The Dow Kicks Off Earnings Season: What Should You Expect?

It seems as if last earnings season only just ended, but April brings the return of more quarterly reports from your favorite companies. This week launches the first two earnings reports of the Dow Jones Industrial Average's most recent quarter, giving investors a look at how aluminum manufacturer Alcoa and financial titan JPMorgan Chase have been performing. Just what should you be looking for from these two companies?

Alcoa struggles to keep up
Alcoa's first up to bat on Monday, and investors anxiously await what's coming. This stock's done terribly so far in 2013; it ranks as the second-worst year-to-date performance on the Dow, with shares down more than 8% since the start of the year. China's infrastructure slowdown and slumping aluminum prices haven't helped Alcoa find its footing in a bad market, and weak demand has continued to hurt this company's revenue. Raw-materials stocks like Alcoa are closely tied to the economy, and the slow recovery from the recession in many nations has kept pressure on the sector.

Alcoa management did predict 7% greater demand for aluminum in 2013, but don't expect all of that amount to show up on Monday's results. Average analyst projections expect the company to report earnings per share of $0.10 for the most recent quarter. That's down $0.03 from earlier expectations, and with projections that revenue will fall more than 1% to $5.93 billion, many experts lack faith in any big surprise from Alcoa.

Until China's growth picks up and the U.S. economy accelerates, it looks as if it'll be more of the same from the aluminum manufacturer. Leading economies simply are too sluggish right now to fuel optimism in Alcoa from Wall Street.

However, experts are far more optimistic about JPMorgan's results, scheduled to be released Friday. Evercore Partners recently upgraded the bank stock from "equal weight" to "overweight," and shares have gained more than 7% this year despite pressure over the "London Whale" losses and increased regulatory scrutiny.

JPMorgan dominated in its most recently quarterly earnings report, growing its profit by 53% last quarter en route to trouncing analyst projections. Analysts don't expect that great of a success again, but they're still betting on increased earnings. Average Wall Street projections peg earnings per share of $1.39 this quarter, an amount that would represent year-over-year EPS growth of more than 16% over 2012's Q1 EPS mark of $1.19. Experts polled by Thomson Reuters expect falling revenue, but that's to be expected after the London Whale incident cost the company more than $6 billion.

Rising and falling
In this tale of two stocks, Alcoa's facing tough sledding ahead, with the economy still in recovery mode. Meanwhile, JPMorgan's near-term future looks a lot brighter. While smart investors know to invest for the long term, the type of time window that mostly ignores the ups and downs of quarterly reports, it's always a good thing to check in on how your portfolio's doing. Will Alcoa and JPMorgan meet expectations? We'll have to wait until Monday and Friday, respectively, to find out.

With big finance firms still trading at deep discounts to their historic norms, investors everywhere are wondering if this is the new normal, or whether finance stocks are a screaming buy today. The answer depends on the company, so to help figure out whether JPMorgan is a buy today, I invite you to read our premium research report on the company today. Click here now for instant access!

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