Third-Quarter Earnings Go Positive

Risk Is Back as Fund Managers Turn Bullish on Equities
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Third-quarter earnings go positive! Everyone has been screaming that third-quarter earnings will be negative, that earnings are deteriorating.

Today, third-quarter earnings have turned positive. With 69 companies in the S&P 500 index reporting, the third-quarter growth rate is 0.27 percent — the first time there has been positive estimates for the third-quarter since July 25, according to S&P Capital IQ.

How did that happen? Because the banks that have reported have beat expectations. Financial earnings are now expected to grow 19 percent year-over-year.

And what about the fourth quarter? Numbers have been coming down, but that is also reversing. On Oct. 4, earnings expectations for the fourth quarter were at 9.5 percent, but since then it's been going up ... today it is 10.2 percent ... trending up.

The story on the third quarter: Traders were expecting a drift down on guidance ... there was a concern companies would miss on even the lower bar. That is not happening. Of 69 companies reporting, 46 beat, 13 missed, 10 met expectation, so 67 percent of companies beat, that is above the 10-year average of 62 percent. On average, companies are beating by 7.8 percent.

So watch this: Bulls argue if we get a deal on the "fiscal cliff, " Europe continues to heal, China muddles along at 7.5 percent, then you can argue for a multiple expansion and perhaps even modest earnings growth of, say 5 to 7 percent.

In other words: Risk is to the upside.


1) Liftoff on housing: September housing starts at 872, 000 were well above expectations of 768, 000, the highest level since July 2008.

Data have been better recently: Industrial production , retail sales, consumer sentiment ... all better than expected in the last few days.

Still, Raymond James downgraded several builders today (Toll Brothers, Ryland Group, and MDC Holdings ), partly on valuation, partly noting that there are now skilled labor SHORTAGES in construction because so much of the labor's workforce have changed careers! They've got to be incentivized to come back. Another problem: The supply of developable lots in "sellable" locations is now "surprisingly scarce, " they say.

2) Rally in Europe continues . Spanish 10-year yields, at 5.55 percent, the lowest level since April, as Moody's affirmed its investment grade rating . Outlook was negative: Moody's made it clear that if Spain lost access to private markets for its funding it would be downgraded. In other words, Spain cannot just make a deal with the European Central Bank to have them buy all the bonds; the private markets must participate.

Italian 10-year yields, at 4.82 percent, at the lowest since March. Portuguese 10-year yields at 7.92 percent, also the lowest since March.

3) Waiting for the pullback that doesn't come. It's the oldest story of the year: Waiting for a "correction" or a "pullback" so investors can buy lower and catch up with the market, since many are underperforming.

Except the market is not cooperating — again. This latest "pullback" was especially shallow, with a decline of only three percent or so, and now we are back within less than one percent of a new multiyear high.

This failure to correct is not lost on the technicians. Lowry's, the oldest technical analysis service, send this note out this morning: "Any pullback, if it occurs, should be only a brief pause in what appears likely to be move to new bull market highs over the near term (i.e. before the end of next week)."

—By CNBC's Bob Pisani; Follow Him on Twitter @BobPisani

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