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Here's why first quarter earnings will disappoint everyone

Earnings set pace for 2014

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First quarter earnings season is just days away but pending reports are not projected to paint a bright future for America.

“Right now, the best we can hope for is more of the same,” said Lindsey Piegza, Sterne Agee chief economist.

“There was a lot of optimism in terms of economic growth and earnings taking a step in the right direction in the first quarter. But early indicators show that it is more than ice and snow, the expectation is going to be very muted. There are a lot of headwinds that are not temporary seasonal factors,” Piegza explained.

The mortgage origination environment is expected to remain weak given weak purchase applications and falling refinancing from an already low base coming off the end of 2013, according to a report from FBR Capital Markets.

Although these will act as headwinds to earnings growth in the quarter, FBR said it does not expect they will drive earnings misses given the Street-wise weakness expectations.  

All of the pent-up demand that was supposed to be played out in the second half 2013 and the beginning of 2014 did not happen, Piegza explained.

“Spring season will likely bring up some new would be homebuyers but don’t anticipate the levels that we would normally see,” she added.

“The key to the economy remains that hiring is far from stellar. It is far from the level that would support an above 2% GDP for this economy,” Piegza said. “We are going to see a bit of a slowdown well under 2% GDP for the rest of the year for the U.S.”

Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings’ outlook for the U.S. was only slightly different, noting that the housing market didn’t show much improvement during recent months, as reflected in some weak or worse than-expected data reports.   

“But monthly housing statistics can be volatile and we still believe the market will show a moderate gain for the year,” Fitch said. “Some customer segments (trade-up and luxury) are outperforming others (entry level) and while the weather overlay has been dreadful, the spring selling season will likely not set the tone for the rest of 2014.”

Mortgage real estate investment trusts do not bode too much better, according to FBR.

“While we have maintained a neutral stance on the agency mREITs, we think the group is set up to beat EPS estimates for 1Q14,” FBR said. “While interest rates on the long end of the curve were cooperative this quarter leading to both book value appreciation and portfolio stability, dividends also appear to be holding up well, which provides support that EPS on the whole should remain fairly intact, if not better than expectations, this quarter.”

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