Airgas Is the Earnings Barometer Today

Earnings and guidance: What's up? First Federal Express, then Caterpillar with disappointing sales, then Actuant a maker of industrial products worldwide, took numbers down, then Oracle after the bell.

Today it's Airgas, the biggest supplier of industrial gases, which provided an update on organic sales growth for the quarter, calling it "disappointing" at negative 2 percent for the month of February. Sales in March have not improved over February, so the company is warning they miss the low end of their earnings guidance. Importantly, ARG is an entirely U.S.-based company, so no excuses about weakness in Europe or China.

The good news is that the bar is low: expectations for Q1 are for earnings growth of only about one percent year over year.

Regardless: what's priced into the market is that the economy is improving and earnings will get better.

Still, the commentary from the companies are clearly disappointing in the last 24 hours. These are bellweather companies, and it plays into the hands of those who claim that the Fed has been the big help to stocks. No argument there, but there's an additional point: corporations are now super-efficient and are looking microscopically at costs (look at what Fed Ex said!), but somewhere we have to find organic growth. That will be tough with 1 to 2 percent GDP growth.

I think for the moment traders will give the market the benefit of the doubt. But this is troubling.


1) Global markets mostly down, the standout is Japan, where the Nikkei is up another 1.3 percent to a 5-year high, as Haruhiko Kuroda began his first day as the new head of the Bank of Japan.

European stocks mostly lower on soft regional manufacturing data.

The ECB statement that they will only provide Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) to Cyprus through Monday, unless a bailout deal is reached, is also likely weighing on stocks.

(Watch: Report from Cyprus: ATM Lines Grow, Worries Mount )

Three alternatives are possible with Cyprus:

a) With the Russian unlikely to grant a loan sufficiently large to cover the roughly 7 billion euro hole they need to fill, the Cypriots will be forced to return to a deposit tax on those with deposits over 100,000 euros, likely in the 15 percent range;

b) a more complicated deal involving some deposit tax coupled with an offer of money in exchange for future gas revenues.

c) Cypriot banks default and Cyprus leaves the eurozone.

No matter what happens, there will be capital flight and it's possible Cyprus' offshore bank haven model may be effectively destroyed.

Longer term, this might be another one of those watershed moments, an indication of what is to come for the eurozone, i.e. more private sector involvement, more taxes of one kind or another. Call it Private Sector Involvement (PSI), call it "bail-ins", call it whatever you want, but locals are going to pay an increasing share of the debt overhang problem in Europe, taking its place alongside debt restructurings, Troika bailouts, and ECB liquidity injections.

2) Big week for IPOs continue: Aviv REIT (AVIV) and Enanta Pharmaceuticals (ENTA) - are set to make their trade debuts today. AVIV will trade on the NYSE, priced 13.2 million shares at $20 each…the high end of its $18-$20 price talk. The company owns mostly nursing facilities. ENTA will trade at the NASDAQ, priced four million shares at $14 apiece, at the low end of the $14-$16 range.

Haven't had an IPO REIT since Silver Bay in December. By the way, AVIV said they would be projecting a 7 percent dividend yield, if came at $20, that would be a $0.35 a quarter yield.

By CNBC's Bob Pisani

  • Bob Pisani

    A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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