As earnings season ends, anxiety sets in

Sometime around now, with the earnings release by Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) already out, the earnings season draws to a close. A number of small companies will still report but the huge ones are nearly done. That means the market will have to wait until April to get new data on how important corporations are doing and whether they will stick with their forecasts for the rest of the year.

This is when the anxiety sets in for investors. Even if Q4 numbers were bad for many companies, they gave enough information for shareholders to hold or sell their positions. For the time being those clues have disappeared.

With concrete information to the contrary, most investors will assume that Q1 will be a disaster for most large public companies. The economy and employment are getting worse in the quarter. Consumer and business spending are dropping.

Where will the market look for small bits of information? To companies that issue monthly numbers. This will include the big car companies, fast food chains like McDonald's (MCD) and retailers including Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT). McDonald's and Wal-Mart are particularly important. If sales of those companies falter, it means consumer spending has hit rock bottom and the chance for any good news from Q1 results will have all but disappeared.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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