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.

Even as worries about Chinese economic prospects are hitting the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) hard today, earnings season continues to play a major role in the stock market's overall direction. With Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) set to report their earnings within the next 24 hours, investors need to be ready for important readings on the technology and consumer-goods sectors both in the U.S. and around the world.

Microsoft will release its earnings results shortly after the market closes this afternoon at 4 p.m. EST, with a conference call scheduled for 5:30 p.m. EST to discuss the results. Procter & Gamble has typically issued earnings press releases at about 7 a.m. EST, and the company will have an open webcast of its earnings discussion at 8:30 a.m. EST Friday. 

Image sources: Microsoft, Procter & Gamble.

For Microsoft earnings, investors will be watching a number of key areas affecting the tech giant. First and foremost, shareholders want a more definitive time frame on when Microsoft's purchase of Nokia's (NYSE:NOK) handset division will be complete, as the acquisition will play a key role in the company's overall vision for its smartphone and tablet strategy. At the same time, though, investors will want to see specifics about the holiday season to help them identify trends in demand for traditional computers, mobile devices, and video game consoles. Moreover, with the company's leadership in transition, Microsoft needs to reassure investors that its succession plan is still viable.

Meanwhile, investors expect Procter & Gamble earnings to remain somewhat under pressure, with a slight drop in earnings per share and only minimal growth in revenue. Returning CEO A.G. Lafley has done a good job of restructuring P&G's operations to emphasize the most important aspects of its overall corporate strategy, including an expansion of divisions focusing on global opportunities. But cost-cutting is also an important part of boosting profits, particularly with the strong U.S. dollar hurting earnings results recently due to adverse currency impacts. P&G needs to deliver impressive results in order to justify what has become a fairly rich valuation, as nervous investors gravitate toward defensive stocks in an attempt to prevent major losses in a future stock market downturn.

One thing to keep in mind is that despite the big-name presence of both P&G and Microsoft, neither stock has a high enough share price to have the outsized impact on the Dow that we've seen after other earnings reports recently. Nevertheless, investors should look at the results for their value in predicting the fortunes not just of those individual companies but of their entire industries as well, and that could move the Dow tomorrow.

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends Procter & Gamble. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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