Tag Archives: Company coverage

frankieflack

Getting lit up: How PR people become the story

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Every now and then my email will suddenly become inundated with emails from friends and colleagues in the PR industry all emailing me one story.  Before evening opening any one of these notes I know exactly what the content of the story will be — a story featuring some PR person doing something stupid.

Sometimes it’s just poor a quote or subtle reference to tension between PR and reporter but most likely it’s a full story focused squarely on something a PR person did to irk a reporter.  For an industry dedicated to speaking with reporters on a daily basis, it’s a little ironic how paranoid we can be about ending up in a media story.  I wonder if the people who juggle flaming sticks are equally amazed when someone in their field inadvertently sets themselves on fire.

The best story I’ve seen lately where a PR “pro” metaphorically set themselves ablaze was when Beyonce’s PR rep emailed the infamously snarky BuzzFeed to request they take down less-than-flattering photos of the superstar.  (Note: I have no way of knowing exactly how the Beyonce issue was handled.  All commentary below is not specific to any particular situation).

It’s a situation in which almost every PR pro has found themselves dealing with at one time or another.  An important client calls up incredulous at what a media outlet has decided to publish and demands a change.  Instead of taking a few minutes to think through how best to handle the request, the PR person does exactly what they were told and fires off an email to the outlet.

No one likes corrections.  PR people don’t like asking for them, and reporters almost never like changing their story (unless it’s a simple mistake like misspelling a name).  Because both sides aren’t going to enjoy the conversation, it’s human nature to avoid conflict and opt for email.  This is a fundamental mistake on the PR person, especially when dealing with a publication that publishes stories incessantly and on almost any topic.

While uncomfortable, a simple phone call is critical.  It will give the PR person a sense of how the reporter reacts to the request and, most of all it will not give the reporter a chance to turn the request into a standalone story.

Not every reporter is looking to turn a PR person’s email into a story.  We’re just not that interesting.  However, there is a certain line where a reporter is almost required to put pen to paper and let the world know what we are up to behind the scenes.  In my opinion this almost always happens when a PR person mixes pushiness with a genuinely bad idea.

As PR people we need to defend our clients and push back against reporters from time to time.  But we also need to consider the reporter, understand the media outlet and most of all, evaluate the clients demand.

Now that BuzzFeed is launching a business vertical, I would caution my colleagues in the field to think twice before asking them to take down embarrassing photos of their hedge fund clients.

TheStreet.com logo

TheStreet.com CEO received $1.3 million in 2012; Cramer received $1.47 million

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Elizabeth DeMarse, who became president and chief executive officer of TheStreet in 2012, received more than $1.3 million on total compensation during her first year on the job.

More than $830,000 of that compensation was in the form of stock options, according to the proxy statement filed Tuesday by the online financial news company.

DeMarse receives a base salary of $400,000. She also received a $200,000 bonus for joining the company. She also has the option to purchase up to 1.75 million shares of company stock at a price of $1.80 per share.

John Ferrara, the company’s new chief financial officer hired in February, is being paid a base salary of $220,000. He received a $10,000 signing bonus.

TheStreet co-founder Jim Cramer no longer receives a salary or bonus from the company. But he does receive a royalty based on the revenue derived from the company’s Action Alerts PLUS subscription service. In 2012, Cramer received $1.47 million in royalties pursuant to the agreement and was also awarded a discretionary bonus for 2012 of $11,992.

The proxy makes no mention of the compensation of editor in chief William Inman, who joined last year.

Read the SEC filing here.

Thomson Reuters logo

Reuters parent reports profit decline

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Thomson Reuters Corp., the parent of the Reuters news service, on Tuesday reported a 7 percent decline in first-quarter operating profit because of severance costs and a decrease in revenue at its Financial & Risk division, which caters to banking clients.

Jennifer Saba of Reuters writes, “The global news and information company spent $78 million on severance costs in the period and also booked a tax charge of $235 million. It said in February there would be $100 million in severance costs related to about 2,500 job cuts.

