Week in Preview: Employment, Bernanke and More Retail Earnings

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This week we turn the calendar page, and that change brings with it a raft of economic data. Scheduled for release on Monday are pending home sales and personal income numbers for January, as well as the Chicago PMI and car and truck sales data for February.

On Tuesday, as March comes in like a lion, look for the ISM Manufacturing Index for February and construction spending numbers for January. That's followed on Wednesday by the week's first employment data: the Challenger Job-Cuts announcement and the ADP employment report for February. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will deliver his semiannual monetary policy testimony before Congress on both days.

On the economic calendar for Thursday are labor productivity numbers for the fourth quarter, as well as the ISM Non-Manufacturing Survey for February. Also, the initial jobless claims for last week; fewer claims are anticipated.

Then on Friday we'll see if there was any movement in the unemployment rate in February. Payroll gains are expected to be modest. The week also ends with factory orders data for January and the ECRI Inflation Gauge for February.

Foot Locker Earnings Expectations

On the earnings front, last week's results from retailers like Home Depot (HD), JCPenney (JCP), Target (TGT) and Walmart (WMT) were largely solid. And analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect retailer Foot Locker (FL) to be one of this week's biggest earnings gainers. During the three months that ended in January, the athletic footwear and sports gear purveyor was recognized as a top performing retailer of 2010 and its CEO bought shares. The New York-based company is expected to post earnings of 36 cents per share, a 33.3% rise from a year ago. And the fourth-quarter revenue forecast calls for a 4.1% year-over-year increase to $1.4 billion.

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Analysts also anticipate full-year per-share earnings of $1.07 (+49.5%) on $5.0 billion in revenue (+3.8%). Foot Locker beat EPS estimates in the past three quarters, by 16 cents per share in the previous quarter.

Foot Locker has a long-term EPS growth forecast of 10.8%, as well as a forward price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) of 16.2. Its PEG ratio is 1.5 and the dividend yield is 3.1%. There have been takeover rumors about Foot Locker, and the First Call consensus recommendation has been to buy FL for more than 90 days. The mean price target is currently $22.89. The share price is in the same neighborhood as three months ago, as the stock has faced resistance at $20 during that time.

AutoZone Q2 Report

Analysts anticipate that AutoZone (AZO), the nation's largest auto parts chain, will report Tuesday that its fiscal second-quarter earnings came in at $3.05 per share, up 19.3% year over year. Memphis-based AutoZone bought back shares during the three-month period that ended in February, and revenue for the quarter is predicted to total $1.6 billion. That's an increase of 8.3% from a year ago.

Looking ahead to the third quarter, the consensus estimates thus far call for sequential and year-over-year growth of both EPS and revenue. AutoZone earnings have topped consensus expectations in recent quarters, by as much as 53 cents a share.

The long-term EPS growth forecast of 14.6% is better than that of competitor Advance Auto Parts (AAP). The forward P/E is 13.7, which is less than the industry average. AutoZone also has a PEG ratio of 0.9. Its net cash flow from operations has grown in recent quarters, and short interest has fallen in the past month to about 6% of the float. While AutoZone doesn't have a consensus buy recommendation, the stock caught the Motley Fool's eye for its buyback yield. Shares hit a 52-week high of $272.05 last December, but have traded mostly between $250 and $260 since the beginning of the year.

And More ...

On the industrial side, mining equipment maker Joy Global (JOYG), defense contractor URS Corp. (URS) and packaging and shipping container maker Greif (GEF) are also anticipated to report strong results this week. The Street is looking for more than 30% year-over-year EPS growth from Joy Global and more than 25% from the other two. And revenue for all three is anticipated to be more than 20% higher than a year ago. All three companies have tended to beat EPS estimates in recent quarters. Joy Global and Greif have consensus buy recommendations. Shares of all three have been marching higher since September, and Joy Global and Greif recently hit 52-week highs.

Bank of Montreal (BMO), Costco (COST), Del Monte Foods (DLM), DineEquity (DIN), Kroger (KR), Newcastle Investment (NCT) and PetSmart (PETM) are also expected to report strong earnings results this week, while narrow declines in EPS are predicted for BJ'S Wholesale (BJ) and H.J. Heinz (HNZ).

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