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Sozzi's Day Ahead: Sure Smells Fishy

Stocks in this article: AAPEPKO

Feeling pretty spirited today? Perhaps your football team won, leading to an excited Facebook (FB) post that generated a ton of drunken "likes" from friends. Perhaps you scored a mega deal at Wal-Mart (WMT) on a Halloween costume (but not on candy -- Hershey's (HSY) price increases, announced last year, are only now kicking in). Surely that was wonderful news. As for myself, I happened to find enjoyment in polishing my car's plastic light covers in the rain to remove cloudiness, compliments of a nifty product from Pep Boys (PBY). (Yet, despite a pleasing customer-service experience here, AutoZone (AZO) remains the No. 1 in that space.)

Oh, and in case we've all forgotten, the stock market managed to exhibit a little fight last week.

I must be blunt, though: From the day-to-day action to the explanations for the buying, the entire shebang smelled like nasty fish. Whatever tricks you use for stock-picking and for the timing of such, my own approach, at least, did not support the notion that the market has found its next positive fundamental catalyst. Let me also state that such a catalyst will have to be found in corporate America - because, regardless of who wins the presidency, decisions will be enacted that will clip growth in the front half of 2013.

But therein is the main issue with buying stocks today. Corporate America will find it hard to be positive out of fear of being completely wrong, and of having to answer to angry shareholders once the stock drops 13% on earnings day in January 2013. What would constitute a positive stance by management teams? Seeing as loads of companies are sitting on mounds of cash, a couple of simple items would be a guide to higher year-on-year capital expenditures in 2013, or signal that meaningful shareholder-friendly actions are forthcoming.

Monday Deep Thoughts

"If earnings season bucks the trend of disturbing bottom-line warnings, would that be a serious buy signal?" (Or, if you want to sound smart: a "tell")

My Take: As we peer into 2013, we see that the predominant recent driver of earnings -- efficiency gains -- can't possibly be sustainable. It feels as if companies have begun to saw into bone in making an earnings number. We need volume and pricing improvement -- and, in this regard, the risk remains to the side of disappointment. In fact, I have started to wonder about corporate pricing going forward. If companies are obsessed with having flexible workforces and with pleasing the Street in order to generate profit margins near their prior cyclical peak on lower revenue, won't that inhibit product innovation? Hey, this is deep stuff, man.

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