Third-quarter earnings season ramps up in earnest this week with a packed schedule of major financial companies poised to report results. Key economic data will include the U.S. consumer price index for September, in the latest print on the state of inflation in the U.S. economy. 

Investors have been anxiously awaiting the start of the latest earnings season and bracing for a deceleration in corporate profit growth after a strong second quarter. 

S&P 500 earnings are expected to grow by 27.6% in aggregate for the third quarter, slowing sharply from the second quarter's nearly 90% growth rate, according to data from FactSet. Still, last quarter's results had been aided by easy comparisons to the pandemic-depressed profit levels of mid-2020. And at nearly 30%, the expected earnings growth rate for the third quarter would still be the third-fastest pace for the index since 2010. 

Traders are especially looking to see that supply-side challenges and rising input and labor costs weighed heavily on corporate profits for the latest quarter. Nearly two dozen S&P 500 companies — including major names like FedEx (FDX) and Nike (NKE) — have already reported third-quarter results, giving hints about the magnitude of the margin pressure being exerted by supply-side challenges.

"Supply chain disruptions and costs have been cited by the highest number companies in the index to date as a factor that either had a negative impact on earnings or revenues in Q3, or is expected to have a negative impact on earnings or revenues in future quarters," FactSet's John Butters wrote in a note on Friday. Of the 21 S&P 500 component companies that have reported results so far, 15 of them have discussed negative impacts from these factors, Butters added. 

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"After supply chain disruptions, labor shortages and costs (14), COVID costs and impacts (11), and transportation and freight costs (11) have been discussed by the highest number of S&P 500 companies," he added. 

For many companies, the specter of eventual interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve and the present inflationary environment has presented a slew of concerns over higher input and borrowing costs. But for the Big Banks, a higher interest-rate environment generally translates into stronger profits in their key lending businesses, allowing them to command higher rates on loans.

CHINA – 2021/04/23: In this photo illustration the Goldman Sachs logo seen on an Android mobile device screen with the currency of the United States in the background. (Photo Illustration by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The major U.S. banks including JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Bank of America (BAC), Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS) are each set to report quarterly results this week. Heading into these results, many analysts have said they expect to see net interest margins expand alongside the creep higher in benchmark interest rates this year. And as the economic recovery chugs along, banks may further release loan loss reserves they set aside to protect against potential defaults and nonpayments over the course of the pandemic. 

"We expect 3Q21 EPS [earnings per share] results to be stronger on a year-over-year basis as loan loss reserves continue to be released albeit at a lower level than 1Q/2Q21 and the group posts positive revenue growth," RBC Capital Markets analyst Gerard Cassidy wrote in a note last week. 

"Key themes that we expect to see in the results include: (1) more signs of net interest margin (NIM) stabilization; (2) growth in the consumer loan, residential mortgage and commercial real estate mortgage portfolios; and (3) positive outlook guidance on credit, loan growth (especially commercial & industrial loans,) and NIM," he added. "Lastly, commentary on core operating expenses should be listened to carefully to see if the banks are starting to feel non-incentive compensation wage pressure." 

According to Matt O'Connor, Deutsche Bank managing director of U.S. banks equity research, banks still have considerable room for loan growth with the economic recovery under way. Total industry loans are still 1% below pre-pandemic levels from the fourth quarter of 2019, he said, and are down by an even more significant mid-single-digits percentage when excluding loans made via the COVID-era Paycheck Protection Program. 

“We remain positive on bank stocks given a likely multi-year positive backdrop for credit, interest rates and loan growth,” O'Connor wrote in a note. “It’s hard to be too negative on the banks given a generally favorable macroeconomic outlook among most (despite some slower activity more recently) and the prospect for higher rates and faster loan growth, though was we’ve noted before the timing/magnitude of this remains unclear.”

For the year-to-date, the financials sector remains the second-best performer in the S&P 500 after the energy sector, climbing more than 30% so far in 2021. 

Consumer price index

One of the most closely watched economic reports this week will be the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index, due for release on Wednesday. 

The report is expected to show consumer prices rose at roughly the same month-on-month and annual rate in September as in August, reinforcing the persistent inflationary pressures present even as the economic recovery rolls on.

