'Very, very good' earnings season risks being overshadowed by trade, politics in week ahead


'Very, very good' earnings season risks being overshadowed by trade, politics in week ahead

Trade talk and politics could hang over the market in the coming week, even with a blast of earnings news providing a bright spot. A handful of Dow components report in the week ahead, along with dozens of S&P 500 companies, including Procter and Gamble, IBM,American Express and Johnson and Johnson. Earnings growth for the first quarter is expected to be up about 18.5 percent, according to Thomson Reuters. The first three major banks, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, to report earnings Friday all beat expectations. But their stocks traded lower Friday on disappointment that their earnings gains were not more broad-based. Bank of America reports Monday and there is a slew of other financial names, including US Bancorp and KeyCorp reporting. "If this is any indication of how earnings season is going to go, it's time to look closely at your portfolio. Even if you deliver good earnings, it doesn't mean the market will reward you," said Peter Boockvar, chief investment strategist at Bleakley Financial Group. Stocks were higher for the week, with the S&P 500 up nearly 2 percent at 2,656. But Friday was weak, and traders were concerned about the possibility that the U.S. could bomb Syria over the weekend or that President Donald Trump would fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Trump has said the U.S. would respond to the deadly Syrian gas attack on civilians, and the market has been anxious that Syria and the war in Yemen have the potential to escalate. West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 8.6 percent in the past week to $67.39, their best weekly gain since July. Analysts have said Trump could seek to replace Rosenstein with someone who would limit the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation to focus on just collusion with Russia. Mueller's team is reportedly close to closing its obstruction of justice probe, according to NBC News.

In the Treasury market Friday, investors bought the long end, or 10-yearsector. Yields move opposite price, and the 10-year yield moved lower to 2.82 percent. At the same time, the yield on the 2-year rose. The two yields are now the closest together, or the "flattest," they've been since 2007, at 46 basis points. The spread between the 2-year and 10-year has been flattening as the Fed has moved to raise interest rates. A flattening yield curve takes it closer to inverting, which means the 2-year yield would rise above the 10-year yield. An inversion is seen as a sign of a pending recession, but a flattening curve is not. "It's basically saying we're not excited about growth. We're just kind of stuck in neutral," said Aaron Kohli, fixed income strategist at BMO. He said the market was concerned by headlines Friday about Trump ramping up the trade dispute with China. "None of that is helpful." As the curve flattened Friday, the 2-year yield jumped to 2.37 percent, the highest since 2008. "Ignoring this continued rise in short-term interest rates is a mistake. People should remember the catalyst of the sell-off in early February was rising interest rates. We are going into a weekend with the 2-year at a fresh nine-and-a-half-year high," said Boockvar. "People are obsessed with Facebook and tariffs and are forgetting about rising interest rates."

Banks could stay a big focus for markets in the week ahead, as Fed Vice Chairman Randal Quarles testifies before both House and Senate committees Tuesday and Thursday on banking regulation. In the past week, the Fed said banks should be allowed to take on more leverage. There is some data in the week ahead, with retail sales Monday topping the list of economic reports. Housing starts are reported Tuesday, and the Fed's beige book on the economy is released Wednesday. Trump meets with Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Florida. The discussions are expected to focus on North Korea as the Trump administration works to set up a summit with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. But trade is also a likely topic, as Trump seeks a bilateral agreement with Japan. The administration could also reveal more about Trump's plan to add more tariffs to another $100 billion in Chinese goods. Strategists have been hoping that earnings news would draw investor focus away from other issues such as trade. Binky Chadha, chief global strategist at Deutsche Bank, said the earnings season could be very good for stocks, and it has proven to be in past quarters. "Everybody that I know expects earnings to be very, very strong and very, very good. The bottom-up consensus is 18, 18.5 percent already. Our bottom line is we think the beats will be very significant. If earnings always beat by 3.5 percent, that takes you to about 22 percent already," he said. Chadha said his model, without accounting for the corporate tax break, was a 22 percent first-quarter profit gain, and the earnings beats could take growth to 25 percent or higher. "I would argue the risks to my number are to the upside once you get into deeper and nitty-gritty issues," he said. He said if there is a geopolitical incident that knocks down the market, such as an attack in Syria, the market could sell off and then quickly correct.