The stock market has done exceptionally well in 2021, continuing to climb to all-time record highs amid strong hopes for a recovering economy. With the world starting to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, investors are excited about the prospects for things returning to how they were before the huge disruptions we've seen across the globe since early 2020. That excitement played out in major market benchmarks Monday morning, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI -0.14%) climbed more than 500 points to 33,800, the S&P 500 (^GSPC 0.21%) gained 47 points to 4,214, and the Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC 0.41%) climbed 67 points to 14,098.

Earnings season is always a good way to tell how individual companies are faring, but some businesses have more importance than others. Later this week, delivery specialist FedEx (FDX -0.59%) and athletic apparel giant Nike (NKE -1.28%) will give their latest readings on their corporate results. Both will have major implications not just for their own shareholders but for those following the broader economy as well.

Delivering for investors?

FedEx is set to report its latest results on Thursday, June 24. Investors are expecting big things from the company, but a lot more will depend on what FedEx says about what the future will bring.

Given the hit that FedEx took this time last year, it should come as little surprise that those following the delivery giant are looking for a major rebound. Consensus estimates among those tracking FedEx see earnings nearly doubling from year-ago levels, with revenue slated to rise at a healthy 24% pace.

Two people in FedEx uniforms moving a package with FedEx label on it.

Image source: FedEx.

Indeed, in some ways, FedEx has too much of a good thing. Earlier this month, the company said it would cut service to some of its logistics customers who seek out less-than-truckload shipping services. The reason: Exceptionally strong demand was causing bottlenecks at key terminal locations that in turn were threatening to delay shipments. The issues aren't unique to FedEx, instead reflecting capacity constraints throughout the industry that are creating potential disruptions for customers seeking to get goods where they need to go.

Investors will want to pay particularly close attention to any guidance that FedEx gives for its fiscal 2022 year. After having seen so much e-commerce activity drive pandemic-related gains, a return to more typical business conditions could create a temporary pause in FedEx's growth. How much that appears in projections could in turn say a lot about whether the stock can return to its former upward trajectory.

Doing it

Nike is also slated to release its financial results on Thursday morning. Investors hope to see a significant reversal from last year's painful experience.

Nike appears to be ready to get back on track with its quarterly results. Revenue is expected to soar more than 75% from year-ago levels, which reflected store closures and other disruptions related to the pandemic. Nike's earnings will likely reverse year-ago losses, although bottom-line performance is still in the process of recovering from more difficult conditions.

The big question is how a couple of key aspects of Nike's business will balance out. On one hand, demand is soaring both in Nike's home North American market and overseas in key places like China. That could help support revenue and profit gains into the coming fiscal year. At the same time, though, prices for materials have been on the rise, and that in turn could present challenges to profit margins.

Nevertheless, Nike is looking to put its marketing machine to the test, with plenty of new product launches designed to stoke demand and give consumers a place to spend their savings. The success of those launches could well define the course of Nike's fiscal 2022, and that in turn could determine whether the stock can climb further after sizable gains over the past year or so.

Be ready

With so much uncertainty in the markets, key earnings reports can make or break the future direction for stocks. Market participants will watch releases from FedEx and Nike closely to find hints to where those two stocks -- and the entire market -- will move from here.