Is the earnings recession finally over?
Today, Thomson Reuters reported that earnings for the S&P 500 Index are expected to grow 0.5 percent in the third quarter, which would end four consecutive quarters of negative growth. Revenues are also expected to grow 2.5 percent, which will end six consecutive quarters of negative revenue growth.
With only 14 percent of the S&P 500 reporting so far, this is shaping up to be a well above-average earnings season. Both the number of companies beating (80 percent) and the magnitude by which they are beating (7.3 percent) are both well above average, according to Thomson Reuters.
You can partly thank bank stocks. All the big banks — JPMorgan, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, PNC, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Comerica and Regions Financial — have beaten their top- and bottom-line estimates, in some cases by a substantial margin.
That's important, because financials are the second largest sector in the S&P 500, after technology. Financial earnings are now expected to be up 6.7 percent, well above the 1 percent gain expected on October 1st.
The question is, what about the rest of the market?
In Energy, we got an important report from Halliburton this morning, which surprised everyone with a 1-cent profit, well above the 6-cent loss expected.
This is important, because estimates for energy stocks were one of the only sectors under pressure since earnings season began. It's not clear if other oil service names will report similar results, but Halliburton made it clear that margins in North America had improved.
Beats like this will help change the tone around Energy. That's what Halliburton CEO Dave Lesar seems to be trying to do: change the tone.
He said that "as we look forward, we expect an increased commodity price to stimulate rig count growth ... things are getting better for us and our customers." He did remain cautious around fourth quarter customer activity due to holiday and seasonal weather-related down times—but you get the point.
The bottom line is that many in the oil business are expressing more confidence about oil floating in a $50-$60 range in 2017. That's a big positive for perceptions about earnings in the fourth quarter.
Which brings us back to the main question: can the outsize earnings and revenue growth continue with other sectors?
How about technology? Semiconductor equipment maker ASML Holdings reported a solid quarter. Intel had a strong beat, but guidance was disappointing. Still, that beat by Intel has moved up earnings expectations in that sector. Technology is now expected to see earnings growth of 5.7 percent, up from 4.9 percent before Intel reported.
And results appear to be improving for the biggest stock of all: Apple. Samsung's woes appear to be helping Apple: Earnings estimates have been rising for the biggest stock in the S&P 500. Apple reports next Tuesday.
The next big test will come later on Thursday and Friday, when a number of big industrials report: General Electric, Honeywell, Illinois Tool Works. Honeywell already warned, so that is certainly an issue.
GE, however, should report number modestly above the same period last year. They have a long history of beating estimates: They have beaten estimates in nine of the last 12 quarters.