The markets are feeling a little bit ill today. All major indexes are down by at least 0.2% as of 2 p.m. EDT, led by a 0.35% drop by the heavyweights on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI).
But it's still earnings season, and the Dow has a couple of tricks up its sleeve that will move markets tomorrow. Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) reports third-quarter earnings after the bell today, and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) delivers what I consider the end of every earnings season tomorrow morning. Will these reports send the Dow back to the downward slopes on Thursday, or could they spark a short-term turnaround?
Let's start with the earlier report.
Networking equipment maker Cisco is expected to deliver adjusted earnings of $0.48 per share on roughly $11.4 billion in sales. Both numbers are below the results reported in the year-ago period.
The company's official earnings and revenue guidance is in line with analyst views.
Cisco is expected to have a transitional year in 2014, with growth due to return in 2015. CEO John Chambers likes to talk about this year as "the inflection point for the Internet of Everything." It's a nascent market that Chambers calls "the biggest market opportunity ahead, encompassing every technology trend in the market today." It reminds him of the networking excitement from the mid-1990s.
That being said, 2014 isn't much of a rocket booster. Cisco is fighting soft sales in traditional high-growth markets like the BRIC bloc. Internet, cable TV, and telecom service providers aren't building out their networks at the breakneck pace they used to, hurting sales of Cisco's biggest and most profitable class of equipment. And Cisco is in the middle of ramping up a new generation of routing and switching platforms, which tends to hurt sales for as much as eight quarters.
The last few months have been fairly pleasant for networking specialists. Cisco's rivals have reported healthy demand from service providers. There was that Heartbleed bug, which affected many of Cisco's products, but sector peers haven't seen any order slowdowns based on hacking fears.
Keeping all of these factors in mind, there's really no reason to believe Cisco will crush tonight's sales or earnings targets. But the company won't fall far short, either. This stock shouldn't move the Dow very far on Thursday, because there aren't any massive surprises in store.
Speaking of stores, retail giant Wal-Mart is up next in the batting order.
Analysts are looking for earnings of $1.15 per share tomorrow, squeezed out of $116 billion in total revenue. Both numbers would represent a tiny bit of global year-over-year growth.
Encouraged by fundamental business trends but hampered by a bitterly cold February, Wal-Mart expects flat comparable-stores sales for the quarter. In the year-ago period, comp sales were down by 1.3%. The company didn't provide firm revenue guidance for the period, but the final earnings projection is in line with analyst targets.
Wal-Mart is rolling out large numbers of its smaller store concept, which focuses on a full-service grocery and pharmacy with fuel services on top. The remainder of the big-box inventory will lean more heavily on e-commerce sales going forward.
These are promising long-term projects, but won't do much for the current quarter. Like Cisco, Wal-Mart rarely sets targets it can't achieve. But un like Cisco, Wal-Mart has missed earnings estimates in two of the last four quarters. Each time, the miss triggered several weeks of sliding share prices.
So the big question for Wal-Mart investors is, are the fundamental improvements enough to make up for the weather-related start to the quarter? The answer may not move the Dow too far on Thursday, but it will certainly make a difference to Wal-Mart's performance over the next couple of weeks. Analysts often take their time getting their market-moving analysis done, after all.