Although March's disappointing job numbers seemed to pressure the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) down today, investors might want to step back and catch their breath. The employment report could provide an ominous outlook, but on the eve of earnings season, we could find that strong corporate earnings will jump-start the market once again.
Based on the S&P Capital IQ survey, analysts are estimating that first-quarter earnings will be up only 1% when compared to the same period last year, taking into account all of the companies in the S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC) . Stopgap recovery measures have mostly run their course, and the European debt crisis and China's slowing growth seem to be halting the U.S. economy as well. While that seems like bad news for investors, the pessimism surrounding the lower expectations could present more upside potential from earnings beats. With that in mind, let's take a look at a few companies set to release quarterly reports this week.
Aluminum-maker Alcoa (NYS: AA) traditionally kicks off earnings season, and this quarter is no different. Analysts are eyeing a $0.04 EPS loss for the manufacturer, which reports after markets close tomorrow. Alcoa posted an $0.18 loss from continuing operations in the last quarter, which amounted to a $0.03 deficit after backing out restructuring and similar items. Aluminum prices -- which have seen significant swings over the past six months -- along with closures of high-cost smelters were two factors that led to a loss in the fourth quarter of 2011. Slowing growth in China's economy has also hit Alcoa, as the country has been a major consumer of commodity materials to support its construction boom. Alcoa missed out on much of the market rally in the first quarter, but today investors seem to be optimistic with earnings on the horizon. Alcoa's stock has barely dipped on a more painful day for the broader indexes.
JPMorgan Chase (NYS: JPM) will be the only other Dow component reporting quarterly results this week, with earnings set for Friday before the market opens. Analysts are expecting EPS of $1.15 for the financial powerhouse, whose shares have outperformed over the last three months, gaining about 25%. Hiking its dividend and passing the Fed's stress test helped buoy the banking behemoth in the last quarter. Shares are down over 1% today, however, as the financial sector has taken an outsized hit following the jobs report. Typically, the financial sector tends to swing more dramatically than other blue chips on the heels of macroeconomic news.
Wells Fargo (NYS: WFC) also reports Friday, just an hour after JPMorgan, and analysts are expecting earnings to come in at $0.72 per share. Wells Fargo's stock has jumped about 15% in the last three months, benefiting from the rising tide of the market as a whole. Since these are the first two major banks to report earnings, investors will be looking for signs of what to expect from the rest of the financial sector in the weeks ahead.
Keep your eyes on the prize
JPMorgan and Wells Fargo aren't the only banks that have surged in recent months. Bank of America is up about 60% since the beginning of the year, and the financial sector still looks undervalued to many experts. Even Warren Buffett expressed bullishness on banks in his recent shareholder letter. Unfortunately for him, many of these banks are too small for him to invest in, but this presents an ideal buying opportunity for the individual investor. Get a good look at some of these smaller banks that are still selling for a great value these days in the Fool's new special free report: "The Stocks Only the Smartest Investors Are Buying." You can get your free copy by clicking right here.
At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributor Jeremy Bowman holds no positions in the companies in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan Chase. The Fool has also created a covered strangle position in Wells Fargo. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.
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