“‘We are executing more effectively, launching better products, simplifying our systems and processes and managing with more rigor and discipline, which is why our confidence continues to build,’ Thomson Reuters Chief Executive James Smith said in a statement.

“The company is the midst of a turnaround after Thomson Corp’s $17 billion acquisition of Reuters Group Plc. The 2008 merger coincided with a financial crisis that prompted banks, which are core customers of Thomson Reuters, to slash costs and cut staff.

“Adding to the challenge was the premature roll out to its financial clients of its flagship desktop product Eikon.

“By the end of the first quarter, the company said that Eikon desktops totaled nearly 47,000, up 38 percent from the end of last year. That was a slightly larger increase than the 33 percent rise seen between the third and fourth quarters of 2012.”

Read more here.

Kodak

Kodak turns over businesses to pension plan

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In a move to settle a bankruptcy claim, Kodak has given two iconic business units to a U.K. pension plan.

Here are the basic details from the Bloomberg story:

Eastman Kodak Co., the bankrupt photography pioneer, will spin off imaging businesses to its U.K. pension plan in a deal that settles $2.8 billion in claims.

Kodak’s personalized- and document-imaging businesses will be spun off to the pension plan, Kodak’s largest creditor in the bankruptcy case, for $650 million, the company said today in a statement.

Kodak, based in Rochester, New York, plans to file tomorrow in court its plan to exit bankruptcy protection. The spinoff agreement settles about $2.8 billion of claims by the pension plan against Kodak, according to the statement.

Kodak’s hometown newspaper, Rochester’s the Democrat and Chronicle, added these details:

With those businesses, the pension plan would pick up roughly 3,200 full-time permanent Kodak workers — roughly a quarter of its 13,000 employees worldwide. Kodak on Monday declined to say how many of the 3,500 Kodak workers locally would be part of that sale.

Document Imaging revolves primarily around Kodak’s various document scanners. Personalized Imaging includes the businesses that made Kodak a worldwide household name — camera film and photographic paper.

Pension plan Chairman Steven Ross said Monday that the terms of the deal also include its rights to use the Kodak brand for those products.

In a statement Monday, Kodak CEO Antonio M. Perez said the sale “moves us past several key hurdles in our reorganization, resolving all potential claims worldwide … pacing our Personalized Imaging and Document Imaging businesses with a new owner that recognizes their value and is focused on their growth and success, and providing the remaining liquidity we require to emerge from Chapter 11.”

Kodak pension fund spokesman John Kiely said the pension fund won’t run the businesses directly, but will put together a management team to run them.

Kiely said specific plans for the DI and PI businesses — including how to grow them — still have to be worked out. But the U.K. pension plan, having talked with current management and looked at projections, is confident DI and PI can grow, he said. Pension fund managers “obviously gone through an exhaustive due diligence process,” Kiely said.

The Wall Street Journal added this context about the ongoing back and forth as Kodak tries to reorganize:

Kodak put the camera-film business and other businesses, including kiosks that develop digital photos and heavy-duty commercial scanners, on the block in August as part of a downsizing effort aimed at focusing on commercial printing, packaging and functional printing.

The $2.8 billion in pension obligations and the sale of the businesses were among the final outstanding issues keeping Kodak in bankruptcy court. The U.K. pension plan includes roughly 15,000 members.

A bankruptcy judge earlier this year approved Kodak’s deal to sell a portfolio of 1,100 digital patents for $527 million. Though a lower price than Kodak hoped, the deal also involved the buyers—including Apple Inc., Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp.,  agreeing to end contentious patent litigation.

With the transfer of its traditional camera-film business and other enterprises, Kodak will cement a long fall from a technological titan included in the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1930 until 2004. Despite inventing the digital camera, Kodak has been slow to adapt to new technologies and ended up filing for bankruptcy protection in January 2012 amid a cash crunch.

What I’m left wondering is how many pension funds have responsibility for company operations at this point? Is this something that’s done regularly or a novel way for manufacturers to use physical assets and businesses to settle liabilities.

And what of the implications for the pension funds? Fund mangers will have to divert time and attention away from making money for investors while they search for the people to run Kodak. How is this going to help pensioners in the long-term?

