NEW YORK – Corporate earnings news will likely determine the course of the stock market next week as investors scan profit outlooks for enough strength to propel the Dow industrials the few hundred more points the index needs for a record high.
"A lot of companies reported stronger-than-expected results, and we are not talking here just about tech companies," said Dick Green, president at Briefing.com, a market analysis firm in Chicago.
"We have Dow names, such as 3M, with very good reports out there. If we continue to see good results, stocks may keep the momentum for a little longer," he added.
3M Co. and other manufacturers posted better-than-expected results and lifted their profit outlooks this week, raising the bar for heavy-equipment maker Caterpillar Inc., which is set to report on Monday.
The Dow Jones industrial average on Friday rose 4.56 points, or 0.04 percent, to 11,347.45, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index slipped 0.18 point, or 0.01 percent, to 1,311.28. The Nasdaq Composite Index, however, fell 19.69 points, or 0.83 percent, to 2,342.86.
For the week, the Dow ended up 1.9 percent at its second straight six-year high, the S&P gained 1.7 percent and the Nasdaq finished 0.7 percent higher.
The blue-chip Dow index hit a lifetime high of 11,750.28 on Jan. 14, 2000 and the S&P 500 touched its high of 1,553.11 in March the same year. But the Nasdaq is still far from its peak of 5,132.52 seen in March 2000 during the technology bubble.
Despite the robust tone in corporate earnings, some analysts and investors are skeptical the market will be able to beat the record, since this week's gains were so sharp.
"We could be into mid-July until we see the Dow break that record," said John Augustine, chief investment strategist at Fifth Third Asset Management in Cincinnati. "It may take another round of earnings to give it that push."
"There's a lot of headwinds people haven't been focusing on because earnings have been so good," said Rick Campagna, portfolio manager at Provident Investment Council in Pasadena, California. "Oil's around $74 a barrel. I just filled up my tank — gasoline was $3.29 a gallon."
"I wouldn't be surprised to see the market pause next week, unless we get some positive news. But with a number of earnings reports coming out, a good report could be enough to spark it to a new high level," said Joseph Stocke, portfolio manager at StoneRidge Investment Partners LLC in Malvern, Pennsylvania.
Energy is one sector expected to provide some spark: Murphy Oil Corp., Occidental Petroleum Corp., Amerada Hess Corp., ConocoPhillips and Chevron Corp. are just some in the industry reporting next week.
While stocks took scant notice of crude's sharp gains this week, analysts believe the relentless rise in prices at the pump could cripple consumer spending and so hurt retailers.
If there is trouble down the road for shoppers, investors may hear about it when consumer and retail companies such as Colgate-Palmolive Co., Estee Lauder Co. Inc. and Yum Brands Inc. release quarterly results next week.
Earnings may take a back seat on Thursday morning when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before a Joint Economic Committee hearing on the prospects for the economy. Investors are anxious for any signs an end to interest-rate increases is near, which could be a boon for stocks.
"He could give a better indication of the Fed's outlook. We expect he'll reiterate that they're data-dependent," Augustine said. "The bond market will be hanging on each sentence and the stock market will be watching the bond market."
Among the data the Fed will have to chew on next week is the first estimate of first-quarter economic growth and the employment cost index for the same quarter. Both reports are scheduled for release on Friday.
Home builders' shares may react on Monday when a report on existing home sales for March is released, and again on Wednesday for new home sales for the same month.