Stocks Near 5-Year Highs Despite Worst Earnings Season Since 2009

Jeff Macke

The miserable earnings news from Dell (DELL) and Hewlett Packard (HPQ) mark the unofficial end to the worst reporting season in more than three years. Only 58% of more than 2,300 companies reporting thus far have beat analyst estimates and 48.4% recorded higher-than-expected revenues. Both figures are the lowest since Q1 2009.

Paul Hickey from Bespoke Investment Group says the view out the windshield looks just as bad as what we see looking back on Q2 earnings. Bespoke's data show a -5.6% spread between the companies that raised guidance versus companies that warned. That's the lowest number since the bull market started — meaning the outlook in corporate America hasn't been this bad in three years.

None of which means a thing when it's taken out of the context of the larger market. "The ultimate arbiter of earnings season is how the stocks perform, and they did very well," Hickey says in the attached video. Despite the hideous headlines, the S&P 500 rose more than 4% between Alcoa's (AA) quarterly miss on July 9 and when we heard from Wal-Mart (WMT) on August 16.

Historically, buying the negative news has proven a decent strategy. Stocks rose 9% in April and May of 2009 when the news was last this bad. Obviously stocks aren't oversold the way they were in March of that year, but there's little evidence of euphoria either. Hickey notes decent valuations, despite the guidance reductions, and that double-digit earnings gains in a flat market last year give the market room to "catch up" to what are still growing earnings.

What do you think? Is the stock market rally complacency or resiliency? Is there time to buy, or does the picture get worse from here? Let us know in the comments section below, or Tweet me @jeffmacke.

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