Once the last of the hamburgers and hot dogs are eaten and the grill has cooled off, investors will put the lazy long weekend behind them and start gearing up for the beginning of the earnings flood. Alcoa ( AA) will kick off the second-quarter earnings season when it reports results after Wednesday's closing bell. Analysts expect the aluminum giant will post a loss of 34 cents a share on revenue of $3.93 billion, according to Thomson Reuters. But the real earnings hurricane won't hit until the following week, turning the next five sessions into the proverbial calm before the storm. Aside from Alcoa, the roster of companies set to report results next week include less sexy names like Ruby Tuesday ( RT), Family Dollar ( FDO), Pepsi Bottling ( PBG), 3Com ( COMS) and Infosys ( INFY). Conversely, JPMorgan Chase ( JPM), Intel ( INTC), Bank of America ( BAC), Citigroup ( C) and Nokia ( NOK), among several others, are scheduled to report between July 13 and July 17. James Paulsen, chief investment strategist with Wells Capital Management, acknowledges the coming week could be the quietest of the second-quarter earnings season. But he argues that it's never too early to prepare for the brunt of earnings releases, considering the impact is greater at the start of every reporting cycle. "The beta of these early reports is always greater than the beta of the later reports," Paulsen said. "So even though there are fewer next week, the market impact is going to be big at the front end and it decays as the vast majority of the reports cross. Investors shouldn't get too worried about this stuff. They should worry about next year, not next week. But a trader has to worry about this."
A sustained run higher for equities is ultimately going to depend on profitability, Paulsen adds, making every earnings report important. "Confidence is growing. If this is the second quarter in a row with better-than-expected earnings, it would be big," he said. Unfortunately, the outlook for the second quarter is pretty gloomy. The second-quarter earnings growth rate for the S&P 500 stood at -35.5% on Friday, according to John Butters, an analyst with Thomson Reuters. Butters says that all 10 sectors in the S&P 500 are expecting a year-over-year decline in earnings. The materials, energy, financial and industrial sectors are anticipating the lowest earnings growth rates for the second quarter, he said. If all 10 sectors finish the quarter with negative growth, the second quarter will mark the highest number of sectors recording negative growth since Thomson Reuters began tracking sector growth rates in 1998. Wells Capital Management's Paulsen says he doesn't put a lot of stock in the -35.5% figure. He's a bit more optimistic about what second-quarter earnings reports will show, partly because the volume of preannouncement warnings from companies has been light. "Historically, that has been a pretty good sign of how the quarter turns out," Paulsen said, before warning that "it's only one sign." Art Hogan, chief market strategist with Jefferies, agrees that the lack of profit warnings is positive sign, and he adds that the lack of second-quarter guidance from companies means that a lot of the bad news is likely baked into expectations.
"As we worked our way through the last two quarters, we've had a complete lack of guidance," Hogan said. "That lack of guidance has given us a more pessimistic outlook than a realistic outlook. As we look at the season in general, I think we'll probably get more guidance than we have in the last two quarters. As a market driver, that should be a positive catalyst." Hogan notes that UPS ( UPS) is one household name that recently has offered upbeat guidance. Last month, the overnight shipping company said the economy is improving and it forecast growth in the first half of calendar year 2010, partially due to reduced costs and better year-over-year comparisons. As for the coming week, however, Hogan believes it will be full of fanfare but short on action. "Alcoa's report is a reminder that earnings season is coming, but not that it has started," he said. "It makes more noise and gets too much attention than it should. You have to have a better sampling of earnings than just Alcoa. Unfortunately, we fall into this trap every quarter." Several key economic reports are expected to influence trading over the next few sessions. Monday will see the Institute for Supply Management release its services index for June, with economists forecasting a reading of 46, up from 44 in May. The May reading on consumer credit will come Wednesday, as well as the Energy Department's weekly inventory report. Thursday will bring the weekly initial jobless claims report, which is expected to be an important release after claims fell by 16,000 the previous week to 614,000. The May reading on wholesale inventories will also be released Thursday. Friday is the busiest day for economic releases, with the June report on import and export prices expected at 8:30 a.m. EDT. At the same time, the trade deficit for May will be released by the government. Later, at 9:55 a.m. EDT, the University of Michigan will post the preliminary read on its consumer sentiment index for July. Jefferies' Hogan says the real driver next week may be the move in the dollar and commodity prices. The dollar shot 1% higher against the euro on Thursday following the government's disappointing employment report. Meanwhile, gold futures fell more than 1% and crude lost more than 3% over the holiday-shortened week. "I would argue that we've traded down on the stronger-dollar, weaker-commodity complex," Hogan said. "That's a much bigger driver than what we're seeing in the reaction to the weak economic data."