While many pensions have private-equity investments and other alternative assets, does this mark a whole new era in what types of assets they’ll hold?

I find the situation incredibly interesting and I look forward to the follow-up stories that will hopefully address some of these issues. I, for one, would like to hear what Calpers has to say about the deal.

Fleishman

The changing face of public relations

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Fleishman-Hillard is rebranding and shifting the company’s strategy. First, they’re deleting the hyphen from the name (since that will be effective as a rebrand) and moving to offer other services like social media planning.

Here are excerpts from the New York Times story:

Truth be told, the changes at FleishmanHillard — with worldwide revenue of more than $500 million and 2,500 employees in 84 offices — are meant to signal how it is striving to become an integrated marketing communications agency that offers services like advertising and social media marketing in addition to public relations.

FleishmanHillard will seek to be “channel agnostic,” Mr. Senay said, an industry term meaning to be objective about the various forms of communication, whether paid, owned, earned or shared, to reflect “how the public consumes media today.”

To that end, the agency is hiring a former longtime journalist, Pat Wechsler, as senior vice president and director for editorial and corporate content strategy, working in realms like content marketing, which provides consumers editorial and entertainment articles and video clips that marketers sponsor.

He was hired after FleishmanHillard had brought in scores of the types of employees who are more typically found at consultancies, brand identity businesses or ad agencies, among them analytics specialists, planners, copywriters and art directors.

It’s interesting to note that like journalism, public relations is trying to find different ways to remain relevant to their audiences and clients. As many journalists work to make their own brands and use social media to promote their work, many large corporations are still struggling to determine the best way to answer questions and reach customers via these new, non-traditional channels.

Here’s more from the Times:

Reflecting the broadening of the services offered by FleishmanHillard beyond public relations, the agency last year placed more than $1.2 billion worth of ads in paid media, compared with $250 million in 2011.

“A lot of things have changed in consumer product marketing, especially the multiplicity of channel options,” said Mike Brooks, executive director at the William K. Busch Brewing Company in St. Louis, which hired FleishmanHillard to create television, radio, outdoor, online, retail and social-media ads to introduce two beers, Kräftig Lager and Kräftig Light.

Asked to assess the work, Mr. Brooks paused to declare, “I’m not on a P.R. campaign for FH,” then said: “I am happy to report thumbs up in every regard. The creative and the messaging are well received. And we have one quarterback of all the disciplines, Tom Hudder, an executive creative director, ensuring everything is consistent.”

FleishmanHillard is, of course, not the only agency reassessing its operations in light of the profound changes in marketing and media. Large competitors like Edelman, part of Daniel J. Edelman Inc., and Weber Shandwick, a unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies, are also reworking their service offerings.

Because of innovations like social media, the model has evolved from “trying to connect people with brands” to “trying to connect people with people to connect with brands,” he added. “Agencies that have made an effort to bring in fresh talent are getting hotter.”

As traditional media outlets now compete with Twitter, Reddit and Facebook to disseminate news, public relations executives are also grabbling with how to use these tools. As more people turn to social media to ask questions, comment on products and complain about service, firms have to find a way to answer consumers without provoking their ire.

A corporate executive once told me that one of his biggest fears was having a social media boycott or campaign against his firm. He said once allegations are out on the web, it’s much harder to tell his side of the story. He said it was hard to find advice that was actionable and from people who knew how to run a social media campaign. Integrating new outlets into communications plans is now imperative.

It looks like firms such as Fleishman are beginning to shift to adapt to the new landscape.

CNNMoney_com_Logo

CNNMoney pulls back from its H-P/dancers story

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Arik Hesseldahl of All Things D writes that CNNMoney.com has basically retraced a story about Hewlett-Packard that stated the computer company had hired dancers for $20,000 to encourage its workers to be creative.

Hesseldahl writes, “The extent of HP’s relationship with the dance troupe appears to be that it was invited to dance at the Boise campus on a day when local charitable groups — the Trey McIntyre Project is a not-for-profit organization — solicit contributions from employees.

