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Why earnings might actually start to mean something

The fire hose of earning reports gets turned on this week, with fourth quarter reports coming from six Dow components and 26 companies. And with the Federal Reserve looking to take a less active role in 2014, the results could start to matter much more to stock prices than they did over the course of 2013.

"Last week was noteworthy in the markets' response to earnings, in the context of a potentially less friendly Fed, which will lower the tolerance level for any hiccups in company performance," Lindsey Group chief market analyst Peter Boockvar wrote in a Monday note. "Those that missed were punished, such as Bed Bath & Beyond and Alcoa, but those that delivered were rewarded, such asMicron and Macy's. That seems perfectly logical, but we know misses in 2013 were mostly glossed over."

(Read more: US stocks little changed with earnings in view)

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

2013 saw a slowdown in both earnings and revenue beats. For Q1 through Q3, 71 percent of companies beat earnings estimates, and 51 percent beat revenue estimates, according to FactSet. That compares with an average of 73 percent earnings beats and 59 percent revenue beats over the past four years.

Investors will start to get a vantage point on fourth quarter corporate performance this week, particularly for the financial sector. JPMorgan Chase and report earnings on Tuesday, followed by Bank of America on Wednesday and Citigroup, and on Thursday. Other heavy hitters reporting results this week include and on Thursday, and on Friday.

The emphasis on financials could actually make initial results look relatively strong. The financial sector is projected to grow earnings by 23 percent year over year, the most of any sector, according to FactSet. (On the other hand, the sector is also projected to report a 10 percent revenue decline.)

So far, however, companies have reported mixed results—and the divergent stock price outcomes these results have yielded speak volumes for Boockvar. He argues that the Fed's program made investors shrug off any bad news in 2013, but believes the age of "Teflon markets" could be ending in 2014, as the Fed tapers its monthly bond buying.

(Read more: Volatility could come back big-time—here's why)


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