Stocks tried to mount a late week comeback but fell over the past five trading days. Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) and the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) shed roughly 1%. They're still up by double digits so far in 2021. 

First-quarter earnings season continues with dozens of popular stocks reporting results over the next few trading days. That list includes Lowe's (NYSE:LOW), Target (NYSE:TGT), and iQIYI (NASDAQ:IQ), whose announcements we'll preview.

A young couple shopping together.

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Growth challenges at Lowe's

Investors have some good reasons to look forward to the earnings report from Lowe's on Wednesday. Besides booming demand for home-improvement products, the retailer has enjoyed faster sales growth than rival Home Depot. The industry leader announces its results a day earlier, and so we'll learn by Wednesday whether Lowe's managed to beat its peer for a fourth straight quarter.

Surging prices, especially for lumber, might inflate revenue results for both companies, but those spikes might also pinch profit margins. Lowe's is aiming to boost its operating margin to 12% of sales this year, up from 9% two years ago, to close the gap even more with Home Depot. But the stock price rally at Lowe's might depend on management's comments about the health of the housing market heading into the peak spring selling period.

An earnings spike at Target

Wall Street has been impressed with Target's performance through the pandemic, and that explains why the stock has trounced the market in the past year. But that rally could be tested in its Wednesday report.

Sales are likely to have continued jumping thanks to robust demand for home furnishings, electronics, apparel, and home essentials. Target may have gained more market share to start 2021, too, even following its addition of $15 billion to the annual sales base last year.

Yet the big question heading into Wednesday's announcement is whether Target can continue trouncing its retailing rivals in the profit margin arena. Walmart and most other peers are predicting weaker earnings growth ahead because of investments in the business. Target needs to spend in these areas, too, but its focus on more premium consumer discretionary merchandise still might allow it to generate substantially higher earnings in the years to come.

The outlook for iQIYI

Investors are feeling downbeat heading into iQIYI's Tuesday report. The Chinese streaming video giant has fallen on some tough times, recently hitting a multiyear low as subscriber growth turns negative. Those sales struggles combined with weak earnings results to convince many major investors to abandon the stock in 2021.

This week's report won't deliver quick answers to any of those operating challenges, but CEO Yu Gong and his team are hoping to start turning the tide with help from original content releases and enhancements to the streaming service. Ideally, these initiatives helped boost engagement and membership growth in Q1.

Looking ahead, management will issue a short-term sales outlook that Wall Street will be watching for signs of a turnaround ahead. iQIYI may be looking at a third consecutive quarter of shrinking revenue unless trends shifted in the past few months. Such a sour forecast wouldn't help the stock break out of its recent slump.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.