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Fed debate and earnings-palooza could steer stocks Thursday

Thursday looms large as the busiest day of the earnings season, with pharma, consumer products, big oil, financials and autos reporting before the market opens.

Heavy hitters — Amazon.com and Alphabet — are among those reporting after the closing bell. Facebook joined the high-profile winners of the quarter, rising 6.5 percent after Wednesday's close on stronger revenues.

The market will also keep the debate going on when the Fed will hike rates again, after it provided no clues in its post-meeting statement Wednesday. It did, however, upgrade its view on the economy, and some Fed watchers now see a possible opening for a hike in September. Others, however, are sticking to the view that December is more likely.

Wall Street, gloomy dark
Timothy Clary | AFP | Getty Images

There are a few economic reports Thursday including weekly jobless claims and international trade at 8:30 a.m. EDT. Housing vacancies are at 10 a.m. and the Treasury holds a seven-year note auction at 1 p.m.

But the more interesting data this week is the first look at second-quarter GDP, expected to show growth at 2.6 percent in the second quarter, according to the CNBC/Moody's Analytics Rapid Update.

DoubleLine CEO Jeff Gundlach told CNBC that report could set the tone for the September Fed meeting.

"If real GDP comes in at 3.5 percent or better, they probably will" hike in September, he said. The Fed "cracked the door open today, but that GDP result would throw it open."

Stocks closed mixed after the Fed's afternoon announcement, with the S&P 500 off 2 at 2,166. But bonds caught a bid, particularly at the long end, resulting in a curve flattening. The 30-year bond yield was at its low of the day at about 2.21 percent, in late afternoon.

"[The] long bond continues to want the Fed to tighten. Been that way for two years," said Gundlach.

As for earnings, by Wednesday morning, 72 percent of the S&P 500 companies reporting so far had beaten earnings estimates and 56 percent topped revenue forecasts, according to Thomson Reuters. So far, earnings are down 3 percent year over year.

This is the quarter where strategists expect to see earnings turn, after more than a year of an earnings recession. Profits are still expected to decline for the second quarter, but there are hopeful signs that the next quarter could be positive. On Thursday, 65 S&P companies report, marking the halfway point of the earnings season.

"We're not springing back. We're grinding back," said Julian Emanuel, equity and derivatives strategist at UBS.

Among the companies reporting early in the day are Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Hershey, Colgate-Palmolive, MasterCard, Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips, TransCanada, Beazer Homes, Ford, and Volkswagen. CBS, FirstEnergy, Aflac, Western Digital, Hartford Financial, VeriSign, HealthSouth, Eldorado Gold, Eversource Energy and Expedia report after the close.

"Earnings are coming in better than expected, modestly better than expected, but to us the most hopeful thing we've seen thus far is that revenue has, in many cases, surprised positive," said Emanuel.

Emanuel said among concerns are whether there could be negative impacts from oil's recent decline or the rise in the dollar — two factors that affected earnings in prior quarters. He said oil's move to $50 in the spring helped spur some drillers to restart production. West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell 2.3 percent to $41.92 per barrel Wednesday after government data showed a surprise build in oil inventories.

Oil has fallen, not only on global oversupply of crude, but now also on a glut of refined product. Analysts expect oil to bottom sometime this summer or fall, and blame the decline in part on the anticipated drop in demand from refineries when runs decline this fall due to maintenance season.

"We do not see in the decline any sign of insipient economic weakness," Emanuel said.