Consensus economists are looking for the consumer price index to jump by 0.3% in September over the previous month and by 5.3% over the prior year. 

At least some of that increase will likely come as a result of jumping energy prices, with crude oil and natural gas prices spiking amid elevated demand and tight supply over the past month. However, even excluding more volatile food and energy prices, the CPI likely still rose at a 4.0% annual pace. 

The so-called core measure of CPI has moderated from June's 4.5% annual clip, or the fastest rate since 1991, but has still held markedly higher compared to pre-pandemic standards. Some of the categories mostly closely associated with the economic reopening have seen prices pull back after initial surges in the spring and early summer — but not by enough to bring down the overall level of CPI. 

“The key takeaway from the upcoming consumer price index will be how broadly across categories we are seeing price increases," Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate, said in an email on Friday. "While used car prices, airfares, and lodging have all pulled back a bit, underscoring the idea that higher inflation might indeed be transitory, increases in others like shelter costs might just be heating up.”

Other areas of the economy have also begun to show persistently heightened levels of inflation, with U.S. crude oil futures skyrocketing to their highest level since 2014 last week and commodity prices across the board moving higher. And last week's September jobs report also reflected a number of inflationary pressures in the labor market, with average hourly wages accelerating to the fastest year-over-year pace since February, and rise in the workweek taking place alongside a drop in labor force participation. 

"We expect reopening effects to continue to fade, but the risk from supply constraints is likely to be longer-lasting than previously expected," High Frequency Economics' Rubeela Farooqi wrote in a note. "That should provide ongoing support to goods prices, even as services inflation continues to revert to more typical trends on a normalization of activity." 

Economic calendar

  • Monday: No notable reports scheduled for release

  • Tuesday: NFIB Small Business Optimism, September (99.5 expected, 100.1 during prior month); JOLTS Job Openings, August (10.938 million expected, 10.934 million during prior month) 

  • Wednesday: MBA Mortgage Applications, week ended Oct. 8 (-6.9% during prior week); Consumer price index, month-over-month, September (0.3% expected, 0.3% during prior month); CPI excluding food and energy, month-over-month, September (0.2% expected, 0.1% during prior month); CPI year-over-year, September (5.3% expected, 5.3% during prior month); CPI excluding food and energy, year-over-year, September (4.0% expected, 4.0% during prior month); Real Average Hourly earnings, year-over-year, September (-1.1% during prior month); Real Average Weekly earnings, year-over-year, September (-1.4% during prior month); FOMC meeting minutes

  • Thursday: Initial jobless claims, week ended Oct. 9 (325,000 expected, 326,000 during prior week); Continuing claims, week ended Oct. 2 (2.696 million expected, 2.714 million during prior week); Producer price index, month-over-month, September (0.6% expected, 0.7% during prior month); PPI excluding food and energy, month-over-month, September (0.5% expected, 0.6% during prior month); PPI, year-over-year, September (8.7% expected, 8.3% during prior month); PPI excluding food and energy, year-over-year. September (7.1% expected, 6.7% during prior month)

  • Friday: Empire Manufacturing, October (25.0 expected, 34.3 during prior month); Retail sales, month-over-month, September (-0.2% expected, 0.7% during prior month); Retail sales excluding autos and gas, month-over-month, September (0.6% expected, 1.8% during prior month); Import price index, month-over-month, September (0.6% expected, -0.3% during prior month); University of Michigan sentiment, October preliminary (73.5 expected, 72.8 during prior month) 

Earnings calendar 

  • Monday: No notable reports scheduled for release

  • Tuesday: No notable reports scheduled for release

  • Wednesday: JPMorgan Chase (JPM), BlackRock (BLK), First Republic Bank (FRC), Delta Air Lines (DAL) before market open

  • Thursday: Bank of America (BAC), Domino's Pizza (DPZ), Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA), The Progressive Corp. (PGR), UnitedHealth Group (UNH), US Bancorp (USB), Wells Fargo (WFC), Morgan Stanley (MS), Citigroup (C) before market open; Alcoa (AA) after market close 

  • Friday: PNC Financial Services (PNC), Truist Financial Corp. (TFC), Coinbase Global (COIN), The Charles Schwab Corp. (SCHW), Goldman Sachs (GS) before market open 

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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