Earnings Season's Arrival Lights Up the Dow

Earnings season is here again, as aluminum producer Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) is set to lead off the Dow Jones Industrial Average's (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) slate of quarterly reports after the closing bell today. The Dow has surged ahead of the starting gun, keeping up its upward momentum by gaining more than 90 points as of 2:15 p.m. EDT. Most stocks are in the green, but one big laggard is holding the blue-chip index back from even bigger gains today. What do you need to know? Let's check out the movers and shakers in today's Dow.

All eyes on Alcoa
The wait before its earnings report has kicked Alcoa's stock higher on the day: Shares of the aluminum producer have notched gains of 0.9% so far. The company is expected to report earnings per share of $0.06 on revenue of $5.83 billion, but regardless of whether it beats or misses later today, Alcoa faces trouble ahead. Oversupply in the global aluminum market has driven prices down and weakened demand for the industry's top players. Alcoa's already been forced to shut down several plants and had its credit rating reduced to junk status by ratings firm Moody's earlier in the year.

None of that suggests that investors shouldn't hope for a beat today -- after all, Alcoa has been the worst performer on the Dow this year, and shareholders could use a bit of optimism after the slog of 2013. When looking at the big picture, however, understand that Alcoa's road back to the highs it once commanded won't be done in the matter of quarters. It'll take years and a more complete global economic comeback to right this ship.

Wal-Mart's (NYSE: WMT  ) shares are leading the Dow by a wide margin, gaining almost 2% today. Increasing consumer confidence is a positive for retailers like Wal-Mart, but the company has turned toward geographic diversification in order to pick up growth more quickly as the U.S. economy slowly bounces back. Unfortunately, that strategy hasn't exactly gone as planned in India, where red tape has held back the company's advance into the world's second-most-populous nation. According to Reuters, sources say Wal-Mart has delayed its likely application for its first store in the country until 2015 as it waits for government approval, and the first store is not likely to open before 2016.

Bribery allegations have already slowed Wal-Mart's push into India, and while the retailer shouldn't be dissuaded from stepping into this promising developing market, the delays could cost Wal-Mart significantly if another firm manages to step up and push into India's retail sector as well.

Despite the broad gains on the Dow today, Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) is holding the index back from what could be an even stronger start to the week. Evercore Partners' downgrade of the stock to "underweight" and Citi's lowering of projected quarterly earnings have combined to take shares down a painful 4% so far. The two firms cited the PC market's ongoing weakness as hurting Intel's outlook, and it is true that the chip maker's exposure to the withering PC industry could hamper its results in the short term.

In the long term, however, Intel's showing smart signs that it's pivoting away from the once-dominant PC market that's falling into decay. The company's partnership with Samsung for a version of its Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 tablet is a promising step into the mobile market for a chip maker that has struggled to keep up with more successful rivals in pursuing smartphone and tablet opportunities. Intel has a long way to go in mobile to gain anything resembling its dominance of the PC industry, but if the company can keep up this push and build on its early foundation with Samsung, a few weak quarters in the near term will be forgotten in the long run.

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