Markets Keep Rallying, Companies Brace for Tough Q3

U.S. companies are bracing for what could be a rough earnings season next quarter, with Wall Street analysts forecasting the first period since 2009 where quarterly profits are likely to decline, household-name companies already warning of the coming bottom-line weakness and pessimistic analysts noting the current stock market rally doesn't fully reflect what is happening.

A report by S&P Capital IQ Monday noted analysts at that market intelligence firm expected the composite earnings of all component companies in the S&P 500 Index to drop by 1.87 percent. A consensus forecast of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expects an even steeping drop, of 2.22 percent.

The most significant laggards in the earnings decline, according to S&P, will be companies in the energy and basic materials sectors, where earnings are expected to be off by nearly a fifth from prior-year results. The health care sector, which has been a paragon of growth throughout the recession, is also expected to take a dip of some 4.47 percent in earnings, S&P estimates.

Despite a general improvement in many economic indicators relative to the weakness seen in the second quarter, corporations were still rather bearish in second-quarter press releases and calls, S&P analysts wrote in a report out last Thursday.

Indeed, every day seems to bring new reports of companies lowering their expectations. Both FedEx Corporation (NYSE:FDX) and Intel Corporation (Nasdaq:INTC), considered bellwethers of the economy, trading near 2012 lows after lowering their third-quarter earnings outlook.

A lot of the profit gain you had in the last few years was a bounce from the recession and a result of very aggressive cost-cutting, Ethan Harris, chief United States economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told the New York Times. Those factors are going to be very hard to replicate.

The dampened outlook for company earnings, a fundamental aspect of the valuation assigned to shares in the stock market, stands in stark contrast to the recent rally in U.S. equities.

At least one market expert is noting that probably has to do with the fact stocks are responding to a sea of liquidity provided by the world's central banks, and not fundamentals.

Reassurance from central bankers is no doubt driving the current stock market rally, which has little to do with earnings results, S&P said in its report.

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