NEW YORK ( TheStreet -- The market may have a tough time topping Wednesday's dramatics but quarterly reports from a few blue chips will provide some headlines at the very least.As expected, the Federal Reserve left rates unchanged on Wednesday and said it sees no reason to back off its stimulus efforts. The bigger story was the Dow Jones Industrial Average's peek above 12,000 for the first time since June 2008. While the Dow couldn't hold above that level through the close, traders have been waiting this move, and it should provide some pyschological support for the S&P 500 to make its own push above 1,300 as long as earnings and economic data continue to cooperate. The Fed wins the spin award of the week for saying that while commodity prices have risen, the outlook for longer-term inflation is still A-OK. The market just wants to know when rates are going up, so the dovish tone of the statement and the fact that none of the new members of the Federal Open Market Committee stepped into Thomas Hoenig's dissenter role would seem to be welcome news. While President Obama's State of the Union speech may have been short on details about job creation, the Labor Department's release of data on weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. ET should be specific enough. But unless it's a blowout number, the market's more likely to take its cue from the next round of earnings reports. Dow component Microsoft ( MSFT) reports its numbers after the close. The average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters calls for earnings of 68 cents a share on revenue of $19.15 billion from Mr. Softie in its fiscal second quarter ended in December. The company has a streak of seven straight earnings beats on the line, but that hasn't helped the stock much. It's down 3% over the past 52 weeks vs. a gain of more than 18% for the S&P 500. Since announcing a dividend increase in late September, however, the shares have appreciated 14% but there's little reason to think the company will go that route again, even with more than $40 billion in cash on hand. Don't forget Microsoft's board also approved taking on up to an additional $6 billion in debt when it okayed the dividend boost. Looking at the stock's immediate post-earnings performance history, it turns out the shares usually don't do much in the wake of the reports, typically rising around 1% in after-hours action. We know from Intel's ( INTC) December quarter that PC shipments fell, but we also know that the Kinect sold more units than the market expected during the holidays. So look for these two items to net each other out. At current levels, Microsoft trades at a 25% discount to the S&P 500, making it look like a cheap tech giant, but it can't rely on Kinect sales every quarter to make up for the declining PC market. Investors will want to know what the grand plan is, where are the tablets? Amazon.com ( AMZN) is slated to issue its fourth-quarter report after the close as well. Analysts were looking for a profit of 89 cents a share, but that number has started to slip of late. The company enjoyed robust Kindle sales during the holidays, but some of that may have been due to a price cut. Competition in e-books is growing, so those sales may be harder to come by in the future. Amazon.com is undeniably making the transition from physical books to digital books better than competitors Barnes and Noble ( BKS) and Borders ( BGP), but the 40%-plus jump in its stock in the past year already reflects that. Any talk about shipping incentives is worth paying attention to.
It's a big day for telecom as well with AT&T ( T) and Nokia ( NOK) stepping up to the plate before the opening bell. AT&T is on the defensive in the wake of Verizon's ( VZ) launch of the Apple ( AAPL) iPhone. Its customers will undoubtedly be curious to hear if Verizon's service is better and may choose to wait and see before switching teams. It's already been reported that AT&T has started to quietly offer unlimited data plans to some customers that have started to express an interest in Verizon, although the company wouldn't confirm that. AT&T recently made changes to its pension accounting that were seen as a positive move. For its part, Nokia will probably tell investors what it expects to hear -- it's still losing market share to Apple and Android phones and everyone else with a smart phone. Caterpillar ( CAT) gets the morning started with its numbers. The stock has had a phenomenal run since summer, climbing 58%. Even with a spectacular quarter, it will be hard to keep that kind of momentum going. The pride of Peoria, Ill. has already forecast that its U.S. sales should be up 15% this year. It's expecting global sales to be up 20-25%, except in the Middle East and Europe. If Caterpillar executives offer some good color on business in the U.S., it could give the bulls a reason to run even higher. Also reporting is Tyco ( TYC), which should also get a lift if U.S. non-residential construction begins recovering. And with the GDP number for the fourth quarter due before Friday's opening bell, traders may start positioning themselves Thursday afternoon. --Written by Debra Borchardt in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Debra Borchardt. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/wallandbroad. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.