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Renewed Crude Decline

The major indexes are on track for a weak open, with fresh weakness in oil prices and soft economic readings out of Europe reigniting growth worries.

The strong rally off the February lows has been losing its sheen lately, with today’s sell-off likely nothing more than the absence of any credible catalysts to push stocks higher. The renewed weakness in oil and other commodity prices has brought back the market’s global growth worries.

These worries will be front and center in Q1 earnings season, which takes the spotlight with Alcoa’s (AA) release after the close this coming Monday. Current Zacks Consensus estimates put Q1 earnings growth to be in the negative, the fourth quarter in a row of earnings declines.

Specifically, total Q1 earnings for the S&P 500 index are expected to be down -10.3% from the same period last year on -2% lower revenues. Energy is no doubt a big drag in Q1, as has been the case in other recent periods, but the growth picture is no better in other sectors either. In fact, Q1 earnings growth for the index would be in the negative on an ex-Energy basis as well, with earnings on track to be below the year-earlier level for 11 of the 16 Zacks sectors.

Importantly, the growth challenge is an issue pertaining to Q1 and the quarters before that as estimates for the current and following quarters are still coming down. It is hard to see the rally staying on course in the face of such an earnings backdrop.

In other news, the U.S. Treasury’s new ‘inversion’ rules appear to be having a big impact on the pending merger between Pfizer (PFE) and Allergan (AGN). The reaction of Allergan shares to these rules indicates that market participants see the $160 billion deal in jeopardy.

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