There's never a dull moment on Wall Street, especially when new tablets and old retailers are in the way. Let's go over some of the items that will help shape the week ahead.
1. Amazon lights its Fire: After nearly two months of hype and what may be millions in pre-orders, Amazon.com's (AMZN) Kindle Fire hits the market on Tuesday.
Amazon's $199 tablet should be a big seller. Taiwan's DigiTimes -- a tech news specialist that's well-connected to Asia's contract manufacturers and gadget component suppliers -- reported yesterday that Amazon has boosted its Kindle Fire orders for 2011 to a whopping 5 million.
Amazon's been promoting the Kindle Fire on its front page since the entry-level tablet was introduced in late September so it's easy to believe that the pre-orders have been strong. Earlier this week Amazon revealed that the device will also have access to thousands of Android's most popular apps. In other words, this isn't a handheld gizmo that will be limited to Amazon's ecosystem.
2. Take two tablets and call me in the morning: Two days after the Kindle Fire hits the market, Barnes & Noble (BKS) will come out with its response: Nook Tablet.
The bookseller will continue to make its original Nook and updated Nook Color e-readers. In fact, it just lowered its prices on both of those devices. However, if Amazon's going to strike with Fire, Barnes & Noble will be ready with a Tablet of its own. The Nook Tablet is priced at $249, but some will argue that it's worth the $50 premium to Amazon's tablet. Both are roughly the same size, but the Nook Tablet features double the random access memory and initial storage capacity than the Kindle Fire.
These two companies will be vying for gadgetry supremacy all holiday season long, and the fireworks start next week.
3. Land of the forgotten retailers: There was a time when Gap (GPS), Sears (SHLD), and Hot Topic (HOTT) were hot stores.
Gap owned the 1990s with its designer denim and comfortable khaki pants. You may have to go further back, but Sears used to woo shoppers by promoting the "softer side" of Sears.
Husbands didn't mind tagging along, because Sears own Craftsman tools armed weekend warriors. Hot Topic's heyday came just a few years ago, when the early stages of the Twilight movement and the peak of Harry Potter mania made it fashionable for more than just emo kids to wear black T-shirts with alt-culture characters and catchphrases.
It's a whole new world for all three retailers in 2011. Gap is trying to make sense of its Old Navy, Banana Republic, and namesake concepts. Sears hooked up with Kmart and the chain has been posting uninspiring financials and negative store-level comps for years. Hot Topic fell victim to fickle fashion tastes.
All three companies will be reporting earnings next week, but only Hot Topic is projected to post earnings improvement.
4. Home is where the hardware is: Lowe's (LOW) and Home Depot (HD) report on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
Home Depot is actually coming off a pretty decent quarter, but these have been challenging times for the home improvement superstores.
You don't need to be whacked by a two-by-four to figure out the problem. Real estate prices are still feeling for a bottom, and there are still too many homeowners that owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. It's hard to get excited about installing granite countertops in the kitchen or remodeling a bathroom if the bank may take over your home.
We are starting to see signs of life, though, and it has to be a good sign that analysts expect both companies to post bottom-line improvement next week.
5.Office space: Where's the "easy" button when you need one? Staples (SPLS) reports its latest quarterly results on Tuesday. It's easy to see why Staples is one of the better gauges of Corporate America's health. If small businesses are thriving or hiring again, the country's leading office supply chain will be one of the first to know.
Staples has held up better than its smaller rivals, and that's a combination of the incompetence of others and Staples' ability to take advantage of the teetering competition. However, there's only so much market share that one can gobble up before the pie itself needs to start growing.
You may never own a share of Staples, but tune in just to hear the bellwether retailer's near-term outlook.
That was easy.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not owns shares in any of the stocks in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Gap. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Home Depot, Lowe's, Staples, and Amazon. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended writing covered calls in Lowe's.
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