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America’s big companies are about to repeat a financial crisis-era losing streak

Charging Bull, aka the Wall Street Bull. (Image: Flickr / David Shankbone)

Analysts expect S&P 500 companies to report that earnings fell year-over-year in Q2, repeating a trend we haven’t seen since the financial crisis.

Earnings season unofficially kicks off with Alcoa (AA), which is set to report its second quarter earnings on July 11. Early indications suggest there won’t be much to celebrate this time around.

According to a report from Factset analyst John Butters, S&P 500 Q2 earnings are expected to decline by 5.3% year over year.

“If the index reports a decrease in earnings for the quarter, it will mark the first time the index has seen five consecutive quarters of year-over-year declines in earnings since Q3 2008 through Q3 2009,” Butters said. The earnings trend hasn’t been this bad since the financial crisis — a worrisome sign. This is compounded by the fact that the market’s forward P/E ratio is 16.4, which Butters notes, is “above the 5 and 10 year averages.”  

Deutsche Bank is also worried about the continued impact on US earnings from Brexit, given how much the sterling has weakened. Deutsche was expecting the Bank of England to defend the pound to a greater degree; the lack of defense has caused it to lower S&P 500 forecasts for the year.

“EU leadership remains rigid about the concerns of leave voters in the UK and elsewhere,” Deutsche Bank’s David Bianco said. “This lack of effort to mitigate damage and risks leaves us quite worried. We reiterate our Next 5%+ likely S&P price move as Down and cut our S&P targets for 2016 & 2017 ends by 50 points to 2150 & 2350.”

However, it’s not all bad news. UBS analysts expect earnings growth to start recovering during the second half of the year. Q4 is expected to be especially strong, with a 9% year over year increase.

S&P 500 earnings growth should be negative for the 4th straight quarter. (Image: UBS)

UBS does note that this earnings rebound is based two key assumptions: “recovery of commodity prices and stabilization in the US dollar.” The energy sector’s earnings have been hit hard over the past few years, due to the price of oil plummeting. In fact, Factset notes the energy sector is the biggest drag on Q2 earnings.  

Citigroup’s Tobias Levkovich also suggests there’s reason to be optimistic. He believes earnings forecasters are being too conservative for 2016 in general right now. He points to positive growth in ISM industrial activity orders over the past few months to support his point, arguing that this data means that EPS is likely to be better than anticipated.

All of these analysts seem to agree that the real story during the upcoming earnings season will be in the guidance that companies issue, as Q2 is already expected to be bad. Levkovich does warn that management is more likely to attempt to “under promise and over deliver,” so expect some conservatism in their guidance.  However, If a recovery in the second half of the year looks possible, markets may rally. If not, investors should prepare for a rough ride for the rest of 2016.

Rayhanul Ibrahim is a writer for Yahoo Finance.

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