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Market Looks Ahead to Earnings

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With nothing major on the economic front, market action today will likely reflect the loss of momentum following Friday’s jobs surprise. But the overall tone should be a lot less negative than what we encountered on Monday as market participants look ahead to the start of the first quarter reporting season with Alcoa’s ((AA - Free Report) after the close today.

The economic docket is relatively on the lighter side this week, with the Fed’s Beige Book on Wednesday, Trade Deficit on Thursday, and CPI on Friday as the only major reports. Thursday’s Jobless Claims data could be important, as it will be the  first labor market reading after Friday’s non-farm payroll miss.

I don’t envision any sharp moves in the market in the coming days, though an air of tentativeness will likely prevail as the market sizes up the underlying momentum in the labor market and the odds of further Fed action.

Worries about Spain’s ability to control its deficit situation have revived following last week’s poor bond auction. This has helped reverse the downtrend in the country’s market interest rates, with benchmark government bond yields reaching their highest level of the year. Italian bond yields have started moving up in solidarity with Spain in recent days as well, though we must concede that interest rates for both countries remain below late last year’s dangerous levels. The situation in Spain may not have reached the Greek levels yet, but it is nevertheless a reminder to investors that Europe remains far from settled.

Alcoa’s results later today may not give us a good preview of first quarter results for the corporate sector as a whole. But we will see Google’s results on Thursday and J.P.Morgan ((JPM - Free Report)   and Wells Fargo’s (WFC - Free Report) on Friday. It will be interesting to see continuation of last quarter’s trend of positive trend in banks’ loan portfolios. These specific reports aside, I don’t envision any major negative surprises coming out of this reporting season given the fairly subdued expectations.

More so than growth rates and beats, the focus will be on guidance and outlook, as expectations for the coming quarters have not come down as much as they have for the first quarter. In fact, expectations for the first quarter are the lowest of any quarter this year, with growth expected to improve in the back half of the year.

While the domestic economic scene appears promising enough, it is far from clear at  this stage if it will prove to be enough to offset the unfavorable developments in Europe and China.

Bottom line: while I don’t expect any major negative surprises from the reporting season, it may help in better anchoring expectations for the remainder of the year. And those estimate revisions will most likely be to the downside.

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