Of course, history strongly suggests that when the dust clears from the quarterly earnings season, the actual aggregate profit decline will be closer to 2 percent or 3 percent, and the reading ex-energy may well be positive.
However, that doesn't override the notion that the weakness, thought by many on Wall Street to be contained to the energy sector, has spread.
The contagion has confounded economists, who believed that by now low gasoline and heating oil prices would have resulted in a net positive to the economy. The current national average for a gallon of regular unleaded gas is now $1.996, a 41 percent decline over the past two years, according to the Energy Information Administration.
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"The magnitude and duration of the slump in oil prices has far exceeded what we originally expected and the longer it persists, the harder it is to argue that decline will ever be a net positive for the US economy," Steve Murphy, U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a note to clients. "As a net importer of oil, lower prices should have boosted real economic growth in the US. Instead, the hit to domestic investment has been unrelenting, while households still haven't spent any of their savings."
Indeed, spending has been sluggish while consumers have pocketed much of their gas savings. Saving as a percentage of disposable income was at a robust 5.2 percent while household debt grew just 1.5 percent in the third quarter, according to the most recent data from the government and the Federal Reserve.
The result from a corporate standpoint has been pressure on both profits, which had been growing at solid pace prior to the pullback in 2015, and revenues, which have remained weak throughout the recovery. S&P 500 sales are expected to decline 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter and 2.5 percent for the full year in 2015. Full-year earnings would fall 1.14 percent under current projections from S&P Capital IQ.
"Earlier last year it could be argued that households were reluctant to spend their gasoline savings if they thought it was a temporary windfall," Murphy said. "But the longer prices remain low, the harder it is to make that case."