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Spooking investors: Why this earnings season is like Halloween

Trick or treat! When you think about it, corporate earnings season is similar to that children's favorite, Halloween.

Expectations usually run high, you are all dressed up and ready to go, but you never know if the door you are knocking on will yield a delicious surprise or be a complete let-down as the candy is either from last year or there's none left.

So far the haul for investors (at least stateside) has been mixed.

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We have witnessed U.S. banks reporting strong earnings, buoyed in part by bond trading in the aftermath of Brexit.

But apart from the banks and the usual tech darlings, Richard Saldanha, Global Equities Fund Manager at Aviva Investors points out in a analysts note that we have seen a raft of profit warnings from industrials including Honeywell, Dover Corp, PPG that are "highlighting broad based weakness in manufacturing economy."

With the energy sector still depressing overall S&P earnings -- despite the recovery in oil prices -- analysts agree we will have to wait a little longer to see strong bottom-line growth returning to US and European companies.

Indeed, S&P Global Market Intelligence data, reported in the Financial Times, predicted a profit growth of just 0.63 percent for U.S. companies for this quarter.

As Saldanha states, the expectation is for a "return to growth in Q4, and expectations for double-digit earnings growth in 2017 on both sides of Atlantic."

So is that a clear buy signal?


Not necessarily. Saldanha adds: "The problem you have right now is that equity valuations (particularly in the U.S.) don't leave much room for disappointment (i.e earnings growth is getting priced in) so for markets to push higher from here essentially we need to see evidence of earnings coming through (i.e it's a show-me quarter)."

Peter Garnry, Head of Equity Strategy at Saxo Bank is equally cautious: " We are slightly bullish on equities, but worried about valuations because it makes equities vulnerable to shocks," he wrote in a note.

He adds the Q3 earnings season is important as "analysts are expecting 38 percent and 20 percent EPS (earnings per share) growth in MSCI World and S&P 500 respectively over the next 12 months - driven by lower base effects from USD and oil prices", but he thinks it "still seems like an elevated target". Against this backdrop, Garnry argues "equities are not particularly cheap even on a strong EPS (earnings per share) comeback.

And some think the candy - sorry - earnings investors are getting on this side of the pond are not so sweet to begin with.

Goldman Sachs' European Equity strategy team wrote this month: "European profits have not recovered since the global financial crisis, neither in terms of level nor pace. Earnings estimates have been revised down by 11 percent since the beginning of the year, which is the largest revision the market has seen since 2009, questioning the credibility of earnings estimates."

The team says the underlying reason for this is the sector composition of the Stoxx Europe 600 in which financials and energy are heavily overweighted in relation to their actual economic significance. Second, buybacks have not given European stocks as much of a tailwind as they have done for their U.S. peers. And third, it is deflationary forces in the stock market.

Bottom line, it seems if you want to avoid a spooky surprise this Halloween, you may not want to bet on earnings to be the catalyst to drive equities higher. Alternatively you can manage your expectations for returns, whether it is your own in the stock markets or your kids' when it comes to Halloween. They might learn a lesson they can use later in life.

Carolin Roth is anchor for Street Signs as well as covering the Swiss market for CNBC. You can follow her on Twitter @CarolinCNBC.

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