“HP complained to CNNMoney, which has since altered the story considerably. A headline that first read, ‘Why Hewlett-Packard is hiring dancers’ now reads ‘Dance troupe markets creativity to cube-dwellers,’ and is accompanied by a lengthy correction note. I asked CNNMoney tech editor Stacy Cowley for a comment, and she basically pointed me to the editor’s note that’s now topping the story.

“It reads:

‘An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the relationship between Hewlett-Packard and the Trey McIntyre Project. The dance troupe has performed at HP’s Boise office several times as part of a company event showcasing the area’s artistic organizations and charities, but HP has not hired or paid TMP for its creative services. The text of this article has been updated and corrected. CNNMoney regrets the error.’

“I also reached out to Cheryl Strauss Einhorn, the writer of the piece, and haven’t yet heard back.”

Read more here.

Earnings call

Why aren’t journalists allowed to ask questions on earnings calls?

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The quarterly earnings call is much more than a casual conversation among a company’s executives, analysts, investors and the media — it’s a carefully scripted dialogue that is practiced well in advance of a call.

The planning and preparation that goes into an earnings call allow little room for journalists to fire questions that may throw an executive off message or make them appear ignorant about a topic in front of a large audience that has the power to push a company’s stock price upward or send it plummeting.

In fact, many publicly traded companies ban business journalists from asking questions during the call at all, and direct them to a specific public relations contact following the call for any follow-up questions. However, oftentimes analysts are permitted to ask questions on the live call.

So, then, why are business journalists prevented from asking executives questions during the call? And why are analysts allowed? Is this a smart tactic?

An Exclusive Club

Prior to 2000, quarterly conference calls were primarily reserved for large investors and analysts, and journalists, along with small investors, were often not even permitted to join in the earnings call. Many companies participated in selective disclosure during these calls, giving some investors an advantage over others.

However, in 2000, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) mandated through Regulation Fair Disclosure (FD) that publicly traded companies must disclose material information to everyone at the same time. Therefore, publicly traded companies were forced to open their earnings calls to everyone, including journalists.

Even though others are now allowed to dial in and listen to these calls, there is still a sense of exclusivity, and the companies frequently cater to a select group of listeners.

The company earnings calls are held for the benefit of institutional investors and analysts covering the company for investment banks, Sapna Maheshwari, a business reporter at BuzzFeed said in an email on Thursday. The analysts, she said, who ask questions on the calls typically represent this cohort of people, which is why they are provided with greater access.

The Difference

“Analysts often ask a lot of softball questions and offer many congratulations before saying anything on the calls,” Maheshwari said. “They are often scared of losing access.”

Investor relations practitioners anticipate the type of Q&A from analysts, and rehearse the questions with executives in advance. Further, some companies screen analysts in advance for the questions that they may ask through one-on-one emails and phone calls, according to an article from Inside Investor Relations. The investor relations team then often prepares a documented and suggested answers for possible questions that may come up during the Q&A portion of the call.

It’s possible that companies are better able to anticipate the questions analysts may ask, and that they allow them greater access for this reason. This isn’t to say that analysts won’t fire pointed questions; many have on occasion.

Lois Boynton, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and former public relations professional, offers additional reasons for why companies provide analysts access to top executives during earnings calls while barring business journalists.

“One argument is that they just don’t want to answer the business journalists’ questions,” Boynton said in an email on Thursday.

“The reputation journalists have for being adversarial probably doesn’t endear them with companies. My guess is that the argument would be couched as their desire to use the limited time they have to talk with those who make decisions [analysts] and who they may feel are better informed.”

Adversarial topics are ones that public relations professionals take painstaking measures to avoid during conference calls that are being closely monitored by those who have the ability to influence the market, and why so much preparation goes into calls. One slip-up could have a significantly negative effect for a company.

Boynton also provided an alternative explanation, and said that companies may also not want journalists asking questions because they don’t want analysts to hear their questions and be influenced by them.

“What is the journalist asks something that could call the company’s reputation into question,” Boynton said. “Would that affect what the analysts do?”

