updated 7/18/2010 1:52:15 PM ET 2010-07-18T17:52:15

Profit is so boring.

Major Market Indices

That's one way to characterize investors' suddenly blase view of Corporate America's single most important figure. Earnings gushed last week like oil from the ruptured BP well and were greeted like the same gooey mess. Steel giant Alcoa Inc. blew past expectations, followed by chipmaker Intel Corp.'s best showing in a decade and JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s 76 percent rise.

By week's end stocks of all three had lost earlier gains. On Friday, all major market indices fell more than 2.5 percent.

One possible reason for the curious market behavior: We're all focused on the big picture now, and things are looking ugly.

Last week brought a flurry of news suggesting the recovery may be stalling. The Federal Reserve lowered its estimate for economic growth. That was followed by a pair of disappointing regional manufacturing surveys. Then came the coup de grace: a University of Michigan report Friday showing consumer confidence had fallen.

The selling was indiscriminate and frustrating to bulls.

"You find a company that you think is great, but if the market is going down, it's going down, too," said Linda Duessel, an equity market strategist at Federated Investors. Instead of buying and selling on each company's merits, "We're all macroeconomic economists now."

Or as the title of a UBS report Friday put it, "Profits get no respect."

As of midday Friday, 27 out of the 38 S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings — or 7 out of 10 — have beat estimates, according to Thomson Reuters.

Jeffrey Kleintop, chief market strategist of LPL Financial, said he isn't surprised by investors' seeming indifference.

He recently looked back at stock performance a year into every recovery since World War II. He found consumer confidence fell and investors suddenly started selling — but the market eventually stumbled back and rose smartly again.

"Investors change focus away from individual companies to worry that all will be dragged down," Kleintop said. But, he added, "We always head into a multiyear expansion — every recession."

His advice is to scoop up shares.

To be sure, bad economic reports aren't the only reason some stocks are down.

On Thursday, Google Inc. posted earnings that fell short of analyst expectations. The stock dropped $34.41, or 7 percent, to $459.61 the next day.

General Electric Co. topped profit estimates but reported lower-than-expected revenue. Ditto for Bank of America Corp. Investors walloped both companies, and understandably so. To keep generating profits, companies will eventually have to generate more revenue, not just cut costs.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 261.41 points, or 2.5 percent, Friday to 10,097.90. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 31.60, or 2.9 percent, to 1,064.88. For the week, the Dow fell 100.13 and the S&P 500 slid 13.08.

The coming week will bring plenty of new earnings reports that will help show if the selling is overdone.

On Monday, International Business Machines Corp. reports earnings, followed by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. the next day. Later in the week come reports from Coca-Cola Co., Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

Amid the gloom, though, it's not certain anyone will pay attention.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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