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After all of the wild swings through 2011, the year ended with flattish results. January will probably be just as volatile.
Let's go over a few of the upcoming days to watch.
The housing industry started to show some signs of life toward the end of 2011. Prices finally appear to be bottoming out, though it remains to be seen whether that will stick if mortgage rates -- now perched near historic lows -- begin inching higher.
Homebuilder Lennar (NYSE: LEN ) reports next week. The real estate developer has managed to post six consecutive profitable quarters, so investors shouldn't be surprised by another period in the black.
Investors will still want to see how new orders are piling up and whether fewer buyers are getting cold feet and cancelling their orders.
Speaking of big banking, Citigroup (NYSE: C ) and Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) will report on the same day to give us a great glimpse of retail banking. Analysts see both financial bellwethers posting improving bottom-line results.
Many of their peers will also be reporting earlier and later in the week, so it will be a great time to see whether banks are lending again and whether the industry itself has learned its lessons.
After serving as the poster child for "the lost decade" for investors, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) delivers the first of its quarterly reports during the 2012 calendar year.
This should be an important year for several reasons.
- Windows 8 will usher in a new era as Microsoft's first PC operating system that is designed for tablet use.
- Mr. Softy was asleep at the wheel in mobile as Android and iOS take over, but now it's paying billions for the world's largest handset maker to back its updated smartphone platform.
- After years of playing second fiddle to PlayStation and then Wii, Microsoft's finally the top dog in this country when it comes to video-game consoles. Can it keep the Xbox 360 and the thriving Xbox Live ecosystem thriving?
It would also be nice if 2012 is the year that Microsoft finally turns a profit in its online business.
For better or worse, Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) has become a compelling soap opera in recent weeks. As potential suitors line up to either swallow the company whole or take a big stake in the dot-com titan, shareholders have benefited from the speculative run.
The latest chatter involves the sale of most of some of its Asian assets, but given the fluid nature of these Wall Street sagas, that story changes every few days.
There's a good chance that there may be a resolution to the drama by the time Yahoo! posts its fourth-quarter financials in three weeks. If not, you just know that the conference call will be very interesting.
It would be bad enough if your coffee cup blew up, but 2011 was the year of coffee-stock blowups.
The one consistent brew through all of this was Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX ) , and the barista baron reports its latest quarterly financials toward the end of the month.
Posting positive gains in sales, earnings, and store-level comps will work wonders for a premium brand's consistency. Starbucks also turned heads in November with its purchase of a natural-juice company. November was also the month when Starbucks coffees became available in K-Cup form, so it should be an insightful quarterly report out of the java giant.
If you like to stay on top of what happens next -- and I'm guessing you do, because you're reading this article -- how about checking out Motley Fool's top stock for 2012? It's a free report, but only for a limited time, so check it out now.