Many companies justify the practice of not allowing journalists to ask questions during the earnings call because they defer them to the public relations department following the conference call, Boynton said.

Working at Bloomberg News last summer, I found this often to be the case. Some companies, Yum! Brands Inc. in particular, were excellent at fielding questions from reporters immediately following an earnings call, while it was nearly impossible to get in touch with others.

“There’s a misconception that is reinforced when the company shuttles the reporter to the PR person – the message is that the public relations person’s role is to keep journalists away from those sources who can answer their questions,” Boynton said. “Although there are PR practitioners who have that role, most see their role as opening doors to the exec level.”

One of the only companies that allow reporters to ask questions during the actual call is News Corp., hosting separate sessions for analysts and journalists to ask question.

“I haven’t run across companies that allow journalists to ask questions on what I cover [retail],” Maheshwari said. “In fact, there is only a handful of companies that are good about putting me in touch with executives.”

Should more companies open up earnings calls to journalists and be more transparent, like News Corp. or is it smart to limit questions to analysts during these sessions?

frankieflack

Frankie Flack: In a crisis, focus on those affected, not the biz media

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Given the events of last week, it seems appropriate to spend some time discussing communications principles in the time of a crisis for a business.

There are a number of ways to define a crisis, and in fact, there are many divergent views on how best to handle a corporate crisis from a PR perspective.

The simplest way to think about a crisis is an event that an organization does not expect and has the potential to cause significant long-term damage if not properly managed.  Properly managed means that after some time an organization and those directly impacted by the crisis are able to get back to some state of normalcy.

As with pretty much every aspect of public relations, speed is a critical component to good crisis communications protocol.  Once a crisis happens, the people directly impacted by it want to know who is responding to their needs.  This is one of the trickiest moments for a communications leader because in the chaos of a crisis there are a lot of people saying what should and shouldn’t be done.  At this time, it is best to focus on figuring out who is most affected and what do they need to hear that will assure them the business is responding.

Details are going to be sparse, but simple phrases that indicate the business is aware of a problem can go a long way in those early moments.

The key focus at this time is toward those most impacted by the crisis.  This means that reporters should not be a primary focus in the immediate aftermath of any crisis.  The challenge in staying focused on this approach is that the influx of media inquiries after a crisis can be crippling for nearly any communications team.

Just like always, all media calls should be returned, but the PR person should not get caught in long conversations with reporters.  It is important to acknowledge the company is addressing the situation and that more detail will follow.

The goal is to project to the media a sense of calm, that the company is focused on the problem and not overwhelmed.  Impacted parties will want to hear directly from the company.  The more personal it can be delivered, the better.

In addition to a staggering amount of incoming inquires, there will inevitably be a similarly sized influx of stories.  This coverage should be closely watched to ensure that in the fog of the immediate fallout damaging misinformation is not gaining traction as fact.

At the appropriate time, a company should address the media and discuss in as much detail as possible what caused the crisis, how it was handled and how the company is moving forward.  This might be considered pulling the Band-Aid off all at once theory.

Media are important vehicle to convey important messages to impacted parties, but they are also focused on addressing the totality of a crisis all at once.

Communications teams are best to squarely focus on responding to the needs of those most impacted, as aiding those groups is not only the right thing to do but will also allow the company to eventually move past a crisis.

tribune_company_logo_648

Koch brothers eye Tribune Co.

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Koch Industries, controlled by billionaires Charles and David of the same name, is now looking to expand their reach to the media, something new for the conglomerate.

Here’s the story from the New York Times:

Other than financing a few fringe libertarian publications, the Kochs have mostly avoided media investments. Now, Koch Industries, the sprawling private company of which Charles G. Koch serves as chairman and chief executive, is exploring a bid to buy the Tribune Company’s eight regional newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant.

By early May, the Tribune Company is expected to send financial data to serious suitors in what will be among the largest sales of newspapers by circulation in the country. Koch Industries is among those interested, said several people with direct knowledge of the sale who spoke on the condition they not be named. Tribune emerged from bankruptcy on Dec. 31 and has hired JPMorgan Chase and Evercore Partners to sell its print properties.

