NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- No one is necessarily calling for smooth sailing for the rest of the year but sentiment definitely took a turn toward the bullish late last week that ultimately carried over into Monday's session. S&P Capital IQ dug a little deeper than just giving the better than expected July jobs report and embedded expectations of eventual stimulus from the Federal Reserve all the credit. The firm asked whether this burst back to levels unseen since early May has been a function of investors backing and filling in defensive areas, rather than real enthusiasm for equities. "Throughout this two-month recovery, most financial headlines have focused on its short life expectancy, due to a host of global economic worries," wrote Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist. "Yet only one of the best-performing sectors during the June 1 to August 3 advance could be called a truly cyclical sector: Financials. Three of the others -- Consumer Staples, Health Care and Telecom Services -- are unquestionably defensive sectors, whereas Energy, a frequently overlooked market outperformer during broadbased declines, posted the strongest advance, rising 13.6% versus gains of 8.1% to 11.9% for the remaining top performers." The firm itself is a believer that there is more room to run as it lifted its 12-month target for the S&P 500 last week by more than 3% to 1500 from 1450, putting the year-end 2012 projection at 1430, implying 2.5% upside from Monday's close at 1394.23, a level that already represents a 10.9% year-to-date gain. Among S&P CapitalIQ's "plethora of positives" are the strong performance of the broad market in the first two months of 2012 as it pointed out this has resulted in an average full-year return of 24% since 1945 with advances occurring in 25 of the 25 instances. Not bad odds. The firm also said the "dragged-out decline" that played out following the early April highs is favorable as similar slides have tended to be shallow in the past. The looming presidential election makes the favorable list as well with Stovall writing that: "78% of election year lows since 1900 occurred in the first half, while 85% of annual highs happened in the second half with 70% in Q4" and that third quarters are especially strong in such years with August posting the highest monthly average performance.
Of course, a negative turn in the economic data or else another bout of turbulence from Europe could throw a wrench in the works but investors seem to have made some peace with those concerns, even taking the weak earnings season -- profits are down 2.6% year-over-year excluding the financials so far -- in stride. "The market has climbed a very slippery wall of worry since early June, rising nearly 9%, and taking all 10 sectors up from 5.9% to 13.6%," Stovall wrote. "We think there is more upside ahead. Yet the advance has been a cautious one, as the higher yielding, more defensive sectors have led the way. If the trailing 12-month relative performance charts are any indication of things to come, however, investors may become more willing to stray from safety to cyclicality." For its part, TrimTabs noted two semi-positives about the market environment over the weekend, pointing out that stock buybacks totaled $50.2 billion in July vs. a paltry $13.6 billion total for corporate selling, which reflects net insider selling and new offerings. But the firm remains skeptical about where the recovery goes from here. "We believe the risks for the economy are firmly tilted to the downside," wrote the firm in its Weekly Liquidity Review research report. "The Eurozone debt crisis and the approaching 'fiscal cliff' are already depressing confidence, and the Fed is out of bullets to stimulate the real economy. Printing more money to jack up asset prices will do a lot more for money shufflers and wealthy people than it will for typical households and businesses." As for Tuesday's scheduled news, while it may seem like everyone is on vacation in August, the good folks at Priceline.com ( PCLN) are keeping busy with the company's second-quarter report. The average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters is for earnings of $7.36 a share in the June-ended period on revenue of $1.35 billion from the online travel reservation company. In the same period last year, Norwalk, Conn.-based Priceline earned $5.49 a share on revenue of $1.10 billion. The stock has been an exceptional performer in 2012, rising more than 35% so far outpace the broad market, although it's down roughly 13% since peaking for the past year at $774.96 on April 10. The forward price-to-earnings ratio sits at 17.1X vs. 13.5X for the S&P 500 as of Friday's close.
