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For the third quarter of 2015, the S&P 500 just barely made it out of negative territory with EPS growth of 0.6%. Revenues weren't as lucky, posting a decline of 2.9% for the quarter. While the final earnings number was better than the -2.2% figure expected at the beginning of the season in October, revenues actually worsened as the season went on, from an initial prediction of -1.7%. A look into the beat rates gives some clues, with only 32% of companies beating on revenues during the quarter vs. 57% on earnings.

The sector story during the third quarter didn't differ much from the first half of the year. Commodities continued to struggle, dragging down the energy and materials sectors, while health care and consumer discretionary remained winners.

Energy ended the season with profits falling 55% and revenues down 29%, a slight improvement from expectations at the beginning of the season, but still not painting a very pretty picture. Both industries within the sector, oil, gas & consumable fuels and energy equipment, saw massive losses on the back of oil prices that continued to tank throughout the quarter. Brent crude fell an additional 24% in Q3, and WTI was down 19%. Expect more of the same in the final quarter of the year.

Materials followed energy, with profits down nearly 4% and revenues falling an even deeper 15.7%. It probably comes as no surprise that the weakest link within the sector is metals & mining, with EPS plummeting 71% in Q3 and revenues declining 20%. Base metals and precious metals alike saw declines throughout the quarter, mostly due to a weakening Chinese economy, the largest importer of commodities in the world. Even gold, typically seen as a safe haven, has been suffering due China's spot as the number one importer of the precious metal, behind India. China alone accounts for nearly half of total global zinc and copper consumption. With no signs that the Chinese economy is on track to recover anytime soon, a continued slump in commodities will surely persist into the new year.

Sectors such as health care and consumer discretionary continued their reign in the third quarter. Health care put up impressive growth on the top-line (9.0%) and bottom-line (13.7%), lead higher by the biotechnology names. Biotech alone saw profit growth of 29.8% and sales growth of 22.7%, higher than expectations of 18.9% and 21.4% in October. Heavy hitter, Gilead Sciences, was once again a top performer in the space, posting EPS growth of 75% and revenue growth of 37%, after Q2 growth rates came in at their lowest level in 6 quarters.

Despite mixed signals from the retail space during the season, consumer discretionary still remains a leader in the index. Lower oil prices and an improving jobs market, which didn't have as much of an impact as initially expected a year ago, began to translate into increased purchases of large ticket items in 2015. Automobiles in particular ended the third quarter as the biggest winner, with profits increasing 41.2%. Following autos was a returning favorite, internet retail, increasing EPS by 18.6% YoY as e-commerce continues its ascent. As a result of the strengthening housing market, household durables also had a robust season with profits growing 13% and revenues up 10% thanks to the homebuilders and appliance-makers. This also resulted in upbeat reports from home improvement retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe's, lifting specialty retailers to 10.5% profit growth. All other traditional retailers from the multi-line retailers and textiles, apparel & luxury goods segments had considerably more muted results.

A Look Ahead to Q4 2015

The S&P 500 is heading into the final reporting season of the year expecting negative earnings and revenue growth once again. Currently, EPS growth stands at -1% and revs at -2.0%. Losses for energy and materials are only expected to steepen. At present, estimates for energy call for a -71.6% decline on earnings and -30.4% on revenues. Meanwhile, materials are expected to worsen to -10% and -13.7%, respectively.

Even the leading sectors have more muted expectations. Two defensive sectors, telecom and utilities, are anticipated to lead with earnings growth around the 17% mark, but because of their small size they are not heavily weighted and therefore don't have a huge impact on the overall index. Health care follows, with analysts calling for EPS growth of 6.1% and higher revenues of 8.4%. This would mark the first quarter that health care puts up single-digit profit growth, after six consecutive quarters of posting double-digits. Despite the inclusion of the holiday shopping season in the fourth quarter report, consumer discretionary is only predicted to increase earnings by 5.5% with revenues at 3.7%.

Only 17 companies have reported thus far for Q4, including Carnival, Nike, FedEx, Lennar, Micron, among others. Of those 17 names, 53% have managed to beat the Estimize EPS consensus, with 35% missing and 12% matching. While it's still early on in the season, revenues are already off to a bad start. A meager 18% of companies that have reported for the quarter have beaten the Estimize revenue consensus, continuing a downward trend of weak sales figures.

Stay tuned for the fourth quarter season which unofficially kicks off on January 11 when Alcoa reports. That week the Estimize blog will post a more detailed preview with additional insights for Q4.  

The following article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.

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