Investors are at a crossroads. Earnings and guidance have been decent so far. But worries about the U.S. job market and European debt crisis may be overshadowing the good corporate news.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Good news. First-quarter profits may turn out to be pretty healthy. Bad news. Investors don't seem to care.
Stocks fell Thursday despite better-than-expected earnings from Bank of America ( , Fortune 500) and Morgan Stanley ( , Fortune 500), as well as strong results from Verizon ( , Fortune 500), eBay ( , Fortune 500) and Travelers ( , Fortune 500).
Investors appear to be overlooking the profit parade and focusing instead on broader macroeconomic concerns.
Jobless claims technically fell from a week ago, but that's only because last week's tally was revised higher. The initial claims number, at 386,000, remains uncomfortably close to 400,000.
And in Europe, investors are worrying about France following vague rumors of a potential ratings agency downgrade. There are still fears about Spain as well, despite a relatively successful bond auction Thursday.
Are investors ignoring healthy corporate results at their own peril? Sure, you could argue that the tremendous first-quarter market rally was in anticipation of this batch of earnings. So this may be a classic case of selling the news, which is completely logical.
"This has been happening for a while now. The numbers come in better than expected but investors are still skeptical," said Keith Springer, president of Springer Financial Advisors in Sacramento, Calif.
However, it might be a mistake for investors to brush aside some of the promising signs in the earnings reports.
I wrote yesterday about how strong numbers from railroad CSX (Fortune 500) were very encouraging since railroads are such an economically sensitive business. The trend continued Thursday as rival Union Pacific ( , Fortune 500) also topped forecasts.,
Still, it's understandable that investors remain jittery. The suddenly sagging job market and latest chapter in Europe's debt saga are major reasons to be nervous.
The global economic outlook is murky even for companies that are doing extremely well. That has been the case since the bull market began three years ago.
"Trying to get a real feel for overall corporate spending over the past few years has been difficult," said John McAdam, CEO of networking equipment firm F5 Networks () in Seattle. "The macro questions are very hard to answer."
Nonetheless, F5 reported earnings after the bell Wednesday that topped estimates. The stock surged 10% Thursday as a result, making it the 3rd best performer in the S&P 500. Shares are now up more than 30% in 2012.
And even though big businesses may be spooked by all the uncertainty around the world, McAdam said his customers still seem confident enough to buy his firm's gear, which helps companies securely deliver data across networks. He said the company's pipeline of new deals is as "robust as it has ever been."
At the end of the day, earnings are what drive the market. Sooner or later, investors will have to stop agonizing over whether the Federal Reserve will or won't do QE3 and obsessing about where Spanish bond yields are.
Springer said the market may not go up that much higher from here since the bull is starting to show his age. But he thinks companies will be able to sustain relatively healthy profits for the foreseeable future regardless of economic forces.
"Companies have become so much more efficient about meeting demand, whatever demand is. That's the big difference between now and before the last recession," he said.
Best of StockTwits. More on eBay's solid quarter. And some traders are shrugging off worries about guidance form mobile chipset leader Qualcomm (Fortune 500).,
I think investors have quickly realized that eBay's future lies in mobile payments, not selling Pez dispensers. It's been an impressive comeback for eBay over the past few years.
Qualcomm was the one major tech that was down Thursday after earnings. I think the sell-off may be an overreaction since, as GOODGREED points out, this may be a temporary inventory issue.
But MichaelComeau also makes a great point. This does bear watching. Customers can forgive this if it happens once. However, if Qualcomm has more of these supply problems in the next few months, vendors may not be happy.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul R. La Monica. Other than Time Warner, the parent of CNNMoney, and Abbott Laboratories, La Monica does not own positions in any individual stocks.
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