Estimates for the third and fourth quarters have been dropped to levels not seen since the days of the 2008 financial crisis, below even the muted 2 percent expected level of inflation.
That's an ominous recession sign for an economy that has barely managed to attain positive growth this year even with the strong level of earnings beats, according to an analysis by Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx in New York.
"Revenue estimates for the back half of 2012 have been slowly working their way lower this year," Colas said. "This trend, however, has accelerated to the downside over the past 30 days and we are fast approaching levels where these estimates are unambiguously pointing to the risk of a U.S./global recession later into 2012 and 2013."
For the current quarter, about 69 percent of companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 [.SPX Loading... () ] have beaten analyst profit estimates. Only 42 percent, though, have beaten on top-line revenue estimates, indicating that growth is weakening.
That's evidenced by a rash of downward forward revisions from analysts.
In the broader S&P 1500, analysts have cut outlooks for 792 companies and raised for just 323, with the decreases especially prevalent in technology, which saw half its components down, the highest level since February 2009, according to Bespoke Investment Group.