The papers, valued at roughly $623 million, would be a financially diminutive deal for Koch Industries, the energy and manufacturing conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., with annual revenue of about $115 billion.

Politically, however, the papers could serve as a broader platform for the Kochs’ laissez-faire ideas. The Los Angeles Times is the fourth-largest paper in the country, and The Tribune is No. 9, and others are in several battleground states, including two of the largest newspapers in Florida, The Orlando Sentinel and The Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. A deal could include Hoy, the second-largest Spanish-language daily newspaper, which speaks to the pivotal Hispanic demographic.

They’re not the only ones looking at the media properties. Here are a few more details from the Wall Street Journal:

The Kochs are among several parties that have shown interest in Tribune’s titles, the people said. Others include greeting-card magnate Aaron Kushner, who led a group that purchased the Orange County Register and six other Freedom Communications dailies last year. In an interview Sunday, Mr. Kushner reiterated his interest in a potential bid for all of the Tribune papers.

Koch Industries encompasses a vast array of mostly industrial businesses, from energy to paper milling, but to date has had little exposure to the media business.

The Koch brothers have been active funders of conservative causes such as the Americans for Prosperity political action committee, however, and Koch Industries has started its own website, KochFacts.com, to rebut what they see as inaccurate reporting about their activities.

Tribune, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at the end of last year, hired Evercore Partners and JP Morgan in February to explore the sale of its newspapers.

The sale process is still in preliminary stages. Financial information on the papers is expected to go out next month, say people familiar with the situation. Formal bids wouldn’t be expected until some time later.

A representative for Tribune said it “our long-standing policy is to decline to comment on any speculation involving the company or its media businesses.”

The Times said the main competitor for the Los Angeles Times is a local group:

Koch Industries’ main competitor for The Los Angeles Times is a group of mostly Democratic local residents. In the 2012 political cycle, Mr. Broad gave $477,800, either directly or through his foundation, to Democratic candidates and causes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Mr. Burkle has long championed labor unions. President Bill Clinton served as an adviser to Mr. Burkle’s money management firm, Yucaipa Companies, which in 2012 gave $107,500 to Democrats and related causes. The group also includes Austin Beutner, a Democratic candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, and an investment banker who co-founded Evercore Partners.

“This will be a bipartisan group,” Mr. Beutner said. “It’s not about ideology, it’s about a civic interest.” (The Los Angeles consortium is expected to also include Andrew Cherng, founder of the Panda Express Chinese restaurant chain and a Republican.)

Apparently, the Tribune Co. is the preferred bidder for the newspapers, according to the New York Times:

At this early stage, the thinking inside the Tribune Company, the people close to the deal said, is that Koch Industries could prove the most appealing buyer. Others interested, including a group of wealthy Los Angeles residents led by the billionaire Eli Broad and Ronald W. Burkle, both prominent Democratic donors, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, would prefer to buy only The Los Angeles Times.

The Tribune Company has signaled it prefers to sell all eight papers and their back-office operations as a bundle. (Tribune, a $7 billion media company that also owns 23 television stations, could also decide to keep the papers if they do not attract a high enough offer.)

Koch Industries is one of the largest sponsors of libertarian causes — including the financing of policy groups like the Cato Institute in Washington and the formation of Americans for Prosperity, the political action group that helped galvanize Tea Party organizations and their causes. The company has said it has no direct link to the Tea Party.

A lot of the concern about the politicizing of the media reminds me of similar concerns voiced when Rupert Murdoch bought The Wall Street Journal. If people with the means are able to buy coverage or editorial page space, then there is the risk that others’ ideas won’t be covered.

Murdoch did institute changes to the structure of stories but not to coverage. Let’s hope that if the Koch brothers do win the Tribune properties, there won’t be any meddling in the editorial policies.

stock-market

Stocks drop after earnings reports

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Remember when the market was peaking? Well, it seems that all that optimism on corporate performance was misplaced. Several companies have reported earnings that missed analysts estimates, prompting investors to pair back exposure to stocks.

