross said, referring to a strong U.S. dollar and weak commodities prices. "Slow earnings are an issue when your chart is in stall speed ... at the tail end of a very old bull market here in need of some further correction."

Want to be a part of the Trading Nation? If you'd like to call into our live Wednesday show, email your name, number and a question to TradingNation@cnbc.com


Trades to Watch

Trader Bios


Trading Nation is a multimedia financial news program that shows investors and traders how to use the news of the day to their advantage. This is where experts from across the financial world – including macro strategists, technical analysts, stock-pickers, and traders who specialize in options, currencies, and fixed income – come together to find the best ways to capitalize on recent developments in the market. Trading Nation: Where headlines become opportunities.

Michael Santoli

Michael Santoli joined CNBC in October 2015 as a Senior Markets Commentator, based at the network's Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.  Santoli brings his extensive markets expertise to CNBC's Business Day programming, with a regular appearance on CNBC's Closing Bell (M-F, 3PM-5PM ET). In addition, he contributes to CNBC and CNBC PRO, writing regular articles and creating original digital videos.

Previously, Santoli was a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance, where he wrote analysis and commentary on the stock market, corporate news and the economy. He also appeared on Yahoo Finance video programs, where he offered insights on the most important business stories of the day, and was a regular contributor to CNBC and other networks.

Follow Michael Santoli on Twitter @michaelsantoli

Read more