YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. stock market landed at a technical crossroads following its best week in a year, yet the potential for positive earnings surprises beginning next week could give an edge to the bulls.
Analysts turned increasingly bearish before the start of earnings season. Sentiment stands at its lowest since May 2009, according to a Bespoke Investment Group note that said analysts have lowered estimates for 572 cos in the S&P 1500 in the last four weeks, while they raised expectations for 396.
At the same time, bullish investor sentiment as measured by the American Association of Individual Investors fell to just 21pc last week, the lowest since early March 2009 right at the markets bottom.
Equity funds worldwide saw more than $11 billion in net outflows in the first week of July, while money market funds attracted the biggest inflows in 18 months, fund tracker EPFR Global said.
Expectations are low going into the results, so we could have some positive surprises there and the big test will be if we can get back above 1,100 (on the S&P 500), said Paul Hickey, a co-founder of Bespoke, based in Harrison, New York.
The Standard & Poors 500 Index ended slightly higher on Friday at 1,077.95.
Even with signs of dwindling sentiment, analysts still expect 27 percent growth in earnings on the S&P 500 for the second quarter according to Thomson Reuters data. That is up from previous readings in the past three quarters, which hovered around 22 percent.
To be sure, beating top and bottom line expectations could still prove a Pyrrhic victory. chief executives must also provide outlooks that convince investors the U.S. economy does not face a double-dip recession or the European credit crisis will not damage future earnings.
Everybodys concerned about the economy and the market has reflected these concerns, said Cleveland Rueckert, equity strategist at Birinyi Associates in Stamford, Connecticut.
Right now the market has priced in a slowdown in earnings, so were going to see a lot of focus not only on the reports but also the guidance, he said.