Why Earnings Are Pushing Down the Dow

When earnings season rolls around, it's all about expectations. That's why Google sunk 8% last Friday after reporting sales that grew 25% year over year while Microsoft saw its shares rise 5% on the day despite revenue gains of only 5% over last year.

While long-term investing success isn't built by guessing which companies will beat their earnings estimates by a couple of pennies per share here and there, in the short term, that's what drives the market.

With a mixed bag of earnings and no companies significantly outperforming expectations, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) has headed south for the day. Let's take a peek behind the curtains at a couple of Dow components and why their earnings haven't inspired much confidence.

Great earnings, but no love from the markets
(NYS: MCD) reported earnings this morning that beat analyst estimates. The company reported profits of $1.33 a share, which topped expectations of $1.30. Same-store sales jumped by 7.5%, an incredible figure for a mature restaurant company. However, with McDonald's near 52-week highs and trading at a P/E multiple near 20, investors were expecting more than a slight beat.

Not-so-great earnings, and a mixed bag from the market
Other earnings from Dow companies weren't quite as optimistic as the numbers seen at McDonald's. Both Verizon (NYS: VZ) and Johnson & Johnson (NYS: JNJ) were weighed down by one-time charges. In Verizon's case, pension charges resulted in a $2 billion loss for the quarter. Legal and acquisition costs led to Johnson & Johnson's net income being a tenth of what it was a year ago.

Despite that earnings fall-off, Johnson & Johnson is flat today while Verizon is slumping; off 2%. In J&J's case, the company has faced years of recalls, which has led to tremendous amounts of uncertainty, yet the company appears to be moving past some of these worries. Less uncertainty will always be cheered by Wall Street.

In Verizon's case, aside from its pension losses, the quarter raises issues with the increasing costs the company must bear to subsidize top-line smartphones like Apple's iPhone. Carriers like Verizon will sell iPhones for a couple of hundred dollars to customers while "eating" the full price, which ranges around $650 for the iPhone. The hope is that Verizon will make up those costs with monthly data fees, but its subsidy on the iPhone is higher than on other smartphones. That means continuing success from Apple could weigh on Verizon for years to come.

Putting it all together: Another win for emerging markets
Aside from the three Dow companies mentioned above, DuPont and Travelers (NYS: TRV) also reported, with Travelers' year-over-year earnings decline of 28% causing it to be the worst-performing Dow stock of the day, off 3.38%.

All in all, while an astonishing 17% of all of the Dow reported this morning, the companies did little more than reinforce what we already knew. McDonald's continues seeing outsize growth thanks in large part to overseas expansion, while Johnson & Johnson saw revenue fall 3% in America but jump 10% in international markets. The key takeaway: America and Europe remain a mixed bag while foreign markets are powering corporate earnings forward.

A pick for the road
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At the time thisarticle was published Eric Bleeker owns shares of no companies listed above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson, Google, Microsoft, and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, McDonald's, Apple, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating bull call spread positions in Apple and Microsoft, and a diagonal call position in Johnson & Johnson. 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.

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