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Why earnings season could be the next big lift for stocks

October 12, 2020, 9:13 AM UTC

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Good morning. Global stocks and U.S. futures are starting the week on strong footing, looking to add to last week’s gains. Stimulus talks might be bogged down, but investors are getting excited for earnings season, which kicks off in earnest tomorrow. More on that below.

Let’s see where investors are putting their money.

Markets update

Asia

  • The major Asia indexes are mostly higher in afternoon trading with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng up a whopping 2.3%.
  • Google plans to pull the plug on its new News Showcase platform in Australia. The tech giant and the Australian government have been sparring over a new media bill that would require the platform to compensate publishers for displaying their work.
  • From Nepal to New York, coronavirus cases are rising at the fastest pace yet with over 1 million new infections recorded over a three-day span. What’s most worrying is this data point: hospitalizations and deaths are climbing too.

Europe

  • The European bourses are mixed with London in the red and Frankfurt up a quarter-of-a-percent at the open. That’s as national governments mull additional restrictions as coronavirus cases rise.
  • Boris Johnson has threatened to walk away from post-Brexit trade talks this Thursday if a deal looks unlikely. In the meantime, he hit the phones this weekend to try to draw concessions from Germany and France over a major sticking point, fisheries.
  • Europe is looking to escalate its turf war against Big Tech. According to the Financial Times, EU regulators are drawing up a “hit list” that would include firms believed to be abusing their market dominance. Facebook, Apple and Amazon are thought to be on the list.

U.S.

  • U.S. futures are in the green this morning, and ticking higher. That’s after the major exchanges posted their best week last week since the summer. That’s despite zero progress on stimulus talks.
  • JPMorgan, Citigroup, BlackRock and Johnson & Johnson are among the big names to report earnings tomorrow as the Q3 earnings season begins.
  • With three weeks before Election Day, the dollar trade is becoming clearer. A Joe Biden blue wave would sink the greenback, says Goldman Sachs. Fortune‘s Shawn Tully does a deep dive on the world’s reserve currency, detailing why a weak dollar could be a huge problem for whomever presides over the White House next year.

Elsewhere

  • Gold is up, trading above $1,930/ounce.
  • The dollar is up slightly, too.
  • Crude is off again, with Brent trading below $42.50/barrel.

***

Turning a corner

Earnings season gets underway this week, and there’s a bit of optimism in the air. No, profits are still expected to be pretty lousy, but there’s still room for an upside surprise as the economy continues its lengthy rebound from the March-April lows.

We got a whiff of investor enthusiasm last week as the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both rallied to their highest weekly gains in three months. One sector that’s outperforming of late is the banks. The KBW Bank Index is up 8.5% since Oct. 1. On cue, Big Finance will be heavily represented in this week’s quarterly results. The feeling is there’s only one direction for the banks to head: up.

Most Wall Street analysts concur that Corporate America will begin to show growth—strong growth, even—beginning next year. “Looking forward, we project a strong 30% earnings rebound to our baseline 2021 EPS forecast of $170, followed by 11% growth to $188 in 2022,” Goldman Sachs wrote in a recent investor note.

BofA, meanwhile, sees a strong potential for a parade of earnings beats as soon as this quarter. “Actual results tend to surprise to the upside with on average +3.8% for earnings growth and +0.6% for revenue growth versus expectations at the start of the season, but we expect the substantial beats in 2Q to continue for at least another quarter in 3Q,” BofA wrote last week.

Here’s how BofA charts out the next few quarters. Watch for strong bottom-line performances in Q1 of next year. And, yes, even finance and energy should show a rebound by then (which is no doubt why investors are piling into battered bank stocks now.)

But the fundamentals still look pretty underwhelming.

Don’t bank on many top-line surprises until next year.

***

Postscript

This weekend my neighbor informed me he’s a proud negazionista.

It’s a label with ugly origins. Before the COVID pandemic, the term was applied to Holocaust deniers. The Italian media—both right- and left-leaning—now uses the label to describe those who don’t believe the COVID-19 outbreak is a thing. 

My neighbor’s boast totally took me off guard, not least because he was masked up when he pronounced his denialist stance to me and another neighbor.

The negazionisti are unhappy with the Italian government. They are unhappy with the scientists. They are unhappy with public health officials. They are unhappy with the media. And, for some reason that’s beyond me, they are unhappy with 5G cell towers. 

This weekend the negazionisti organized a protest in Rome to call out the coronavirus as a fake, and to carp about steep new fines for anyone caught in public without a mask. The turnout was so meager the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, called it “un flop.” The poor attendance may have something to do with the escalating COVID cases here. Or, we’re seeing the negazionista movement for what it is—an oddball curiosity that’s relegated to the fringes of Italian society.

As for my neighbor, he didn’t bother going to the Saturday protest at all. He can’t afford to get busted for not wearing a mask, he grumbled.

Why was he wearing a mask now?, we asked him. Surely, there’s little risk of getting busted on our side street on a Sunday just before lunch.

Because, he said, he doesn’t want to be seen as a problem neighbor. He’s decided to stifle his beliefs so as not to make waves with anybody in the condominium, he said, adjusting his mask to better cover his mouth and nose.

I guess you could call him a denier wracked with self-denial.  

***

Have a nice day, everyone. I’ll see you here tomorrow. 

Bernhard Warner
@BernhardWarner
Bernhard.Warner@Fortune.com

As always, you can write to bullsheet@fortune.com or reply to this email with suggestions and feedback.

Today's reads

Coronavirus and cash. Here in Italy, unfortunately, cash is still king. And that could pose a COVID health risk. The virus, it turns out, can linger on banknotes (on smartphone screens, too) for more than a week under seemingly normal conditions, Australia’s biosecurity experts found

Are travel bookings really on the upswing? The cruise ship sector reported promising news last week: that 2H 2021 bookings are soaring. There are signs of life elsewhere in the travel sector, but there's a lot of reason to be skeptical that the surge in interest from cooped-up consumers will translate to actual revenues, the WSJ reports.

Brainstorm. Fortune's incomparable duo of Brian O'Keefe and Michal Lev-Ram have teamed up to host a new weekly podcast, Brainstorm. In each episode, they dive into the big stories at the intersection of tech and business, speaking with leaders of Fortune 500 companies and promising startups to give a glimpse of what's coming next. It's already become one of my must-listens

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Market candy

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Fortune's crack finance staff has published the indispensable Quarterly Investment Guide, a package of articles we believe will deliver investor advice that can help you navigate these particularly uncertain times. How indispensable? Take this piece from my colleague Anne Sraders where she details the ten stocks to buy now, regardless of who wins the White House in November... I've had more than a few emails in recent days from Bull Sheet readers asking me, Has Wall Street lost its marbles!? How can a Biden-blue wave possibly be good for stocks and the wider economy? I would politely direct your attention to the Quarterly Investment Guide where we address these very questions. Happy reading!