Something rare and bad is happening to the market's earnings

No matter how you slice it, stocks have a serious earnings problem to contend with.

According to FactSet, analysts collectively expect S&P 500 companies' third-quarter earnings to show a roughly 2 percent drop from the third quarter of 2015. This, according to FactSet, would represent the sixth straight quarter of year-over-year earnings declines, for the first such streak going back to the third quarter of 2008, which is when the company started collecting such data.

S&P Dow Jones Indices computes earnings numbers a bit differently than FactSet; according to this set of data, analysts collectively expect to see an earnings boost rather than a drop reported for Q3. Yet by S&P's data, reported earnings have been falling since the fourth quarter of 2014, with the possible exception of this year's Q2.

The numbers are a bit different, but the conclusions drawn are similar.

"We are paying a nice number for forward earnings, and if those numbers don't come through ... those multiples have nothing to fall back on," Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices, told CNBC in an interview Wednesday.

This "increases the stakes on Q3," Silverblatt said. "We are paying a premium, and we need to show growth no matter where you go in the third quarter."

"We still think earnings expectations are a little stretched," Gina Sanchez of Chantico Global said Tuesday on CNBC's "Trading Nation." "Now depending on the outlook, we could grow into that, but we'd have to see some pretty serious growth to grow into the expectations that we have."

"I do think the market is well ahead of itself," she concluded.

Even chart watchers are starting to notice that something is a bit off about the market's earnings expectations.

"The thinking behind technical analysis is that price discounts everything — in this case it's discounting higher earnings, which is somewhat counterintuitive" based on the actual earnings picture, Evercore ISI technical analyst Rich Ross said Tuesday on "Trading Nation."

Ross sees this as just one among a bevy of reasons to worry about the market here.

"An election, a stronger dollar, higher yields and weaker earnings — that's not a great backdrop for a bull market that's over 7 ½ years old."


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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.

Sara Eisen

Sara Eisen joined CNBC in December 2013 as a correspondent, focusing on the global consumer. She is co-anchor of the 10AM ET hour of CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" (M-F, 9AM-11AM ET), broadcast from Post 9 at the New York Stock Exchange.

In March 2018, Eisen was named co-anchor of CNBC's "Power Lunch" (M-F, 1PM-3PM ET), which broadcasts from CNBC Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

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