Friday's push above 14,000 in the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) has everyone wondering whether the average will rise another 155 points to hit new all-time highs. For that to happen, the stock market is going to have to see continued positive news on a number of fronts. For the Dow, as earnings season progresses, stocks that are reporting their results have the biggest chances of pushing the market higher. And with each $1 of share price gains equating to more than 7.5 points in the Dow, the boosts that could come if Dow components come out with positive reports could be what kicks the average up to new record levels.
With that in mind, let's look at four key dates that Dow-watching investors should look forward to during the rest of this month.
This Tuesday, Disney (NYSE: DIS ) will report its quarterly earnings. Even though analysts expect a modest decrease in earnings per share from year-ago levels, the stock has been setting new all-time highs on enthusiasm about Disney's longer-term prospects.
Certainly, Disney has done a lot of things right lately. It inked a lucrative content deal with Netflix that was a massive win for both companies. By validating Netflix's viability, Disney gave the streaming giant ammunition to fight back against rising competitors. For its part, Disney began the process of monetizing its huge library of content that spans well back into the 20th century, and it set a precedent that could be instrumental in future deals.
What could potentially be an even bigger deal, though, is Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm. It may be a while before we start seeing Star Wars and other franchise content coming from the newly acquired company, but in the long run, Lucasfilm could make past acquisitions of Pixar and even Marvel look insignificant by comparison. Investors will look closely for guidance about Disney's plans for Lucasfilm, and the answers will be important in assessing just how much further Disney's stock can rise.
Next week, Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) continues the parade of earnings reports. Expected earnings-per-share gains of 10% from last year look pretty impressive, but investors will be looking for reassurance that the company is continuing to move in the right direction despite some new challenges.
In particular, anti-obesity campaigns are starting to pick up steam, and the beverage industry is a natural target with its sugared drinks. With its release of an anti-obesity ad last month, Coke created both controversy and anger among some of its prospective consumers. But despite inevitable missteps, it's a positive thing that Coca-Cola is trying to get in front of the health concerns about its products rather than waiting for more regulation to do the job for it.
Later in the month, two companies report on the same day: Wal-Mart and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) . The two may seem to have little in common, but both have a few similarities that may play out in their earnings releases.
For Wal-Mart, investors will want reassurance that its rebound from years of same-store losses is truly sustainable. Given concerns about scandals in Mexico and broadening internal investigations into other parts of its global operations, Wal-Mart will need to demonstrate its ongoing growth strategies both domestically and internationally while also giving a strategy to defend against the possibility of slowing U.S. economic growth.
In many ways, that's not all that different from what HP faces. The Autonomy scandal is similarly distracting HP from its core mission of restructuring and improving its fundamentals by accentuating more promising business lines. The decline of the PC industry shows few signs of slowing, and so HP will have to demonstrate its continued relevance by shifting gears.
Of the two, Wal-Mart has the healthier stock at the moment, but both companies have the potential to move much higher. That could be a big catalyst for a move toward Dow records this month.
Finally, toward the end of the month, we have what could be the most important Dow earnings release of February: Home Depot (NYSE: HD ) . With the home-improvement retailer having jumped the gun on the housing rebound and soared to within a couple points of its all-time high, the big question will be whether Home Depot can deliver on all the expectations everyone has about its success.
If any quarter can help Home Depot, it's this one. Repairs related to Hurricane Sandy should give Home Depot as big a boost as it can expect from a one-time event, and as homeowner sentiment keeps improving, the company should see more remodeling and improvement activity lead to higher sales.
Even though February is the shortest month of the year, it's shaping up to be an exciting one. Keep your eye on these four dates and be sure to watch how your portfolio does as stocks start to get close to those long-awaited records.
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