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Markets On Track For A Flat Open Amid Mixed Earnings

The major indexes are on track for a flat open despite a parade of mixed Q1 earnings releases and weakness in oil prices. Stocks have made solid gains in recent sessions, pushing the S&P 500 index above the 2100 level.

Today’s oil weakness comes after the commodity’s steady gains in recent days, with this week’s Doha-inspired bearishness offset by supply disruptions at Kuwait, Iraq, Nigeria and a number of other places. The consensus narrative about Doha notwithstanding, the odds of supply cut coming out of that meeting were low to begin with given the animus between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The key factor supporting oil prices at present is the steady decline in U.S. production, which the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration estimates will fall by roughly -8% this year and another -7% next year. I have long been of the view that oil prices can’t be kept in the $20’s and low $30’s for an extended period on purely supply-demand grounds. The commodity’s day-to-day prices will continue reflecting headlines about the still-elevated global inventory levels and noise coming out of OPEC. But I strongly feel that in the absence of a major economic shock like a bigger than expected fall in the Chinese economy, the worst is behind us in the oil patch.

With respect to the Q1 earnings season, we now have results from 71 S&P 500 members that combined account for 19.9% of the index’s total market capitalization. This includes all of this morning’s reports from the likes of Coke (KO), U.S. Bancorp (USB), Abbot Labs (ABT) and others. Total earnings for these 71 index members are down -9% on +0.6% higher revenues, with 80.3% beating EPS estimates and 54.9% coming ahead of top-line estimates. This is weak growth relative to what we have seen from the same group of 71 index members in other recent periods, though the ratio of companies beating estimates compares favorably to other the recent past, likely indicating that estimates may have fallen more than they needed to ahead of the start of this reporting cycle.

For Q1 as a whole, combining the actual results from the 71 index members that have reported with estimates for the still to come 429 companies, total earnings are expected to be down -9.7% from the same period last year on -0.8% lower revenues. This would be the 4th quarter in a row of earnings declines for the index. Growth is expected to be in the negative for the current period (2016 Q2) as well, with the total earnings expected to be down -4.5% from the same period last year. Q2 estimates have started coming down as companies report Q1 results and guide lower, but the magnitude of negative revisions is not as bad as we had seen in the comparable period during the Q1 reporting cycle.

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