World Economy

Wall Street Braces for Grim Q3 Earnings

Wall Street Braces for Grim Q3 EarningsWall Street Braces for Grim Q3 Earnings

Wall Street is bracing for a grim earnings season, with little improvement expected anytime soon.

Analysts have been cutting projections for the third quarter, which ends on Wednesday, and beyond. If the declining projections are realized, already costly stocks could become pricier and equity investors could become even more skittish.

Forecasts for third-quarter S&P 500 earnings now call for a 3.9% decline from a year ago, based on Reuters data, with half of the S&P sectors estimated to post lower profits thanks to falling oil prices, a strong US dollar and weak global demand.

Expectations for future quarters are falling as well. A rolling 12-month forward earnings per share forecast now stands near negative 2%, the lowest since late 2009, when it was down 10.1%, according to Reuters data.

That is further reason for stock investors to worry since market multiples are still above historic levels despite the recent sell-off. Investors are inclined to pay more for companies that are showing growth in earnings and revenue.

The weak forecasts have some strategists talking about an "earnings recession," meaning two quarterly profit declines in a row, as opposed to an economic recession, in which gross domestic product falls for two straight quarters.

"Earnings recessions aren't good things. I don't care what the state of the economy is or anything else," said Michael Mullaney, chief investment officer at Fiduciary Trust Co in Boston.

The S&P 500 is down about 9% from its May 21 closing high, dragged down by concern over the effect of slower Chinese growth on global demand and the uncertain interest rate outlook. The low earnings outlook adds another burden.

China's weaker demand outlook has also pressured commodity prices.

This week, Caterpillar slashed its 2015 revenue forecast and announced job cuts of up to 10,000, among many US industrial companies hit by the mining and energy downturn.

On the other hand, among early reporters for the third-quarter season, Nike shares hit a record high after it reported upbeat earnings late Thursday.

Negative outlooks from S&P 500 companies for the quarter outnumber positive ones by a ratio of 3.2 to 1, above the long-term average of 2.7 to 1, Reuters data showed.

"How can we drive the market higher when all of these signals aren't showing a lot of prosperity?" said Daniel Morgan, senior portfolio manager at Synovus Trust Company in Atlanta, Georgia, who cited earnings growth as one of the drivers of the market.