5 Dates for Savvy Investors to Circle in December

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www.youtube.com"Marco Polo" can be binge-watched on Netflix starting Dec. 12.
It's been a wild year, and 2014 comes to a close this month. This doesn't mean that investors can take it easy over the holidays. Let's check out some of the potentially market-shaping events that will take place in the coming weeks.

Dec. 5

All eyes will be on retailers in the coming weeks as holiday shoppers slam stores in search of deals on gifts. One chain to watch is Big Lots (BIG). The seller of overstocks, clearance items, and other deeply discounted merchandise reports quarterly results on Friday morning.

Analysts aren't holding out for much. They see a smaller quarterly deficit than it posted a year earlier on a slight dip in sales. However, Big Lots should provide an early read on the thriftiness of this season's holiday shoppers.

Dec. 11

Upscale yoga seller lululemon athletica (LULU) was a growth darling in the fickle retail industry until early last year when there was an embarrassing recall of its flagship and expensive Luon pants because they were too sheer. Investors that made out so nicely on lululemon through 2012 took a hit in 2013, and the stock is likely to lose ground again in 2014 if it doesn't come through with a blowout quarter when it reports next week.

It's been hard for lululemon to bounce back. Comparable-store sales have declined 5 percent through the first half of this fiscal year, and profitability is going the wrong way. Sales are growing, but that's only because lululemon continues to expand its store base. With the critical holiday season here, lululemon will have to prove that affluent shoppers with active lifestyles have embraced the brand again.

Dec. 12

Netflix (NFLX) has made it cool to create serialized content that streams exclusively through the leading online video service. Netflix has scored big hits with "House of Cards" and "Orange Is the New Black," and late next week it's hoping to catch lightning in a bottle again with "Marco Polo."

True to Netflix's strategy, all 10 of the first season's episodes will be available on Dec. 12. This will be a big-budget affair. Reports suggest that the lavish production of the Asian epic tale cost roughly $90 million. After Netflix fell short of its net subscriber additions during the third quarter it is hoping that this is the kind of magnetic content that attracts more global members.

Dec. 16

Activists won the battle at Darden Restaurants (DRI), and now it's time to see if it can win the war. The parent company of Olive Garden and LongHorn SteakHouse will deliver its first quarterly report since shareholders shook up the boardroom.

It will be too early to see how the new blood is faring in turning around Darden's problematic Olive Garden concept, but the Dec. 16 report and subsequent conference call should provide some insight on the first steps to take in making the Italian casual dining chain relevant again.

Dec. 23

Things quiet down as the year comes to a close. Volume lightens up as traders head off for the holidays, and the same goes for corporate executives. That won't stop Walgreen (WAG) from posting quarterly results for its fiscal first quarter.

Analysts see the drugstore operator earning 74 cents a share, just above the 72 cents a share it posted a year earlier. That may seem conservative, but Walgreen hasn't beaten Wall Street's quarterly profit forecasts in more than a year.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends Lululemon Athletica and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on our favorite high-yielding dividend stocks.
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