NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The U.S. isn't necessarily the unquestionable go-to for investing in stocks any more, Josh Brown, CEO and co-founder of Ritholtz Wealth Management, said on CNBC's "Fast Money Halftime" show. He pointed out that German stocks are up 15% from the lows earlier in the month, while French equities are higher by 8% on the year. In comparison, the S&P 500 is still flat for 2015.
Earnings will likely change that performance, for better or for worse. According to Stephanie Link, chief investment officer of TheStreet and co-manager of the Action Alerts PLUS portfolio, the financial sector reported "disappointing" results, but this week is "really big."
Tech companies like Yahoo! (YHOO) , Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) , Apple (AAPL - Get Report) , Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) , Google (GOOGL - Get Report) and Alibaba (BABA - Get Report) report this week, while Chevron (CVX - Get Report) , ConocoPhillips (COP - Get Report) and Occidental Petroleum (OXY - Get Report) also report earnings.
Although the earnings results matter, guidance will likely be held in higher regard, Link reasoned. Investors want to know how the stronger U.S. dollar and weaker oil prices will affect the corporate landscape.
It will be interesting to see if consumer discretionary companies benefited or will benefit from lower oil prices in the form of higher consumer spending, said Sarat Sethi, managing director at Douglas C. Lane & Associates. Now that the holidays are over, consumers may be looking to spend more money at retail locations and on dining out.
Sethi also touched on refinery companies, noting that they benefit from a wider spread between Brent crude oil and West Texas Intermediate oil. In the past few months, the spread between the two oils has narrowed, which will hurt margins for companies like Valero (VLO - Get Report) and Marathon Petroleum (MRO - Get Report) .
However, that spread is beginning to widen now, so these companies should see a boost in margins "down the road," he said.
"I wouldn't step in" and buy energy stocks yet, said Pete Najarian, co-founder of optionmonster.com and trademonster.com. Instead, investors should just stick to the companies that benefit from lower oil prices, such as the airlines.
Bruce Van Saun, CEO of Citizens Financial (CFG - Get Report) , was a guest on the show. The company continues to find promising loan growth, particularly on the commercial side, which has seen 7% to 9% annual growth for the past four to five years. Higher interest rates will benefit the bank, with a rate hike likely happening at some point in 2015, he said.
Even without higher rates, Citizens is still seeing solid growth in other areas, such as auto loans and student debt refinancing. Van Saun acknowledged that mortgage demand has been soft recently, but demand seems likely to increase going forward.
The valuations of regional banks are very attractive, particularly for SunTrust Banks (STI - Get Report) and KeyCorp. (KEY - Get Report) , Link said. As a whole, regional banks seem better positioned with their capital ratios and balance sheets than most of the big banks.
"Definitely" go with regionals over big banks, Sethi added. This group isn't under the same rigorous and watchful eye of the regulators. Plus, the regionals are seeing solid loan growth.
If investors' time horizon exceeds 12 months, then they can buy the big banks, Brown reasoned. The valuations are low and eventually higher rates will equate to higher profits. The big banks could head lower before they go higher, which is why it's ideal for long-term investors who plan to add to the position over time.
The conversation shifted to Yahoo!, as Eric Jackson, founder and managing partner at Ironfire Capital, said he'd be watching the company's earnings results closely, looking for management's solution to its tax bill on its Alibaba stake. If CEO Marissa Mayer can find a way to reduce or eliminate its tax bill for the Alibaba stake and generate some sort of growth from its core business, shares of Yahoo! could have upside toward $80.
Depending on the magnitude of the potential tax break, shares could jump $6 to $7 per share on the news.
-- Written by Bret Kenwell