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Will the corporate earnings recession ever end?

Lower gas prices and more

The second-quarter earnings season is really heating up now, with high-profile reports by the likes of IBM (IBM), Netflix (NFLX), Microsoft (MSFT) and Bank of America (BAC) already in the bag. And as is typical, the results have been coming in ahead of expectations: 68 percent of S&P 500 companies reporting to date have beaten their consensus earnings estimates.

But the results haven't been good enough to end the ongoing corporate earnings recession, now in its fifth consecutive quarter. And what's worse, early indications are that blended S&P 500 earnings are now set to decline in the third quarter as well.

The flow of earnings reports continues to ramp up this week, giving investors a lot to watch -- especially a number of large-cap company results with market-moving implications. The peak of the earnings season will occur on Thursday, July 28 when 86 S&P 500 components report.

Apple (AAPL), which reports on Tuesday after the close, has been a highlight (or lowlight?) of the last couple of earnings seasons. First, it was niggling concerns about iPhone demand and sales in China. Then, last quarter, iPhone sales dropped on a year-over-year basis for the first time ever, confirming the company's innovation slowdown and smartphone market saturation.

The latest obsession are concerns over an incremental update to the iPhone 6 form factor for the iPhone 7 launch later this year and evidence of cratering sales of the Apple Watch. We'll know more by Tuesday evening. Analysts are looking for earnings of $1.39 per share (vs. $1.85 in last year's quarter) on $42.1 billion in revenue -- marking the second consecutive quarter of falling profitability.

Another biggie is ExxonMobil (XOM), which has been in an inexorable uptrend since January as crude oil has lifted off of its lows on hopes of a Russia-OPEC oil supply freeze deal that never came to fruition.

The company will report on Friday before the bell. Analysts are looking for earnings of 64 cents per share on revenues of $64 billion. Compared to Exxon's earnings-per-share peak in first-quarter 2014 of $2.10, this would mark a 70 percent decline in profits. Still, the share price has nearly returned to its 2014 high.

Like XOM, Chevron (CVX) shares have surged higher since bottoming back in January on hopes the worst for crude oil has past. But with gasoline inventories bloated, short-term oil supply disruptions fading and U.S. production increasing again, a breakdown in energy prices -- and thus energy earnings -- looks likely in the second half of the year.

We'll know more when CVX reports on Friday, also before the bell. Analysts are looking for earnings of 34 cents per share (vs. 30 cents a year ago) on revenues of $29.6 billion.


Overall, FactSet analysts note that the expected second-quarter S&P 500 earnings decline stands at -3.7 percent, an improvement from the -5.5 percent decline they expected last week and at the second quarter's end. Yet, even factoring in the typical improvement in average earnings growth during an earnings season, they believe it's likely the quarter will end with an outright decline in profitability on a year-over-year basis.

Third-quarter earnings expectations have now fallen into negative territory as well -- suggesting the earnings recession could stretch to six consecutive quarters (chart above).

For what it's worth, analysts currently expect a return to earnings growth in 2016's fourth quarter, but that depends on a reversal of recent headwinds including a strong dollar, low long-term interest rates and weak energy prices. With the dollar up 3.4 percent over the last five weeks -- its strongest rise since November -- amid a crude oil prices returning to levels not seen since May, that's looking less and less likely.

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