Will Earnings Season Save the Dow?

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

At least for the opening hour of trading, the stock market finally ignored its fears of a long government shutdown and the possibility of a government-debt default. Markets paused in their recent declines and even posted modest gains briefly as investors applauded the expected naming of Janet Yellen as Ben Bernanke's successor as Federal Reserve chair, expectating that she and the Fed will continue their easy monetary policy well into the future. Given predictions of economic damage from the shutdown, the long-awaited "taper" of the central bank's quantitative-easing program could get delayed indefinitely as the Fed waits for more data before easing off on its bond-buying activities. As of 10:55 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) were just nine points above breakeven.

As important as the government's actions are for the health of the economy and the markets, though, the beginning of earnings season will have equally important implications for the Dow and the broader stock market. Although Alcoa's favorable report last night doesn't directly affect the Dow anymore, a rash of reports from current Dow components are on the horizon, with nearly a dozen companies in the average reporting in the next week.

Among those reports, we'll likely see a mix of results. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) could have a tough time living up to expectations, as the big bank has expected rising interest rates to have a huge negative impact on its mortgage business. Analysts see earnings dropping by more than 10% from the previous year's results, as the impact both on mortgage volume and on JPMorgan's internal investment portfolio could more than offset any positive benefit of higher rates on net interest income.

Even industries that have had more success could see little or no growth from year-ago levels. General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) has moved aggressively into the lucrative energy business, picking up valuable contracts for long-term projects based on its expertise and experience in dealing with renewable energy as well as oil and gas infrastructure and services. Yet analysts expect flat earnings from last year on a slight drop in revenue, showing that GE's track record of growth might finally be starting to hit snags.

Still, some companies show great potential. Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) is expected to post double-digit earnings-per-share increases, and many investors believe the company's future will be a lot brighter in light of its having taken complete control of its key Verizon Wireless unit. Raising huge amounts of debt to finance its buyout might be scary from a balance-sheet perspective, but locking in low interest rates creates the potential for huge share-price gains if Verizon's business proves successful. Essentially, Verizon has become a more leveraged bet on the growth prospects for the U.S. telecom industry, and recent demand for new smartphones suggests that the U.S. market has further to run in supporting Verizon in the future.

Will Government Chaos Ever End?
Even with earnings season upon us, the long-term fact remains that the U.S. government has piled on more than $10 trillion of new debt since 2000. Annual deficits topped $1 trillion after the financial crisis. You need to know what it means for your portfolio. The Motley Fool's new free report, "Everything You Need to Know About the National Debt," walks you through the crisis with step-by-step explanations about how the government spends your money, where it gets tax revenue from, the future of spending, and what a $16 trillion debt means for our future. Click here to read the full report!


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