Stocks kicked off 2018 with fresh highs, as the latest job figures pointed to continued steady economic growth. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 0.82%) and the S&P 500 (^GSPC 0.59%) each gained over 2% in the holiday-shortened trading week.
Fourth-quarter earnings reports are likely to play a big role in determining whether the rally extends deeper into 2018. A few of the most anticipated announcements set for the upcoming week include Acuity Brands (AYI 2.01%), Lennar (LEN 2.86%), and Wells Fargo (WFC 0.96%). Here are the trends for investors to watch in these reports.
Acuity Brands' updated forecast
Investors aren't expecting much good news from lighting specialist Acuity Brands when it announces its results on Tuesday. After all, sales growth was less than 4% in the most recent quarter, as Acuity's core commercial lighting market held flat. Gross profitably declined by a full percentage point to 42.5% of sales, too, as lower LED costs spurred reduced prices throughout the industry.
CEO Vernon Nagel and his executive team are optimistic that a rebound is building in the construction industry, but not until the second half of fiscal 2018. At that point, they're hoping Acuity's sales growth will accelerate, which should help support stronger profits. Investors are sure to get an update on that industry forecast on Tuesday.
In the meantime, Acuity is working to expand into higher-margin, integrated lighting solutions while filling out its product lineup with more Internet of Things capabilities. Shareholders will be looking for continued progress at cutting costs, too, given that adjusted operating margin hit a record 18% of sales at the close of fiscal 2017.
Lennar's home prices
Lennar's results are set to come out before stocks begin trading on Wednesday. The homebuilder's shares trounced the market in 2017, as the business improved across several key operating metrics. In the fiscal third quarter, for example, Lennar delivered 12% more homes even as average prices increased 4% to $375,000. In yet another indication of the housing market's strength, its purchase incentives fell to the lowest rate in over a decade. These results combined with record low expenses to send operating earnings up an impressive 12% last quarter.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma didn't cause significant damage to Lennar's housing footprint in the fall, but the storms did delay the construction of nearly 1,000 homes. These houses probably won't be delivered in the fiscal fourth quarter, management warned in early October, but instead will make it into the next fiscal year's results. From there, Lennar executives are expecting continued expansion in the broader economy -- and in the high-end housing market -- to power more record sales and profitability results in 2018.
Wells Fargo's efficiency metrics
Financial-services giant Wells Fargo releases its fiscal fourth-quarter results on Friday morning. Its last quarterly outing was a disappointment to many investors, as key operating metrics, including revenue growth and return on assets, came up short of expectations. That stumble was probably driven in part by the bank's fake-accounts scandal, which it has yet to fully put behind it. Because of that, and other challenges, Wells Fargo's stock underperformed the market in 2017 during what was an unusually good year for the banking industry.
Shareholders are hoping for a much brighter 2018. Tax reform is likely to boost Wells Fargo's profits, and increasing interest rates will help, too. These favorable industry trends set the stage for another strong year for banks, but it's not yet clear that Wells Fargo can overcome its many operating and efficiency challenges so that it can participate in the expected rally along with its banking rivals.