Despite the strong run-up this year, the sell side is still overwhelmingly bullish with 19 of the 22 analysts covering the company at either strong buy (4) or buy (15) and the 12-month median price target at $800, implying potential upside of 17% from Monday's close at $665.12. Benchmark is among the stock's biggest fans, rating it at overweight, the equivalent of a strong buy, with an $840 price target. The firm is looking for a profit of $7.41 a share for the quarter, a nickel ahead of consensus, and EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of $474 million. "We expect growth will moderate sequentially as Priceline faces its most difficult comparisons of the year with 70% bookings growth and 44% revenue growth in 2Q11," Benchmark said. "However, healthy domestic travel demand coupled with theongoing domestic retail hotel initiative along with strong growth in the APAC
Asia-Pacific region through Agoda may still drive 32% bookings growth to $7.6 billion and revenue growth of 24% y/y to $1.37 billion, slightly ahead of consensus at $1.35 billion." The firm thinks events across the pond have held the market's enthusiasm for Priceline in check of late, even in the face of industry evidence to the contrary. "Expectations have become somewhat muted despite strong 2Q results from Expedia ( EXPE) given the ongoing challenges in Europe and repeated conservative guidance," Benchmark said. "While reported revenues are again expected to be impacted by the strategic shift away from a primarily opaque domestic platform to a more traditional retail model -- opaque revenues are reported on a gross basis -- we think there could be upside to our 10% estimated domestic bookings growth driven by robust leisure travel demand, particularly in the hotel industry as evidenced by low-single digit growth in occupancy and mid-single digit growth in ADRs average daily rates." Check out TheStreet's quote page for Priceline for year-to-date share performance, analyst ratings, earnings estimates and much more. The other big earnings reports on Tuesday are Sirius XM Radio ( SIRI) and Dow component Walt Disney ( DIS). Wall Street is looking for a profit of 2 cents a share from Sirius in its second quarter on revenue of $834.4 million, up from a first-quarter top-line total of $804.7 million. The company has topped expectations in four the past five quarters, and the stock is up more than 15% in 2012.
Disney is reporting its fiscal third-quarter results and the average analysts' view is for earnings of 93 cents a share on revenue of $11.30 billion. One of the best blue chips in 2012, Disney shares have jumped more than 30% since the start of the year with the company delivering a 5% beat in its fiscal second quarter because of the success of The Avengers and the strength of the parks and resorts business, which saw year-over-year jumps of 10% in revenue and 53% in segment operating income. Other companies reporting before the bell include Amedisys ( AMED), Bridgepoint Education ( BPI), Cablevision ( CVC), Church & Dwight ( CHD), CVS Corp. ( CVS), EDGAR Online ( EDGR), FirstEnergy ( FE), Fossil ( FOSL), Hecla Mining ( HL), Intercontinental Hotels Group ( IHG), Lifetime Brands ( LCUT), Marsh & Mclennan ( MMC), MGM Resorts International ( MGM), Molson Coors Brewing ( TAP), Office Depot ( ODP), Pantry ( PTRY), PG&E Corp. ( PGE), Spectrum Brands ( SPB) and Tenet Healthcare ( THC). After the close, results from A123 Systems ( AONE), Buckeye Technologies ( BKI), Chiquita Brands International ( CQB), Coca-Cola Bottling ( COKE), Cree ( CREE), Demand Media ( DMD), Jazz Pharmaceuticals ( JAZZ), Jive Software ( JIVE), Learning Tree International ( LTRE), Maiden Holdings ( MHLD), Rackspace Hosting ( RAX), Red Lion Hotels ( RLH), Sonus Networks ( SONS), Vitesse Semiconductor ( VTSS) and Zillow ( Z) are slated to hit the tape. The economic calendar features is barren except for consumer credit for June, due at 3 p.m. ET. The consensus view, according to Briefing.com, is for a $10 billion increase on the heels of May's surprising $17.1 billion jump. And finally, shares of Dow components Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ) and Pfizer ( PFE) were coming under some selling pressure following news of the discontinuation of development of bapineuzumab intravenous, a proposed treatment for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease, after a disappointing phase III trial. The two companies were partners on the drug's development as was Elan ( ELN), which has a 49.9% interest in Janssen AI, the J&J unit that was working with Pfizer on the drug. Elan shares were falling more than 8% in late trades to $10.30 on volume of close to 700,000. Elan said it expects to record a non-cash impairment charge of $117.3 million in the third quarter to write down the entire value of its Janssen AI investment. Pfizer shares were last quoted at $23.80, down 1.9%, on volume of nearly 200,000, according to Nasdaq.com, while J&J's stock was sliding less than 1% at $63.80 on volume of more than 125,000. Leap Wireless ( LEAP) was also a big mover to the downside, tumbling more than 10% after the company reported a wider than anticipated loss in the second quarter. The San Diego-based provider of wireless communications services posted a loss of $46 million, or 54 cents a share, on revenue of $786.8 million, missing the average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters for a loss of 50 cents a share on revenue of $836.3 million. -- Written by Michael Baron in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Michael Baron.