5 Dates to Circle in December

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A volatile November ended on such a strong note yesterday, but now it's time to turn our attention to December.

Let's go over a few of the upcoming days to watch.

Dec. 8
November treated shoppers and retailer stock investors to strong Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Is it time to make a shopping category for Almost Last Minute?

That's the name of the three-day sale that Target (NYS: TGT) is planning for the end of next week. Executives are telling the Chicago Tribune that the sale will feature a range of items including televisions, cameras, video games, and cookware.

Target's doing everything it can to make sure that it doesn't wind up where it did last holiday season. The discount department store chain's 0.9% uptick in same-store sales last December didn't keep up with inflation -- and much less many of its rival retailers.

Dec. 13
Best Buy (NYS: BBY) has a big problem.

Earnings and same-store sales have fallen in each of the past few quarters. Shoppers are turning to better deals from online retailers on consumer electronics. It also only hurts that all of the shelf space that Best Buy devotes to light media items like CDs, DVDs, video games, and books continues to fade in relevance as digital delivery on all four fronts cuts out the superstore middleman.

Things may not get any better this time around. Analysts see another quarter of declining profitability on flattish sales when Best Buy reports on Dec. 13. This isn't the kind of momentum that one likes to see heading into the telltale holiday shopping season.

Best Buy's plan has been to play small ball. It wants to open more of its smaller Best Buy Mobile stores dedicated solely to wireless products. If sales at the store level continue to diminish, it may not have much of a choice but to settle for bunt singles.

Dec. 15
Some bellwethers are more bellwether-ish than others.

FedEx (NYS: FDX) is one of the best, and it reports two weeks from today.

The ability to take the pulse of corporate America and hurried e-commerce trends in a single earnings report is too tempting to ignore. Wall Street is targeting revenue and earnings growth of 10% and 30%, respectively, at FedEx in its fiscal second quarter.

Dec. 16
I've tried to play "IPO" as a word on Zynga's Word With Friends. It didn't stick. Let's hope that Zynga itself has better luck.

The social gaming giant is kicking off a nine-day road show this week, positioning Zynga to price its Wall Street debut after the market closes on Dec. 15 and begin trading publicly the following day.

The hype on dot-com darlings going public has cooled substantially lately. It doesn't help that Groupon (NAS: GRPN) -- the daily deals site that was often mentioned alongside Zynga, Twitter, and Facebook as highly anticipated offerings -- has seen its stock crash through the floor of its $20 IPO price so quickly.

Zynga's IPO was at one point rumored to value the company at a whopping $20 billion, but Reuters is now reporting that the casual gaming star will hit the market at an ultimate price tag closer to $10 billion.

Activision Blizzard's (NAS: ATVI) $14 billion market cap appears to be safe for now in making the developer behind the Call of Duty and World of Warcraft franchises the video game industry's most valuable company, but that may change if Zynga pops sharply higher in its market debut in two weeks.

Dec. 21
I called FedEx one of the best economic gauges, but the company that probably is the best -- Paychex (NAS: PAYX) -- reports just six days later.

Paychex provides payroll, human resource, and benefits outsourcing solutions for businesses that aren't big enough to make it cost-effective to perform these functions in house. In a nutshell, if corporate America is hiring again and cutting more paychecks, you're going to see it in Paychex's report.

We should be covering all of these events as they happen, so stay close by adding the stocks to My Watchlist.

At the time this article was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Activision Blizzard, FedEx, and Best Buy. The Fool owns shares of and has written calls on Activision Blizzard. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of FedEx, Paychex, and Activision Blizzard; creating a synthetic long position in Activision Blizzard; and writing covered calls in Best Buy. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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