Earnings, Jobs Will Be on Investors' Minds

Wall Street's attention will turn from worrying about oil and the Federal Reserve (search) to tracking corporate profits next week as U.S. companies prepare quarterly results — and possibly warn investors if they expect to miss consensus.

Investors also will zero in on Friday's report on U.S. employment, which is expected to show the addition of 188,500 non-farm jobs in June, compared with just 78,000 jobs in May,according to economists polled by Reuters.

Earnings forecasts, though, have the most potential to set Wall Street's nerves on edge in the coming week.

"We're seeing an increase in guidance downward, Ankrim noted that the trend speaks more to efforts by corporations to manage their stock prices than to an economic slowdown.

"They've learned the lesson that if you have earnings exceed expectations by a nickel, it appears to be a nonevent," Ankrim said. "But if you underperform by a nickel, it is very punitive."

For the week, stocks gained, with the Dow up 0.05 percent, while the S&P 500 added 0.24 percent and the Nasdaq gained 0.20 percent.

For the second quarter, though, stocks ended mixed. Through the close Thursday, June 30, the Dow was down 2.2 percent, while the S&P 500 was up 0.9 percent, and the Nasdaq was up 2.9 percent.

The formal calendar of earnings and U.S. economic data is light for the short week, with the New York Stock Exchange (search) and Nasdaq closed Monday for the Independence Day holiday on July 4.

Alcoa Inc. (AA), the world's largest aluminum maker and a component of the blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average, is slated to report earnings Thursday. Pepsi Bottling Group Inc. (PBG), a component of the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index, also will post its quarterly results that day.

John Caldwell, chief investment officer at McDonald Financial Group, of Cleveland, Ohio, said he expects a strong quarter overall.

"We're going to do better than expected in the second quarter," Caldwell said. "The economy is still relatively healthy. You think back to the talk of a soft patch in the first quarter, when it was really 3.8 percent growth. A lot of economies would be pretty happy with that kind of soft spot."

As of Friday, 30 out of the 500 companies in the broad S&P 500 index had reported second-quarter earnings, with only five of those missing consensus estimates, compared to the 20 that beat forecasts. On average, earnings came in 1.9 percent ahead of expected levels.

The high price of crude oil has been a major weight on the stock market. The Dow fell on Monday when oil futures hit $60.95 a barrel, an all-time high.

Rising oil prices are typically a negative for corporate profits since they boost expenses and eat into consumers' discretionary income.

Shares have recovered since oil slipped more than $2 from that high, through Friday's NYMEX (search) close, though analysts suggested that an easing in oil prices wouldn't mean an immediate boost for the stock market. NYMEX August crude settled Friday at $58.75 a barrel.

"Most people have been surprised at the ability of this economy to weather oil going from $35 to $60 a barrel," Ankrim said. "I'm guessing that as a result of that, if we go from $60 back down to the high $40s', we won't see that much of a stimulus from that."

Investors also will be able to take a break from guessing the Federal Reserve's next move following its decision Thursday to raise the fed funds rate to 3.25 percent from 3 percent. It was the Fed's ninth straight rate increase since last June and it came with a strong hint that more rate hikes lie ahead in the foreseeable future.

Among U.S. economic indicators on tap, Wall Street is looking ahead to a report on May factory orders and revised May data on durable goods orders, both due Tuesday. Wednesday, the Institute for Supply Management will release its index of U.S. non-manufacturing activity for June, which will give a reading on the services sector. And Thursday, major U.S. retailers will report June sales.

Taken collectively, these reports will provide a good snapshot of U.S. corporate and personal spending.

Overall, analysts said they expect a week of light volume, with many Wall Street traders and investors taking some vacation time.

"You'll be able to hear the crickets chirping," said Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co., of Boston.