Let’s start with the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the market:

Technology and consumer stocks led the market’s decline following a basket of lackluster earnings reports.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 63 points, or 0.4%, to 14559, in late trading Thursday. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index slid nine points, or 0.6%, to 1543, on pace for its lowest level since early March. The Nasdaq Composite Index sank 40 points, or 1.3%, to 3164.

Stocks have seen big swings this week, alternating between gains and losses, starting with Monday’s 266-point decline, the Dow’s biggest of the year. Tuesday’s rebound was nearly washed away by Wednesday’s 138-point drop for the blue chips.

Quarterly earnings reports from a host of major corporations set the tone of trading.

Through Thursday morning, first-quarter earnings growth for 82 of the S&P 500′s companies had declined 0.4%, according to FactSet, on pace to mark the second year-over-year decline in earnings in the past three quarters. Meanwhile, corporate revenue is expected to rise 3.2% in the first quarter, well below growth of 6% in the first quarter last year, according to S&P Capital IQ.

“The revenue side of the equation looks challenged on the whole,” said Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Asset Management Group. “That’s a testament, unfortunately, to a global economy that continues to struggle.”

Reuters decided that the declines were due to “weak economic data” and said it was the third day of losses:

Stocks fell on Thursday for the third day this week after data showed signs of slower growth ahead for the U.S. economy, while bearish technical signals added to doubts about the market’s strength.

Bloomberg led with earnings, but included the Philadelphia region manufacturing numbers, then returned with context about the quality of earnings this season.

Stocks kept losses after a measure of manufacturing in the Philadelphia region expanded at a slower pace and the index of U.S. leading indicators unexpectedly declined for the first time in seven months. The S&P 500 fell below its 50-day moving average for the first time this year. That level, currently at around 1543, is watched by some analysts to gauge the trend of the market.

Almost 30 companies in the S&P 500 were scheduled to post results today. Of the 82 that have reported since the season began, 74 percent have beaten analysts’ estimates for profit and 49 percent have exceeded sales forecasts, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Analysts project first-quarter results dropped 1.4 percent, the first contraction since 2009.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VOL), or VIX, increased 4.9 percent to 17.31. The gauge briefly erased losses for the year after climbing as much as 10 percent. The VIX, which moves in the opposite direction to the S&P 500 about 80 percent of the time, reached a six-year low in March and has since risen 53 percent.

“When we were heading into this earnings season, the estimates had come down, but the S&P itself was still in a situation where sentiment was high and correcting,” Sam Turner, a fund manager with Richmond, Virginia-based Riverfront Investment Group LLC, said in the phone interview. His firm manages $3.7 billion. “That can play itself out with a consolidation.”

And for the international perspective, let’s look at the Financial Times, which said investors were worried about global growth prospects:

Equity and commodity markets in the US and Europe had a choppy time as investors struggled to shake off lingering concerns about the prospects for global economic growth.

Gold also experienced a fresh bout of volatility but managed to keep intact its recovery from a two-year low struck earlier this week. The yellow metal was up 0.8 per cent to $1,387 an ounce, although silver edged back slightly.

The latest economic reports out of the US did little to quell worries that a slowdown could be under way.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve’s April survey of manufacturing activity weakened slightly while the index of leading indicators for March also fell. Meanwhile, initial jobless claims edged up slightly last week – the survey period for the Bureau of Labour Statistics’ April non-farm payrolls report.

“The spring and summer dips in economic activity that dominated 2011 and 2012 look to be repeating this year again,” said Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities USA.

The data kept alive the sense of uncertainty in the markets prompted earlier in the week by unexpectedly weak Chinese GDP figures, some worrying numbers from Germany and the International Monetary Fund’s downgrade to its 2013 global growth forecasts. Indeed, Andrew Kenningham at Capital Economics argued that the IMF’s projections – while far from bullish – still looked too optimistic.

Either way, seems some of that investor optimism is heading out the door and money is being pulled out of the markets. No matter what you blame it on, it seems the stock market party might be over.