There's finally something other than the Federal Reserve and "tapering" for traders to obsess over. At the beginning of last week, Alcoa (NYSE: AA ) unofficially kicked off second-quarter earnings season. If you're wondering how things are going thus far, here's a hint: The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) proceeded to finish the week at a new all-time high of 1,680, up by 2.4%.
Now, it should be noted that Alcoa is no longer the economic bellwether it once was. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out, "It is not only a cliche that Alcoa 'sets the tone' for earnings season -- it is also no longer really true."
But while it isn't the bellwether of old, that's a far cry from saying that its results are irrelevant. It's for this reason that investors collectively exhaled when the aluminum giant reported better-than-expected earnings per share of $0.07 compared with a consensus estimate of $0.06 per share. On top of this, as my colleague Dan Carroll noted at the time, Alcoa still expects global aluminum demand to rise as much as 7% this year.
The best news of the week came on Friday, with the release of earnings from JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) and Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) . Both banks reported stellar quarters. JPMorgan earned $1.60 a share, compared with the consensus estimate of $1.45. And Wells Fargo's earnings per share of $0.98 beat forecasts by $0.05.
Moreover, the icing on the cake was what the respective CEOs had to say about the economy. JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon noted, "We continue to see broad-based signs that the U.S. economy is improving and we are hopeful that, as jobs are added and confidence builds, the U.S. economy will strengthen over time." And Wells Fargo's John Stumpf expressed unqualified optimism about the "improvements we are seeing throughout the economy."
What does this mean going forward? While this is still too small of a sample size to generalize, it's impossible to deny that earnings season is off to a good start. Up next week are a multitude of giants, including Coca-Cola on Tuesday, Bank of America and Intel on Wednesday, Microsoft on Thursday, and General Electric on Friday. Stay tuned in to Fool.com to get the latest news on these companies.