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April 23: Global Growth Concerns Resurface

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Global growth concerns are back in the spotlight today, with weaker than expected manufacturing surveys out of China and Germany. Partly offsetting these concerns are reassuring-looking earnings reports this morning from the likes of DuPont (DD), Coach (COH), and Travelers (TRV). The market will be keenly waiting for Apple’s (AAPL) quarterly report after the close today, even though few expect any fireworks from the iPhone maker in this release as expectations have been steadily coming down in recent weeks.

The HSBC Bank’s (HBC) April flash PMI for China came in lower than expected at 50.5 vs. expectations of 51.5 and the prior month’s 51.6 level. This follows the 2013 Q1 GDP miss a few days back, raising concerns that the Chinese economy may be losing steam all over again.

These China concerns have been at the core of the sell off the commodity complex that has kept investors on edge in recent days. The Caterpillar (CAT) bounce on Monday after the mining and construction equipment maker’s weak quarterly results largely reflected the market’s appreciation of the company’s ‘throwing in the towel’ on the global mining market and not a reflection of better growth prospects. Caterpillar had been holding hopes in recent quarters on that front and its current guidance is believed to be excessively conservative. The growth outlook issue was also spotlighted by the weak flash PMI reading for Germany by Markit, which dropped to 48.8 in April from March’s 50.6 reading.

Including this morning’s reports from DuPont, Coach and others, we now have Q1 results from 124 S&P 500 companies or 36.1% of the index’s total market capitalization. For the Finance and Technology sectors, the two largest in the index, we now have Q1 results from 55.7% and 48.7% of the sectors’ market capitalization, respectively.

Total earnings for these 124 companies are up +4.4% from the same period last year, with 69.4% beating earnings expectations. Revenues are up +3.9%, but only 38.7% of the companies coming ahead of top-line expectations. The growth rates and earnings ‘beat ratio’ is comparable to what these same 124 companies reported in 2012 Q4, though the revenue ‘beat ratio’ is materially weaker (38.7% vs. 62.1%). The composite growth rate for Q1, where we combine the results of the 124 companies that are out with the 376 still to come, is for ‘flat’ or ‘no growth’ in earnings on +0.4% higher revenues.

Q1 earnings aren’t that bad, particularly relative to pre-season expectations. But the issue is with respect to the earnings picture for the coming quarters, particularly the back half of 2013 and next year. The consensus expectation is for a strong rebound in the second half of the year after ‘flattish’ growth in the first half. But given the global growth questions as spotlighted by the recent commodity price sell-off, those earnings expectations may be due for a revision.

The question is what the market’s reaction will be to this expected downward adjustment to earnings expectations. In my view, the recent uncertainty  in the market is essentially a reflection of the market's struggles with this very same question.

New Home Sales are scheduled for release today at 10:00 AM EST. In February, New Home Sales decreased by 4.6% to 411,000 from the revised January rate of 431,000.



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