Earnings Season Kicks Off, Bernanke's Speech, and Today's Other Major Financial Stories

1. Earnings season kicks off
First-quarter earnings season unofficially kicks off today with Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) reporting after the close. The outlook this quarter has been particularly weak. According to Thompson Reuters, earnings at S&P 500 companies are set to increase by only 1% compared to 6.2% in the fourth quarter of last year -- analysts surveyed by Bloomberg estimate that the figure will fall 1.8%. Additionally, data and analysis from FactSet shows that 86 companies have issued negative guidance, versus 24 that have issued positive earnings guidance.

In terms of bank stocks, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) and Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) both report on April 12, followed by Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) on the 15th, and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) on the 17th.

2. Bernanke speaks after the bell
The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, is set to speak after the markets close today. Given the particularly abysmal jobs report last week, many are expecting him to continue pushing the central bank's aggressive monetary stance, under which it's purchasing $85 billion in treasuries and agency mortgage-backed securities a month.

3. Japan's central bank has sparked a rally
Speaking of central banks, the Bank of Japan sparked a massive rally in Japanese stocks. The country's most closely followed index, the Nikkea 225, is at a nearly five-year high, increasing by 46% over the last six months alone. The Yen is also well on its way to a five-year low relative to the dollar. After trading below 80 to the dollar for much of last year, it's on the verge of breaking the 100 benchmark. As The Wall Street Journal noted, "The new and (as far the market and Japanese exporters are concerned) improved Bank of Japan under the leadership of Haruhiko Kuroda took a page from the Fed's 'shock and awe' playbook, unveiling a bond-buying program that was far larger than anybody expected; in some quarters, it's being called QQE."

4. Bank of America seeks to woo customers
The nation's second largest bank is rolling out a new advertising campaign in conjunction with the NCAA college basketball tournament. It's designed to be a more humble approach. "We are a facilitator," a Bank of America marketing executive said. "It's not about us. We need to focus on customer needs first and we know our place. We know we're not the center of your life, but we will connect you to what it is." The move comes on the heels of a slew of negative customer-related publicity, the most recent of which concerned the bank's overweight presence on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's database of complaints.

5. Data
Finally, while there are no major economic releases today, there are a number that should be watched for later this week. On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve releases the minutes of its most recent monetary policy meeting. The weekly jobs report comes out on Thursday. And on Friday, the Commerce Department reports retail figures for the month of March.

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