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Stocks could stay stalled in a range even if the next blast of earnings news is positive.
Thursday will be the biggest day of the reporting season, with dozens of earnings reports. Deutsche Bank, Ford, Colgate-Palmolive and Bristol-Myers Squibb are among those reporting in the morning while Alphabet and Amazon.com report after the closing bell.
"The market is waiting for some kind of catalyst. Earnings are providing that on the aggregate level," said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA. But he said the stock market is waiting for an end to the uncertainty around the presidential election and could be hemmed in by that concern, as well as the pending Fed rate hike.
"It's like walking down the street in the winter time. There are going to be a couple of ice patches that cause us to slip, but in general we're still going to work our way higher through the end of the year," he said. "I think we're going to have to leap frog our concerns. The first being earnings, then the election and the third, the prospect of higher rates."
According to Thomson Reuters, 74 percent of S&P 500 companies have beat earnings per share estimates and third-quarter profits are now expected to grow at a pace of 2.2 percent. Prior to the reporting period, analysts had expected earnings to be negative.
The fell 3 to 2,139 Wednesday, while the Dow was up 30 at 18,199. The big mover was Nasdaq, off 33 at 5,250, as Apple lost 2.3 percent.
Analysts say the market expects Democrat Hillary Clinton to win and would be comfortable with a Democrat in the White House as long as the Democrats don't sweep both Houses of Congress.
"Since World War II, if the incumbent person or party gets re-elected, the market has risen an average of 1.7 percent and is up 70 percent of the time in the final two months of the year," Stovall said. If the incumbent is replaced, the market has risen an average 75 percent of the time and has a better average gain of about 2.3 percent.
"Either way, it's up by about 2 percent and rises between 70 and 75 percent of the time. The market would sell off if something unexpected happened," said Stovall. The unexpected could be a Democratic sweep or a victory by Republican Donald Trump.
"Either way, the market is saying I may not like who won but now the uncertainty is over," said Stovall.
John Kosar, chief market strategist with Asbury Research said he doesn't expect much out of the market before the election, but he says it could sell off right after the election.
"With the market this complacent and the election a week and a half away, I think we're steady to higher. Once the election is over, that's when I think we'll get a pullback. It might be a sigh of relief. People bought the rumor of Hillary getting elected and could sell the fact of it. From there my intermediate outlook is bullish. I think we're 12 to 15 percent higher by end of Q1, end of Q2 next year," he said.
Economic reports Thursday include jobless claims and durable goods, both at 8:30 a.m, EDT. Durable goods data will be important, especially since it is the final piece of input into third-quarter GDP before that report is released Friday morning. Economists expect a decline of 0.6 percent. Pending home sales are at 10 a.m. as are housing vacancies.
Thanks to the advance trade data Wednesday, GDP median tracking forecasts for third quarter increased to 3 percent, up 0.4 percentage points, according to CNBC/Moody's Analytics Rapid Update.
Early morning earnings reports are expected from Barclays, ConocoPhillips, Aetna, Blackstone, Celgene, CME Group, Nokia, Dr. Pepper Snapple, Raytheon, Air Products, Sirius XM Radio, Twitter, T. Rowe Price, CMS Energy, Alexion Pharma, Dow Chemical, UPS, Volkswagen, Brunswick, Sealed Air, GNC Holdings, Brunswick and Cabela's.