CEOs are again warning about slower global growth, particularly in Europe and China, and the question is whether this means the stock market is headed for another December-like tumble.
Not so fast. Earnings may not be as bad as many fear.
Federal Express, one of the few companies with a February-ending quarter, has elicited particular concern, as it has lowered guidance for a second time in a row. The Street was well aware of the global economic slowdown and weakness in China, the main issues cited by management. Indeed, Federal Express' stock dropped 30 percent in the fourth quarter to reflect those concerns. It has staged a modest recovery since then but is still down 25 percent from the start of the fourth quarter.
Bulls that had been hopeful that Federal Express would not again lower full year guidance, or that the cut would be modest, were disappointed. The company's guidance for full year earnings was cut about 8 percent in December, and was again cut about 3 percent on Tuesday.
Are we in for a tidal wave of earnings disappointments and even lower guidance when earnings season ramps up in a few weeks?
Maybe, but the odds are against it.
Word of a slowing Europe and China sent analysts into a panic in December and January. They aggressively slashed earnings expectations for the first and second quarter. "They may have gone too far," Nick Raich at Earnings Scout told CNBC.
At the start of the year, first quarter earnings for the S&P 500 were expected to be up 5.3 percent, but by the middle of February the estimates had turned negative. Since then the rate of decline has slowed, and in the last week it has settled. The expectation is that first quarter earnings will be down 1.6 percent, according to data by Refinitiv.